Although professional football is one of the most exciting sports to watch, the National Football League must constantly fight off the controversy that plagues the game. From concussions to criminal activity, this-gate and that-gate, there are no off days in NFL public relations.
Among professional sports, the NFL has the highest criminal activity rate. This unusually high rate has the world of sports intrigued. According to a study by vocativ.com, an NFL athlete is 14 times more likely to be arrested than an NHL athlete. A quick look at crime statistics shows that DUI/DWI is the leading cause for arrest, followed by possession of controlled substances and assault/battery. Out of all 32 NFL teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals have lead the league in arrests over the past 15 years.
However, despite the overwhelming amount of NFL players who find themselves in trouble, a recent study at the University of Texas – Dallas found that NFL players are actually less likely to commit a crime than peers of similar age. Pretty shocking right? Since NFL players are much better behaved than we thought, let’s take a look at the worst of the worst:
20. Warren Sapp
Former NFL lineman and Hall of Famer Warren Sapp was known to agitate those around him. In the early 2000’s, Sapp was the center of controversy involving incidents of him skipping through and disrupting opposing teams warm-ups. Later Sapp was fined for similar incidents in which he intentionally bumped into referees. Sapp’s terrible attitude combined with a big mouth made him one of the league’s most hated players.
Following Super Bowl 49, Warren Sapp was taken into custody on two counts of assault and soliciting prostitution. After an argument over money, Sapp got physical with the women giving them minor injuries. That same day Sapp’s contract as a broadcaster with NFL network was terminated.
19. Adrian Peterson
Even one of the greatest running backs of the past decade can’t even escape the criminal spotlight. Former Minnesota Vikings back Adrian Peterson was indicted in 2014 following felony charges of child abuse. Photos were leaked of slash-like wounds on Peterson’s son. Peterson had repeatedly assaulted his son with tree branches on his back, genitals, ankles and legs as a form of punishment.
18. Tank Johnson
When your Wikipedia page has a section called “legal troubles” that is longer than career accomplishments, you know there is a problem. The former defensive tackle destroyed his own career from a series of arrests and illegal behavior. In 2005, Johnson was arrested outside of a nightclub for unlawful possession of a handgun.
This led to a search of his home in which it was discovered that he had illegal firearms. These included loaded assault rifles in the presence of children. In 2007, Johnson spent some time in jail for violating his probation.
17. Jonathan Dwyer
Jonathan Dwyer’s NFL career was cut extremely short due serious allegations of assault. The former Arizona Cardinals running back was taken into custody due to counts of aggravated assault, assault involving a minor, and two counts of criminal damage. Allegedly, Dwyer assaulted his wife and 18 month old child and prevented his wife from calling 911 in an emergency situation.
Apparently, Dwyer had sent his wife a picture of a knife including threatening text messages. Dwyer was taken to jail but released on bond. Although he admitted that incidents had occurred, Dwyer denies having assaulted his wife or child. Charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.
16. Greg Hardy
Former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy career came to a screeching halt after allegations of domestic violence surfaced in 2015. Hardy was arrested for assault and verbal threats after he strangled his girlfriend and threatened to kill her. After he was sentenced to 18 months probation suspending 60 days in prison, Hardy appealed the decision.
The victim did not show up to testify at the appeal and Hardy’s charges were dropped. However, he was also dropped by the Panthers and became on of the poster-boys of the ongoing controversy of domestic violence issues in the NFL. Later in 2016, Hardy was arrested in Dallas for possession of cocaine.
15. Titus Young
Ever wonder how it would be possible to get arrested twice in one day? What about three times in one week? Just ask former Lions wide receiver Titus Young. In 2013, Young was arrested for DUI. Fourteen hours later he was arrested again breaking into a tow yard trying to steal his impounded car. If that wasn’t enough, he was arrested again later that week on suspicion of burglary and assaulting an officer.
Young was arrested again in 2014 on five counts of battery and was forced to stand trail after multiple hearing delinquencies. Family members believe Young’s irrational behavior stems from concussion related injuries and Young was sent to a rehabilitation center in California. Upon his release from rehab, Young was arrested again for assault with a deadly weapon and felony battery during a street fight in Los Angeles.
14. Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben Roethlisberger remains as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, with two Super Bowl rings and five pro-bowl appearances. However, Ben found himself in trouble on two separate occasions in 2008 and 2010 for sexual assault. In 2008, Roethlisberger called a casino executive to his room to complain about the TV not working. When the woman determined the TV worked, she turned to leave and Roethlisberger blocked the door and began the kiss her, which resulted in a struggle. The charges were later dropped, and Roethlisberger and the woman agreed to settle.
In 2010, Roethlisberger allegedly assaulted a woman in a women’s restroom at a nightclub in Georgia. Ben lied about having met the woman, even though he was pictured with her that night. Sufficient evidence was unable to be collected and the woman dropped the charges, claiming a criminal trial would be personally intrusive.
13. Cedric Benson
Anyone remember Cedric Benson? The former Chicago Bears running back had a bright future ahead of him before his legal troubles began to hold him back. In 2008, Benson was arrested near Austin, Texas, for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest. He was arrested again in Austin for driving while intoxicated after he ran a red light. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo stated that Benson’s behavior would not be tolerated. Later that week, the Bears waived Benson.
Once again, Benson was arrested in Austin for assault on a family member and was taken to jail. Five days later he was released and suspended by the NFL for only one game. After three arrests in the same city, in less than three years, it would be smart to stay away from that city, right? Well in 2017, Benson was again arrested in Austin for driving while intoxicated. It was reported that Benson was so intoxicated he could not recite the Alphabet from G-Z. Nor could he count past the number three, which is fitting since that was his fourth arrest.
12. Richie Incognito
Buffalo Bills lineman Richie Incognito has been known as one of the leagues dirtiest players and was frequently penalized for his cheap play. In 2013, word got out that Incognito repeatedly harassed then-teammate Jonathan Martin. The harassment started with Incognito forcing Martin to pay $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas. However the harassment didn’t stop there.
Incognito continued to terrorize Martin by sending him threatening phone calls and racially insensitive text messages. In November of 2013, word got out that the messages Incognito had sent included threats to track down members of Martin’s family to inflict harm, as well as a threat to kill Martin. Apparently the Miami Dolphins had asked Incognito to “toughen up” Martin, and Incognito took this way too far. Reports emerged that Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland believed the correct way to solve the issue was for Martin to punch Incognito. Upset with the way Miami handled the situation, Martin decided to leave Miami. After Martin chose to leave the Dolphins, Incognito was suspended for three months by the Miami Dolphins and the NFL.
10. Darrell Russell
Former Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Darrell Russell had an ugly past, before his death in 2005. His future was promising, as a two-time pro bowler with 28.5 career sacks. However, Russell had struggled with an ecstasy problem throughout his short career, ultimately breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policy over seven times. The NFL suspended him multiple times, before he was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004.
In 2002, Russell was prosecuted for rape and pleaded innocent to 25 felony counts. Apparently, Russell and two others videotaped themselves assaulting a woman. After the evidence gathered was deemed inconclusive by the prosecution, the charges against Russell were dropped.
9. Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth, a former wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, had an outstanding rookie season in 1997, and impressed many of his doubters. That year Curruth caught 44 passes for 545 yards with 4 touchdowns, tied for 1st among all rookies. He was named to the all-rookie team that year and looked forward to an even better sophomore season. However, after a broken foot and disappointing following two seasons, Carruth found himself in trouble off the field.
In 1999, Carruth hired a hitman to murder his girlfriend, who was eight months pregnant with his child. Curruth was spotted at the scene and was later arrested. He posted bail on the condition that if his girlfriend or the child died, he would turn himself in. His girlfriend passed away but the child survived. Carruth fled to Tennessee where he was found in the trunk of a car with $3,000 in cash, bottles of urine, and a cellphone. He was sentenced to 18-24 years in prison for conspiracy of murder and is expected to be released in 2018.
8. Lawrence Phillips
Former NFL and AFL running back Lawrence Phillips suffered from a self destructive personality that prevented his career from taking off. Phillips was constantly in trouble with the law and his respective teams, dating all the way back to college. Two counts of assault in college almost ended his career, but he was given a second chance and had an incredible game in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl. Phillips was drafted sixth overall in the 1996 draft by the Rams, who believed him to be so talented that they ended up trading Jerome Bettis to the Steelers that same day (oops). He would be eventually released by the Rams in 1997 due to playing while intoxicated and spending 23 days in jail. Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil said Phillips was one of the best running backs he ever coached, despite his character issues.
The problems continued as Phillips was passed from team to team, NFL to AFL, due to his behavior on and off the field. After his retirement from football, Phillips was arrested for assault after driving his car into three teenagers, due to a dispute over a pick-up game of football. He was also wanted at that time for nearly killing his girlfriend. In 2008, he was sentenced to 7 years in prison for attacking the teenagers, and again in 2009 for assaulting his girlfriend for consecutive sentences of 31 years. After murdering his cellmate and facing the death penalty, Phillips committed suicide in 2016.
7. Michael Vick
One of the most iconic and talented quarterbacks in NFL history, Michael Vick, forever tainted his name and career over allegations of dog fighting. Michael Vick forever changed the game of football, with his unbelievable speed and agility, becoming the new face of the “scrambling” quarterback. He currently holds NFL records for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,039) as well as for a career (6,109).
However, in 2007 Vick was indicted on felony dog fighting charges. He was responsible for financing the fights, participation in the fights as well as execution of the dogs, and also personally handling thousands of dollars in gambling related activities.
6. Ray Lewis
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was once one of the most most feared defenders in the NFL, with over 2,000 tackles and 40 career sacks. The two time Super Bowl champion and thirteen time pro-bowler was someone not to be messed with. He was always a scary man, but that was taken to another level in 2000.
At a Super Bowl party in 2000, Lewis got into a physical altercation with two men. The men were later found stabbed to death, and the blame landed on Lewis after their blood was found in his limo and on the suit he was wearing. Once it went to trial, the prosecutor , mysteriously dropped it. It is alleged that Lewis paid off the families of the deceased. To this day the murder hasn’t been solved.
5. Adam Jones
Where do we even begin? Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals is the NFL’s poster-boy for bad behavior. The cornerback /return specialist has an affinity for getting into trouble at nightclubs. Between 2005 and 2006 Jones was arrested at various night clubs in Nashville for assault and vandalism. On two separate occasions he was arrested for spitting in the face of women. Seriously.
In 2007, Pacman was arrested for slamming an exotic dancer after she tried to collect the money he had thrown on the stage at Minxx strip club in Las Vegas. Later than night a man returned with a gun and fired into the crowd. It was believed that Jones had ordered him to do it, although evidence was inconclusive. Since then Jones has found himself in more trouble at other night clubs and strip clubs across the country.
4. Ray Rice
Star running back for the Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice, was indicted on third degree assault, after attacking his fiancee in a casino elevator. The initial video showed Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator.
However, another video surfaced showing the attack in the elevator in which Rice punched her several times, before she hit her head and was knocked unconscious. The Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract, but the public became outraged after the NFL only suspended him two games for the viscous attack.
3. O.J. Simpson
In one of the most highly televised criminal trials ever, OJ Simpson was accused for the murders of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. We all know the story, so in short, OJ’s wife and Goldman were found stabbed to death outside of Simpson’s home.
Simpson becomes a suspect and leads police on a high speed chase and is caught with a suicide letter on him. OJ plead not guilty, and after a botched trial in which he tried on a glove that did not fit, he was acquitted. He later wrote a book called “If I Did It” which is basically OJ saying he did it.
2. Jim Dunaway
Former Buffalo Bills defensive tackle is known as the “forgotten OJ”. Similar to the case of OJ Simpson, Dunaway’s wife was found murdered in a half empty swimming pool in 1998. Prior to the murder, his wife had recently won a divorce case in which she received 800 acres of the couple’s property, $1,800 per month in alimony, and half of Dunaway’s NFL pension.
He was arrested as the prime suspect, however the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Dunaway’s children still believed him to be guilty and filed a wrongful death suit against their father, which they won over half of one million dollars. Eerily, Dunaway and OJ Simpson had been teammates together on the Buffalo Bills.
1. Aaron Hernandez
Yep, you guessed it. This list would be incomplete without former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez atop. Hernandez’s career was looking up, following a pro bowl appearance and a new contract. However, he was charged, and found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Hernandez had murdered his fiancee’s sister’s boyfriend (Odin Lloyd) and had tried to cover it up. It was believed that Lloyd knew too much about Hernandez’s involvement in a 2012 double homicide outside of a bar. Hernandez is currently on trial for that double homicide.
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