Becoming a professional athlete is no easy task. While talent plays a vital role, so does hard work, dedication and perseverance. It also helps to be a genuinely good person. When an athlete such as a football player turns pro, there is still a lot of hard work to do. Athletes are expected to eat right, train hard and make good decisions both on and off the field. They are expected to be at their best every day and even the slightest of transgressions can land even the most respected superstars in a mess of troubles.
The vast majority of football players are dedicated, clean living, hard working and thankful individuals. Of course, there are a few bad apples that not only make themselves look bad, but the NFL itself as well.
In recent years, the NFL has hardened its stance against player misconduct. Be it on the field, in the dressing room or in the privacy of their own homes, players are facing much harsher consequences for their indiscretions. Many players have lost their promising careers due to stupid and avoidable mistakes.
The following is a list of NFL players who have been disgraced, the consequences they were met with and the effect it had on them in the aftermath.
20 Lawrence Phillips
Lawrence Phillips is the poster child for wasted talent. From his college days, it was clear that Phillips possessed both talent and a bad attitude. While playing college ball for Nebraska, he made headlines for his phenomenal play and then for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
He started his NFL career with the Rams but only lasted a couple of years before he was abruptly cut from the team. Next up was Miami where he lasted two games before being cut due to pleading guilty to assaulting a woman. After a stint in NFL Europe, he returned to the NFL after the 49ers took a gamble on him. This time it was lack of effort and refusal to block that was his downfall. He was finished in the NFL. He took his side-show to the CFL but was unable to keep out of trouble. He had burned every bridge in the football world.
After he was out of football, he was arrested on numerous charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2015, Lawrence Phillips allegedly added murder to his rap sheet and was charged for killing his cellmate. Facing the possibility of the death sentence, Lawrence Phillips committed suicide on January 12, 2016.
19 Adrian Peterson
This electrifying running back made a splash during his 2007 rookie year and has continued to be an impact player for the Minnesota Vikings. On September 12rg, 2014, it was announced that Adrian Peterson was being indicted on child abuse charges. Photos surfaced that showed the end results of the incident. The boy had visible swelling, bruises and cuts all over his body.
Peterson was handed a one game suspension by the Vikings but the league stepped in and Peterson was forced to sit out of the remainder of the 2014 season. Peterson pleaded no contest to the charges and avoided jail time. The NFL lifted the suspension in time for Peterson to play in the 2015 season, but the abuse incident dealt a severe blow to his image. He's still with the Vikings, even though trade rumors have swirled around the running back.
18 Art Schlichter
Art Schlichter was drafted in 1982 and was expected to be the Baltimore Colts quarterback of the future. It was already suspected that Schlichter loved to gamble. He reportedly lost huge sums of money and was eventually threatened by his creditors. He fessed up to the league who promptly suspended him. He continued to gamble heavily and was turfed from the league in 1988. His pro career consisted of playing parts of 13 games over a three year span and he is considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Schlichter went on to continue gambling while salvaging what was left of his career in the Arena Football League between 1990 and 1992. He opted to leave football completely to deal with his gambling addiction but never managed to straighten out.
In 2011, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his involvement in a multi-million dollar scam.
17 Ryan Leaf
A quick Google search of “NFL Draft Busts” will undoubtedly yield the name Ryan Leaf. His 1998 rookie campaign was less than successful and he continued to disappoint until being released following the 2000 season.
He was picked up by the Buccaneers but was only deemed suitable as a fourth stringer and released just prior to the start of the 2001 season. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys for the 2001 season and as expected he was terrible. The Cowboys cut him loose after the 2001 season. He retired in 2002 at the age of 26. His career numbers were horrific having thrown 14 touchdowns against 36 interceptions.
Leaf somehow managed to lead a productive life for a couple of years but has had several legal problems plague him since leaving the NFL, including a drug problem that got him arrested in 2012.
16 Todd Marinovich
Picked ahead of Brett Favre in the 1991 NFL draft, expectations were high for Todd Marinovich. His voracious appetite for drugs did irreversible damage to his short career. The Raiders held an intervention, sent him to rehab and did all they could to help Marinovich but it was a wasted effort. After a failed drug test he was suspended by the NFL and the Raiders pulled the pin releasing him in 1993. His NFL career was over.
He eventually found a job in the CFL but a growing dependence on heroin, as well as an unfortunate knee injury derailed his plans again. He then moved on to the Arena Football league and despite some success he flamed out by 2001. Marinovich has spent his post football career exercising his creative muscles. He has a talent for painting and currently has an online gallery.
15 Sam Hurd
Wide receiver Sam Hurd broke in to the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. He had flashes of potential but he was never really able to rise above mediocrity. He went on to sign with the Bears in July 2011 but was cut on December 16th, 2011, after being arrested for trafficking in large quantities of marijuana and cocaine.
Hurd was arrested again in August 2012 for a violation of his bond agreement. In November 2013, Hurd was sentenced to 15 years behind bars. He is currently trying to have his sentence reduced.
14 Brett Favre
He holds many records, was league MVP and won a Super Bowl. Towards the end of his outstanding career Brett Favre would routinely be the subject of retirement rumors but he kept on playing. He had overcome a couple of stumbling blocks during his career such as an addiction to painkillers but he always bounced back. He appeared to be finishing his storied career with class and style until he decided to send inappropriate messages to sideline broadcaster Jenn Sterger.
Despite all the embarrassment for both parties, Favre quickly put the scandal behind him and continued to play out the rest of his career. He retired after the 2010 but speculation lingered that he was going to play again. It never happened and these days Brett enjoys the occasional guest-analyst role while working as a high school football coach.
13 Darren Sharper
Darren Sharper enjoyed a long and productive 14 year career playing safety for Green Bay, Minnesota and New Orleans. He had hoped to sign for a 15th NFL season but there was no interest in the aging veteran so he gracefully retired prior to the 2011 season.
Things looked good for Sharper. He landed a job as an analyst for the NFL where he worked until January 18th, 2014, when it was announced that sexual assault charges were being laid against him.
Sharper initially received a nine year sentence on a plea deal, though the case has gone back to trial and could be extended.
12 Nate Newton
After starting his playing career in the USFL, Nate Newton signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1986. He would go on to have a remarkable career as a standout offensive lineman and a six time Pro Bowler. He was an important part of three Super Bowl championships with his ability to block and protect Troy Aikman. After 13 seasons with the Cowboys he signed on for one last season with the Carolina Panthers before retiring and taking up a career in the lucrative drug dealing business.
His drug dealing skills did not match his football skills and he was arrested twice within a six week span in late 2001. Between the two busts he was caught in possession of 388 pounds of pot. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison during which time he vowed to change his was and seek a new line of work. He has since found God and is working in radio and television in Dallas. He's also lost nearly two hundred pounds and is looking better than ever. Good for you Nate!
11 Plaxico Burress
The 6 foot 5 inch tall Plaxico Burress had his share of highlights during his 11 year NFL career including a touchdown catch that won Super Bowl XLII for the New York Giants. He was also known to be a little disruptive. In November 2008, he made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He was enjoying a night on the town in Manhattan when his loaded gun slipped out of his waistband and down his leg consequentially firing a bullet into his own thigh. Naturally, Burress did not have a permit to carry and the gun was not licensed so this caused a few problems.
The incident led to his release from the Giants and Burress was sentenced to serve two years in prison.
He did his time and after his release he played one season with the New York Jets before returning to Pittsburgh to finish his career. He has been working as an analyst since his retirement, though he also recently received probation for failing to pay his income tax.
10 Ricky Williams
An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a rolling paper. That was Ricky Williams. The mercurial running back played 11 controversy filled seasons in the NFL. He was talented beyond belief but he just couldn’t seem to pass a drug test, which didn’t sit well with the league brass.
In early 2004, after failing yet another drug test, Williams announced that he was retiring from football. He returned for the 2005 season but the rest of his playing career was marked with failed drug tests and suspensions. Despite it all, he managed to play through 11 seasons. Since leaving football he has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and has remained out of the public eye.
9 Leonard Little
Leonard Little enjoyed a pretty good 12 year career with the Rams. He is lucky to have had a career at all considering that in 1998 he killed a woman while driving drunk. He miraculously only received probation and community service along with a brief suspension from the NFL. He was again in the news in 2003 for communicating threats and then again in 2004 for another drinking and driving offense. Somehow he did not serve prison time but his reputation took a beating.
Little retired in 2010 after over a decade in the NFL, all spent with the Rams. It's impossible to find any information on what Little is up to today and he's done well to remain out of the public eye and enjoy retirement.
8 Bam Morris
Bam Morris was not the most noticeable guy on the field, but his actions off the field got him noticed big time. In 1996, he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana. In response to the guilty plea he was cut by the Steelers and went on to sign with the Ravens. His time with the Ravens was marked by suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. His career then fizzled out over the next two years in Chicago and Kansas City. He was finished in the NFL after the 1999 season.
He was convicted of drug trafficking in August 2000 but struck a deal in order to avoid serving time. In September 2001, he was found to be in violation of his parole and he was given a 10 year sentence. He was released early in 2004 and has gone back to Texas Tech to try and finish his degree. We wish him luck!
7 Mike Vick
Just prior to the 2007 season, it was discovered that Mike Vick had been involved in a cruel and inhumane dog fighting ring which he had allegedly financed. Vick was charged, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23 months in prison.
Needless to say, not many teams were interested in signing the controversial quarterback after he was released from prison but he was finally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 to back up Donovan McNabb. While given the opportunity to take over the reins following McNabb’s departure, Vick had troubles with consistency and struggled in his last couple of years with the Eagles. He eventually lost the job to Nick Foles. Vick went on to play a brief stint with the New York Jets and finally wound up backing up Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
His best days are clearly behind but Vick continues to do all that he can to redeem himself and remain in the NFL, but it looks like his career is just about over at this point.
6 Ben Roethlisberger
Sometimes all it takes is an allegation of bad behavior to bring much unwanted scorn down on a person. Take Ben Roethlisberger for example. The Super Bowl winning quarterback has been twice accused of some nasty sexual misconduct. In 2009 he faced allegations of sexual assault but was able to settle out of court. This, of course, caused many people to question the depth of his involvement.
Then in 2010, an allegation of sexual assault was made public but charges were never laid due to a lack of credible evidence. Still, the NFL brass decided that although a sexual assault may not have occurred there was still evidence of inappropriate behavior of Big Ben’s part. The league suspended Roethlisberger for the first four games of the 2010 season. How did Ben respond? He led the Steelers to the Super Bowl in 2010, but lost to the Green Bay Packers.
Big Ben continues to play at a high level and it doesn't seem like people are talking about his prior incidents anymore.
5 Ray Rice
After six mostly stellar seasons with the Baltimore Ravens that included winning a Super Bowl, Ray Rice was caught on video dragging his knocked out fiancée from an elevator in a casino. He was indicted on charges of aggravated assault but the charges were dropped after Rice agreed to seek counseling. Meanwhile, the NFL suspended him for a measly two games. His light punishment ignited a firestorm of criticism against the NFL’s handling of the case.
Unfortunately for Ray Rice, a second, more graphic video surfaced of the event. This new video showed Rice punching his fiancée in the face. This time the NFL took a hard stance and suspended Rice from the NFL while the Ravens terminated his contract.
Ray Rice has not given up on a return to the NFL but it appears that the NFL has given up on him. In the meantime, the free agent runner is keeping out of trouble and staying in game shape. TMZ reports that he's generating interest from a few teams and it's possible someone might give him a chance.
4 Aaron Hernandez
Not many athletes have wasted their talents and good fortune like Aaron Hernandez has. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010 and was immediately praised for his superior play. Prior to the start of the 2012 season he was given a contract extension and a massive raise. Although this should have been the beginning of a long and illustrious career, the 2012 season would be his last. As much as Hernandez enjoyed the football life, it didn't stop him from ruining his once promising career.
On June 26, 2013, police arrested Hernandez and charged him with the murder of Odin Lloyd. The Patriots terminated his contract immediately and his football days were over. He was finally found guilty of murder in the first degree in 2015 and was sentenced to life without parole. He remains there today.
3 Robert Rozier
Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979, Robert Rozier’s NFL career lasted all of 6 games before he was released due to alleged drug issues. He then briefly played in the CFL in 1980 before leaving football for good.
After his playing days he got involved with Yahweh ben Yahweh and his group known as the Brotherhood. A requirement for joining this group was to kill. Rozier went far beyond this requirement by admittedly killing seven people. In 1986, Rozier was charged with murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison after agreeing to a plea agreement.
He was released into the witness protection program in 1996. He was arrested in 1999 for passing bad checks and was sentenced to another 25 years to life.
2 Rae Carruth
He was a promising talent that seemed to have a very bright future ahead of himself. He just lacked a few skills such as being a good father, being a good boyfriend and being good at hide-and-seek. On November 16th, 1999, Rae Carruth carried out a plot to kill his eight month pregnant girlfriend. Before she died of gunshot wounds, Cherica Adams was able to call 911 and identify Carruth as one of the culprits.
Carruth went on the lam but was found a month later hiding in the trunk of a car. He was arrested and was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to 24 years but he is expected to be paroled in 2018. Meanwhile his son is still alive and is an inspiring story. We highly recommend reading this story on him, from The Charlotte Observer.
1 O.J. Simpson
Long before O.J. Simpson was delighting all of us with his portrayal of the comedic Nordberg in the Naked Gun series, he was a spokesman for Hertz. He was also one heck of a running back in the day. He hacked and slashed his way though defenses for the better part of 11 seasons in the NFL before retiring a sure fire Hall of Famer. He had already been acting and he seemed destined to be as big in the movies as he was on the gridiron.
In June 1994, the nation watched in disbelief as O.J. Simpson was arrested and charged in the gruesome double murder of his wife and her friend.
We all know about the sensational trial which resulted in the Juice being found not guilty.
Despite being given a second chance at living out his life a free man, O.J. was arrested in 2007 in a bizarre robbery and kidnapping conspiracy, where he was trying to reclaim some of his old memorabilia.. This time he was sentenced to 33 years in prison and won't get out until 2017 at the earliest.