Their names usually don't hit our radar until they are 17 or 18 years old; mere boys anointed the next king of the world. We watch them in college and analysts and announcers praise their on field skills in awe. They are made out to be gods. They are interviewed with Journalism 101 questions about how they got so good and who were their heroes. Ex NFL players and reporters blush like teenagers as they kiss their .... in front of the camera and feed their ego. The fraternity of reporters highlight and exaggerate their skills and plays until it's nauseating.
These boys believe it and actually see it come true. They believe the hype, and whether or not it comes true, they aren't prepared for the journey or the end. Commentators, fans, gurus, and reporters rush to gush over the "next one," then their replacement, and players who find themselves out of the spotlight are lost. Some bask in the anonymity and retire at peace with their career, but others, those we never really knew, have dark places that surface.
Where and how do these athletes who were once so adored go wrong? Is their ego fed for so long they lose themselves? Should college and pro teams pay for them to see psychiatrists and should they stay in school and mature? How can this cycle of athletes, with the inability to cope, float through a system that leaves them unprepared for the real world? How can these tragedies and these athletes, at the very least, be helped?
15 Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress, just at Michigan State, set a Big 10 record with 65 catches as a freshman, set a Spartans' record with 255 yards against the arch rival Wolverines, and in his last game, the 2000 Citrus Bowl, set another school-record with 13 receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns. In the 2000 draft, he was selected 8th overall by the Steelers, but he's known for his game winning catch in Super Bowl XLII as the New York Giants beat the Patriots 17–14. But all along, there were signs. He held out after signing a mega million dollar contract, he was suspended for missing practices, and fined for slapping a referee. In 2008, at a night club in New York City, he "accidentally" shot himself in the right thigh, and consequently spent 2 years in jail for criminal possession of a weapon and reckless endangerment. After he retired, his troubles continued with two civil lawsuits and a tax indictment. Recently, he joined SportsNet, New York's SportsNite, so maybe he's making positive changes.
14 Josh Brent
As just a Senior in High School, the hype surrounding Brent was covered by every news outlet in Chicago. The massive defensive tackle was selected by the Dallas Cowboys, but his career ended early. In 2012, Brent was driving while intoxicated and killed his teammate, Jerry Brown. Later that year, he was indicted of manslaughter, and bail was revoked. He was sent back to jail after he failed two drug tests, and in 2014, Brent was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years probation. However, the Cowboys have stood by him, and in 2015, they offered him a position in their scouting department, which he accepted. It's been a long road, a dark one too, but he may just pull himself together.
13 Billy Sims
Anyone who watched Billy Sims play football fell in love with his explosive, powerful, and graceful style. In college, with the Oklahoma Sooners, he was a two-time All American and won the Heisman in 1978. The Detroit Lions selected him #1 overall in 1980, but his all out effort on every play took a major toll on his career. He played only five years, but despite his grace on the field, he lost most of his earnings. When he retired, he filed for bankruptcy after his nightclub, dry cleaning business, and other endeavors failed. Sims divorced, had legal problems with child support, and faced chargers of domestic violence. He even had to sell his Heisman. But like he always kept his legs moving. In 2004, Sims and his partner, Jeff Jackson, opened the first Billy Sims BBQ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since then, they opened franchises across America and by 2014, and the Billy Sims BBQ brand has 44 locations. Some guys are just winners, and hopefully one opens near me.
12 Darren Sharper
Darren Sharper was drafted by the Packers in 1997, and began making a name for himself in 2000 when he led the NFL with interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl. In 2004, he led the league in defensive touchdowns with three. Sharper then signed with the Vikings and then the Saints, where he broke the team record with a 99 yard interception return for a touchdown, his second 95+ yarder for a touchdown that season. Then he returned his third pick six which was another team record and made his whopping 5th Pro Bowl. It was like no matter who he played for you had to draft that defense in Fantasy.
Sharper finally won his first Super Bowl ring as the Saints beat the Colts and he retired after 14 years in the NFL. He was hired as an analyst, but then shock waves sounded. From 2011- 2015, he reportedly drugged and raped 9-16 women. In 2016, Sharper was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple rape and drug-related charges.
11 Curtis Enis
Enis was a premier back at Penn State University. When he was drafted by the Bears with the 5th pick overall in 1998, it seemed like a perfect match of great Nittany Lion backs joining the dominant Bear backs. But, things didn't work out that way. Trouble for Enis started right away with the bad omen of holding out his rookie year. He missed 26 days of camp and two exhibition games. Enis made one start before tearing a ligament in his left knee. In 2001, Enis signed a one-year deal with the Browns, but a degenerative condition in his knee forced him into retirement. Enis took a job at a building company, coached high school football, and joined the Ohio Basic Peace Officer Academy.
So far so good? Not for long. Most recently, Enis was charged with two counts of misdemeanor simple assault and two counts of harassment from an October fight at State College.
10 Dave Meggett
Dave Meggett was drafted by the Giants in 1989 and immediately made an impact with the fans and team. Fans loved his energy and toughness, which translated to results on the field. In his first season, he made the Pro Bowl. He help the Giants to a 20-19 victory over the the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, and in 1995 he signed with the Patriots. In 1996, he totaled 1,966 all-purpose yards, earning his second trip to the Pro Bowl. His 3,708 punt return yards currently rank him second in NFL history. But he started getting himself in deep water in 1998, when he was arrested after allegedly assaulting an escort.
From 2000-2006, Meggett was a parks and recreation director but was accused of sexually assaulting his former girlfriend. A year later, he was received two years probation. But then he made the leap, and in 2010, Meggett was sentenced to 30 years in prison for burglary and criminal sexual conduct. Meggett's current release date is slated for July 2034.
9 Irving Fryar
After attending the University of Miami and being the first wide receiver selected first overall in 1984, Fryar went to five Pro Bowls, won The Bart Starr Man of the Year Award, was the 1st player to score a TD in 17 straight seasons, and became the oldest player to score four touchdowns in a game.But there were problems. He missed an AFC championship game after a domestic dispute, was arrested on weapons charges, and, in 2015, Fryar and his mother were found guilty of conspiring to defraud six banks and a mortgage company. In 2015, a NJ Judge ordered Fryar and his mother to pay $615,600 in restitution. They were convicted of applying for multiple mortgage loans in quick succession while using the same property as collateral. Fryar was sentenced to five years while his mother received three years of probation. In 2016, Fryar was released from prison after serving eight months of his sentence and placed under the Supervision Program for non-violent offenders.
8 Johnny Manziel
Johnny "Football" was a dual threat that could pass or run like a modern day Steve Young. As he took control of the Texas A&M offence, he seemed to be all of that. H was the first freshman and fifth player in College Football to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. He became the first freshman to win the Heisman, The Manning, and the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. Manziel was drafted 22nd by the Browns in the 2014 draft, but he was he only threw for 1,675 yards, 7 tds, ran for 259 yards, and 1 td. By the summer of 2015, Johnny was basically out of football and in more trouble.
A year later, he was dropped by his marketing agency, his agent, and the Dallas Police Department opened a criminal investigation of domestic violence. Then he was dropped by his new agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Finally, Nike let him go. On September 5, Manziel returned to A&M to take classes, so hopefully he's going to fly right.
7 Warren Sapp
At the time of his retirement, Sapp was one of only eight defensive players in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl, be named Defensive Player of the Year, and win a Super Bowl. He was selected to seven Pro Bowls, was a First-Team All-Pro four times, and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors after an amazing 16.5-sack season in 2000. Although he left the Bucs after the 2003 season to join the Raiders, he'll be remembered as the leader of the great Bucs defenses of the late 90s and early 2000s. When he retired, his fun and contagious energy made him a natural as a studio analyst and he wrote a book titled "Sapp Attack."
Then, life got strange and dark. He was actually bitten by a shark in Florida and arrested for domestic battery, although the charges were dropped. Sapp was then arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute and assault. He also owed the IRS, was behind on alimony and child support, and Sapp filed for bankruptcy. He's been off the radar for a few years now, so hopefully he's taking a page from Billy Sims.
6 Ryan Leaf
Leaf had an amazing college career as a Washington State Cougar and was selected with the second overall pick in the 1998 draft by the Chargers. He also played for the Dallas Cowboys, the Buccaneers, and Seattle. But his career just never got going or on track. His play was poor, his behavior was immature, he was injured, and struggled with his work ethic. His ego got in the way too after he refused chances to be a back up. After his NFL career, Leaf completed his degree but ran into legal troubles involving drugs, felony burglary, and began a seven-year sentence in state prison in December 2012. After legal wrangling and probation, he still couldn't find his way but was given credit for time served. Leaf was released from prison and placed under the supervision of Great Falls Probation and Parole. He's since sought professional help for his problems and has spoken to young adults and encourages them to avoid falling down the path he did. Thankfully, his life seems to finally be on track.
5 Maurice Clarett
The former running back played for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and during his freshman year in 2002, he lead them to a national championship. Clarett was drafted in 2005 by the Broncos and signed a four-year incentive-laden deal. But he was too young, too immature, disappointing on the field, and had incidents with his coaches. He never played a game and was released a month later. No team in the NFL expressed interest and legal problems soon followed. In 2006, Clarett was involved in two incidents of armed robbery. He later plea bargained and was sentenced to seven and a half years. While in prison, Clarett enrolled in a distance-learning program to earn his bachelor's and was granted early release. He started reading psychology books and focused on turning his life around. He has become a motivational speaker and worked with youth football camps to share his story. It looked like he was finding himself, but in 2016, he was arrested for drunk driving.
4 William Joseph
Joseph was drafted by the Giants with the 25th pick in 2003. After a holdout, he signed a five-year $6.95 million contract. He played in 14 games as a rookie defensive tackle and finished the season with 6 tackles and 1 sack. From 2004- 2006, he made 65 tackles and had 6 sacks. In 2007, he sustained a season-ending injury, was placed on injured reserve, but earned a ring with the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Joseph went on to play with the Raiders, and was released prior to the start of the 2010 season. On April 30, 2012, Joseph along with two other former NFL players were arrested on federal charges in a scheme to steal people’s identities and file false tax returns. Joseph was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Joseph pleaded guilty on August 31, 2012, and maybe he can use the time to move forward.
3 Ray Rice
He went to Rutgers and turned the school's football team around. He was a First-Team All American running back and was drafted by the Ravens in the second round of the 2008 Draft. He is ranked as the Ravens' second all-time leading rusher and 2nd in touchdowns. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2012. He made the Pro Bowl three times. And, he made mouths drop and eyes pop in 2014 when a video surfaced of him knocking his fiance out with a violent, brutal punch. He was arrested and subsequently indicted for third-degree aggravated assault, but criminal charges were dropped after Rice agreed to court-supervised counseling. But this was the beginning of the end for Rice's career as he was suspended, released, and out of the NFL. In 2016, he vowed to donate 100% of his salary to domestic violence charities if he was signed by a team, which actually sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, nobody signed him.
2 William "The Refridgerator" Perry
Perry was a defensive lineman taken by the Chicago Bears in the 1985 draft. He played a total of 10 seasons with the Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. He was a popular and loveable gentle giant with an innocent and fun persona that was endearing to fans. He won Super Bowl XX and sang and danced in the famous " Super Bowl Shuffle." But in 2008, the fun man in football was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a chronic disorder of the peripheral nerves and spent a month in the hospital. In 2016, Perry, weighing more than 425 pounds, received treatment for diabetes. He was confined to a wheelchair and was in danger of having his leg amputated. Perry sold his Super Bowl ring, and is living off a monthly social security check, and also gets some disability money from the NFL as he lives in an assisted living townhouse.
1 O.J Simpson
Orenthal James "O. J." Simpson, nicknamed The Juice, won the National Championship with USC in 1967, the Heisman in 1968, became the first NFL player to rush for more than 2000 yards in a season, made the Pro Bowl 5 times, an MVP, 4 time NFL Rushing Yards Leader, College Football and Pro Football Hall of Famer. After he retired, he glowed as a broadcaster and actor, but then everything got out of control. On June 17, 1994, everyone knows where they were when the LAPD was following a white Ford Bronco down Highway 405. He was the chief suspect in the bloody murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In 1995, Simpson was acquitted of the 1994 murders, but in 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with armed robbery and kidnapping. In 2008, he was convicted and sentenced to 33 years, with a minimum of nine years without parole. He will be eligible for parole this October.