The National Football League is without a doubt the most popular professional sports league in America.
Millions of people watch it every week, and hundreds of millions watch it around the world over the course of a season. Becoming one of the very few players to make it to the NFL is a darn good honor.
So it's a pity that many, many football players decide they need to throw their lives away when they're given one of the greatest opportunities on earth that countless people pity and want to have.
The NFL may be a huge deal to fans, but ironically it isn't to some of the players who make it. They throw their careers away by turning to crime, laziness, arrogance, selfishness, whining and so many other factors. It's just sad to watch, really.
Think about it. Thousands of people are making loud noise for you. You are playing with everyone around the world watching. You're making millions and millions and can get virtually anything you want in life.
It's hard to imagine why some NFL players waste their talents and turn it into the most unimaginable things a human being could do. But it happens in today's NFL, and that's what has put NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell under plenty of media scrutiny.
It's not his fault for bringing this leauge into a billion-dollar money maker every year. It's just an athlete's fault for doing the things that he does.
I was able to come up with the 15 NFL players who threw away absolutely promising or even Hall of Fame careers which really bears a lot of shame. It wasn't easy picking 15, but that's a good thing. Not all that many NFL players have thrown their careers away by themselves.
So without further ado, lets examine the 15 NFL players who threw away their careers where they were at complete fault.
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15 Ryan Leaf
Amazing. In the 1998 NFL Draft, the debate was whether the Indianapolis Colts should take Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.
Manning will have every meaningful NFL record when he retires, turned two struggling teams into powerhouses, has won five MVPs and a Super Bowl.
Leaf played three NFL seasons and managed horrific stats that a third string high school backup isn't even capable of doing: 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.
Blame management or his supporting cast all you want, but he could have been a Manning if he put the work ethic in it. Leaf never did that. After all, Manning literally spends every second studying the playbook.
14 Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith isn't that high on the list because he's not finished yet, but his chance to be a Hall of Fame linebacker is surely done.
A powerhouse player for the San Francisco 49ers, he was one of the cornerstones of a once-elite squad.
From shouting fake bomb threats at airports to running into the law with hit and run charges, Smith probably won't account to much with the Oakland Raiders.
The man simply hasn't been able to contain himself.
13 Shawne Merriman
Shawne Merriman was a stand-out star with the San Diego Chargers, reaching the Pro Bowl three times with the club, but they were wise to move on from a man that had troubles.
He choked reality television star Tila Tequila and tested positive for steroids, though he denied those allegations, as well being detained at the Canadian border.
I'm not sure what the truth is, but a man who had a troubled past more likely than not did get himself into more legal issues.
12 Brandon Spikes
One of the league's hardest hitters and best run-stoppers, Spikes had enjoyed a stellar carer with the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
Spikes was given another chance to join his former team when Bill Belichick brought him back in the offseason.
What a pity. Spikes pleaded guilty on charges of a hit-and-run crash where he left the car at the scene of the crime, which injured three people.
The Patriots wisely released him a day later. Spikes basically tried to outrun his issue and the law instead of owning up to it.
Not sure if anyone will want to play with him at this point.
11 Chad Johnson
Seven 1,000 yard seasons and six Pro Bowls gave Chad Johnson quite a career, but the fast-moving social media revolution took away his talents.
Johnson had his golden shot of being an elite force with the New England Patriots when they traded for him in 2011, but Johnson never learned the playbook and it's easy to understand why - the man loved Twitter too much.
Well, he still does. The man has over 91,000 tweets and can be seen tweeting just about every minute of the day. Not good for a man that could have had a handful of more productive seasons that could have ended with a Super Bowl ring.
10 Ray McDonald
Ray McDonald was quietly a decent player during the Jim Harbaugh era for the San Francisco 49ers. The Chicago Bears took notice and signed him in the offseason in hopes of him fixing their porous defense.
What they got in return was something they did not bargain for (although they should have known based on his past behavior). McDonald was charged with domestic violence, rape and false imprisonment.
What's sad isn't just that he's another NFL player who threw it all away. But the crimes he committed were just over the top horrible.
9 JaMarcus Russell
The first overall pick of the 2007 draft was supposed to bring something good to the Oakland Raiders. He was supposed to be the franchise's savior.
All he gave to them was bad memories and a constant reminder that Calvin Johnson was selected right after him.
As CBS's Will Brinson pointed out, he wasn't in good shape and didn't have any responsibility to take care of himself. Russell seems like a classic case of a player who thought he was going to have a Hall of Fame career given to him on a silver platter.
8 Titus Young
Young played two years in the league and looked like he'd be a mini Calvin Johnson when he had an excellent 2011 rookie season.
He had 48 catches for 607 yards and six touchdowns, but had a drop off in production in 2012. Still, many thought he'd be a good player on an elite Detroit Lions offense.
Young was troubling in the locker room during his sophomore year. He pouted about not getting the ball enough and refused to be a team player.
He's currently undergoing a five-year probation sentence for domestic battery. It's so sad to see a talented young player like him just become so arrogant that he threw away an excellent shot to be one of the best.
7 Albert Haynesworth
The two-time NFL Pro Bowler dominated the defensive line like no other during his years with the Tennessee Titans.
The Washington Redskins noticed and gave him a seven-year, $100 million contract, as well as a player who proved to be completely lazy and only wanted to pick up his paycheck.
Haynesworth refused to play like a team player and just sat back once the money came to him. He was traded to the New England Patriots in 2011, but was released after... surprise, after arguing with coach Pepper Johnson.
If money comes to you, wouldn't you want to try to be good at your job, Mr. Haynesworth?
6 Richie Ingognito
The one-time Pro Bowler is one of the better offensive linemen in the league, but it doesn't seem like his career will be the same after the off-the-field issues he got into with former teammate Jonathan Martin.
Despite being a grown-up, Incognito started a media frenzy when it was revealed that he threatened, harassed and bullied HIS OWN teammate, Martin.
Seriously, how immature and silly do you have to be? Incognito probably won't much last longer in the league. No one wants a player who can't even get along with his own team.
5 Ray Rice
Ray Rice had built himself a heck of a career in a short span. A four-time 1,000 yard rusher who had 33 touchdowns from 2009-12 that culminated in a Super Bowl victory. That makes you a winner.
Imagine, just a year after that, you become one of the biggest disgraces the NFL has ever seen. At least in Ray Rice's case.
Rice was still under contract with the Baltimore Ravens when a video of him assaulting his fiancee (now wife, Janay Palmer,) viciously.
His two-game suspension by Roger Goodell was just an embarrassment to the NFL. Rice should have been given a life-ban, but even as a free agent, no one in the NFL has invited him to try out for the club.
Good call. Goodbye, Ray.
4 Plaxico Burress
What's a shame in this is that Burress already had his legacy set. He had four 1,000 yard seasons, two years with double-digit touchdowns and was a Super Bowl champion.
Not only was he a champion, he got the game winning touchdown in the last minute against the 18-0 New England Patriots, making him a folk hero in New York (and across America, based on how many people seem to hate the Patriots).
In 2008, Burress accidentally shot himself in the foot while being in illegal possession of a weapon.
He didn't return to the NFL for three years, but it was quite evident that he was past his prime, as he never returned to his elite form.
Burress is now retired, but could have easily been a bigger contributor in the NFL if he didn't do something so dumb.
3 Michael Vick
The only reason Michael Vick isn't higher is because he has been able to return and has enjoyed minor success in his return to the NFL.
Vick was just insane for the Atlanta Falcons from 2001-06. In thos years, he rushed for a total of 3,859 yards... AS A QUARTERBACK.
Everyone knows the rest. Vick got into off-the-field issues with his dog fighting scandal and wouldn't return to the NFL until 2009, as a backup.
Vick earned the starting job with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 after filling in admirably for an injured Kevin Kolb. Vick played so well, the Eagles made him their permanent starter. He had 3,018 passing yards for 21 touchdowns and six interceptions that season. He has struggled to gain consistency since.
If he hadn't gotten into trouble, things could have been a lot different. Vick could have won a Super Bowl with Atlanta and could have maintained a better career. But a future Hall of Famer has wasted his talents as a mediocre backup.
2 Rae Carruth
The 27th overall selection in the 1997 draft, wide receiver Rae Carruth was supposed to be something special with the Carolina Panthers.
What endured was one of the biggest tragedies in NFL history. His girlfriend, Cherica Adams, refused to abort their unborn child, and Carruth later hired someone to kill her.
The child was saved by doctors in time, but Adams died after suffering multiple gun shot wounds, and Carruth rightfully got an 18-24 year jail sentence.
How someone can do this is just disgusting and unreal. It's horrible to think Carruth broke up what could have been an excellent NFL career, but most importantly, a beautiful family.
1 Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez had already established himself as an elite tight end in the NFL. Him and Rob Gronkowski gave NFL defenses nightmares as the best tight end tandem the NFL had.
Sadly, Hernandez went into the NFL with a known criminal background, and he wasn't able to get away from it, even while being paid millions.
He's in prison for life after being found guilty of the murder of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancee's sister.
Aside from that, Hernandez is set to go to trial for the double-murder of Daniel Jorge Correia and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, which happened a year before the Lloyd murder.
No one will understand why he had to get into this, considering he had millions of dollars coming, a job everyone wants while playing for a model organization.
No one threw their career away the way Hernandez did.
Perhaps it's the biggest tragedy the NFL has ever seen.
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