Wasted Talent: 15 NFL Stars Whose Careers Ended In Prison

According to the NFL Arrest Database, there have been nearly 900 NFL player arrested since the year 2000. That doesn't take into account decades of football players breaking the law prior to the turn of the century, but it gives a snapshot of the large number of individuals the league has employed that have got on the wrong side of the law. The world of NFL football is violent, and sometimes, players can take that violence off the field. Some NFL stars have simply made one-off mistakes, while others have shown a tendency for violence on repeated occasions. Of course, there are some players that got caught in the wrong place and the right time; but there are others who were regular offenders.

The sports world is full of athletes, men and women, with big egos. These superstars are bigger than life, and many feel they can't do anything wrong, like Dwayne Goodrich. Or perhaps, some football players, like Sam Hurd, believe they can double dip by making a large NFL contract and trafficking drugs on the side. In the end, it just doesn't work, and plenty of NFL players have cost themselves their careers by going to prison. Whether they returned after being locked up or they never played another down, breaking the law cost these players dearly during their NFL careers.

17 Darren Sharper


Five-time NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Darren Sharper is behind bars, and will be there until 2036 after drugging and taking advantage of 16 women. Sharper was tried and convicted in four different states. At the time of his arrest in 2014, Sharper was a highly-publicized analyst for the NFL Network. The channel fired him following his arrest and the mounting evidence against the former player. When Sharper was initially arrested in Los Angeles, he had been on a spree of drugging and assaulting women. He had assaulted four women in a 24-hour period. There has been no evidence to prove Sharper conducted any of his deviant actions during his playing career. However, there may have been women who just never came forward due to blacking out and having no memory of the incident. During his career, Sharper was known as a "lady's' man", but many considered him to be a dedicated husband and father. He was also a man who spoke against domestic violence and violence towards women. However, he clearly didn't practice what he preached.

16 Rae Carruth


The Carolina Panthers made Rae Carruth the 27th pick in the 1997 NFL Draft. A wide receiver, Carruth was a standout at Colorado as he paired with future NFL players Koy Detmer and Kordell Stewart. Carruth started his professional career well for the Panthers, playing in 15 games and making 44 receptions for 545 yards in his rookie year. After missing the nearly all of the 1998 season due to injury, Carruth returned in 1999 to play five games. However, on November 16, 1999, Carruth hired gunman Van Brett Watkins to kill his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, and their unborn baby. Adams would die in the hospital after falling into a coma post-shooting. The baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, was saved and today is nearing his 18th birthday. Carruth, who earned $40,000 per game with the Panthers, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison. On October 22, 2018, Carruth will be released from prison in North Carolina.

15 Greg Hardy


The Carolina Panthers' 175th pick in the 2010 draft, Greg Hardy entered the league with plenty of potential to be one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. Hardy made the 2013 Pro Bowl thanks to his 15 sacks and 40 tackles; however, his career was about to hit the skids. In 2014, Hardy was arrested for an assault on his girlfriend that left her severely bruised and beaten. Before he could go to trial and a possibly lengthy prison term, Hardy reached a financial agreement with his ex-girlfriend. She stopped cooperating with the investigators, and the charges were dropped. After Carolina released Hardy, Dallas signed the player. Hardy missed the first four games of the 2015 season due to a league suspension. Hardy had plenty of on-field problems as well, most notably getting into physical altercations with teammates during Cowboys' games. Pictures of Hardy's girlfriend after her assault were released in November 2015. The pictures caused a stir and put the spotlight back on a man many called a "psychopath". The Cowboys decided to cut ties with him in February 2016. He was arrested once more later that year on cocaine possession charges, and no NFL teams wanted to touch Hardy after the arrest. A month later, Hardy stated he would begin training to be an MMA fighter.

14 Sam Hurd


Sam Hurd wasn't the most prolific wide receiver in the NFL, but between 2006 and 2010, he was a regular for the Cowboys. Hurd never made more than 19 receptions in a season for Dallas. Despite his low numbers, Hurd signed a three-year, $4.15 million contract with the Chicago Bears in 2011. The Bears made Hurd the special teams captain, but six months later, he was cut from the team after being arrested as part of a cocaine and marijuana syndicate. Hurd faced a lengthy prison sentence as part of the drug trafficking network, and his NFL career was over in the blink of an eye. Hurd was sentenced to 15 years for his part in the drug network, although he could have got life.


12 Aaron Hernandez

Via New York Times

Even before the New England Patriots drafted Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, there were signs of trouble. In 2007 as a member of the Florida Gators football team, Hernandez was involved in a double shooting that injured two. However, no charges were filed due to insufficient evidence at the time. Once drafted by New England, Hernandez was one of the top tight ends in the league, and in 2011, he tallied 79 receptions for 910 yards. However, in 2012, Hernandez would find himself in legal trouble once more, just as his career was at its peak. Two shooting incidents occurred in connection with the tight end, however it was the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd that landed Hernandez in prison. Lloyd was the tight end's finance's sister's boyfriend, but no motive for the murder was ever given. Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In April 2017, Hernandez was found in his prison cell hanging by his bed sheet. According to the New York Times, Hernandez was suffering from severe CTE. His brain damage resembled that of other former NFL players in their 60s.


10 Brandon Joiner


What is it with the Cincinnati Bengals and being attracted to criminals? In 2012, the franchise called upon un-drafted free agent Brandon Joiner; making Cincinnati the only team to do so. Unfortunately, Joiner was still awaiting sentencing for an incident from 2007 in which he was arrested for aggravated robbery and drug possession. During Joiner's time in a Texas prison, the Bengals kept in contact with the linebacker, and hoped to help rehabilitate him. After just a year in prison, Joiner was paroled, and he hoped to kickstart his NFL career with Cincinnati. Joiner had a promising training camp and looked destine to make the team's practice squad at the very least. However, an ACL injury ended his hopes of playing football in 2013. Joiner returned in 2014 after recovering from his knee injury, but in his mid-20s by the time he could actually play, Joiner never featured in an NFL regular season game for Cincinnati.

9 Leonard Little


Sure, Leonard Little's career didn't end in prison, but it should have in 1998. Little killed a mother of two in October of that year, but never spent a day in prison due to the incident. Little cared so Little (no pun intended) for running a red light and driving his SUV into Susan Gutweiler's car (her two children were also inside) that he referred to her as a "bitch" to the arresting officers. Despite being well over the legal limit for drunk driving, Little got off easy. The court convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and he was sentenced to just 90 days in the city workhouse. He also received four years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service. What did the NFL do? They suspended Little for just eight games in 1999. Little did go on to have a solid career with the St. Louis Rams, although he should have been locked up for a long time. At least he missed out on the Rams' 2000 Super Bowl win. In April 2004, Little was once again arrested for driving while intoxicated after he was doing 78 mph in a 55-mph zone. Little faced four years in prison due to being a persistent offender, but once again got off lightly with just probation. According to the Gutweiler family, not only has Little never spent a day in prison for his actions, but he has never said "sorry" for killing Susan.

8 Darryl Henley


Darryl Henley is serving a 41-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. The cornerback played his entire six-year NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams before being arrested and sentenced in 1995 for drug trafficking. Henley's case would have probably been bigger news, if another former NFL player - O.J. Simpson - hadn't had his trial at the same time. Henley originally received 20 years in jail, but his sentence was increased after he plead guilty to hiring a hitman to murder his sentencing judge. It wasn't too bright from a former 3.3-GPA student at UCLA. Henley could have been one of the best defensive backs of the 1990s with his 12 career interceptions in 76 NFL games. However, he is a forgotten man in Rams history, as the trial took place the same offseason the franchise moved east to St. Louis.

7 Dwayne Goodrich


Unlike Leonard Little, Dwayne Goodrich was convicted of manslaughter and served eight years in prison after killing two people with his vehicle. Goodrich was involved in a hit and run accident in 2003, which resulted in the Dallas Cowboys releasing the second-year player out of Tennessee (Like Little). The two people Goodrich killed were attempting to free a third person who was trapped in a burning car. Goodrich mowed them down at speeds estimated to be as high as 80 mph. Another man - Shuki Josef - was also struck by Goodrich's BMW. Luckily, he survived, but his leg was completely shattered. After leaving prison, Goodrich returned to Tennessee University in 2013 to finish the degree he left behind when he entered the NFL Draft. In May 2014, Goodrich received his degree.

6 Josh Brent


Josh Brent had shown previous signs that he would get behind the wheel after drinking. In 2009, he received 60 days in jail following a DUI conviction while at Illinois University. Just over three years later, he would get behind the wheel again, but this time it would end in the death of his teammate Jerry Brown. Brent flipped his Mercedes as he sped along a service road to Texas State Highway 114. The car caught fire, and when police arrived, Brent was attempting to pull his teammate and former college roommate from the vehicle. Brent was convicted of intoxication manslaughter and served 180 days in jail in total following the jury's decision. Of course, the Cowboys welcomed Brent back, but due to the time away, Brent wasn't in physical or mental shape to play football. He appeared just one more time in the NFL for the Cowboys in 2014, making three tackles.

5 Plaxico Burress


Although Burress would return to the NFL after a two-year prison sentence, his best years were definitely behind him. In November 2008, Burress famously shot himself in the leg at a New York City nightclub. The incident came in the fourth season of his lucrative deal with the New York Giants. His time with the team had been highly successful, and in the previous three years, he had posted more than 900 yards receiving in each season. Burress went on to serve 20 months of a two-year sentence, but his legal troubles were far from over. The wide receiver signed with the Jets and featured in all 16 regular season games. He even caught three touchdown passes in a game against the Chargers. A year later, he re-joined the Steelers, the team that had drafted him in 2000; but injuries hampered his time with the franchise. Burress once again faced legal troubles as in 2012 as a civil lawsuit from a car accident three years prior found him guilty. His off-field problems and injuries combined to bring his career to an end. Burress was ordered to pay $159,000 to the plaintiff. According to reports, Burress has been sued nearly 10 times since he became an NFL player. Making his problems worse, he was indicted for tax evasion in 2015. According to experts, Burress could return to prison, if he doesn't pay his $47,903 tax bill.

4 Donte Stallworth


In March 2009, just over one year after signing a whopping $35 million, seven-year contract with the Cleveland Browns, wide receiver Donte Stallworth was arrested for DUI manslaughter. Stallworth had been out partying on the night of March 13th, and was still suffering from the effects on the next morning. While driving, still drunk after waking up that day, Stallworth hit and killed Mario Reyes as the construction worker crossed the street. Thanks to a plea deal, Stallworth only served 30 days in jail. He also agreed to a private settlement with Reyes family. Stallworth did return to the NFL in 2010 after signing with Baltimore, but the magic was gone from the one-time NFL standout. He made just two receptions for the Ravens before joining Washington and New England in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In his final two NFL seasons, Stallworth recorded just 23 total receptions for 372 yards.

3 Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson


Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson is one of the better stories of NFL players who went to prison. Henderson was a product of tiny Langston College in Oklahoma and was so good at the school, the Dallas Cowboys picked him 18th overall in 1975. It was definitely a different time period in the NFL, and Dallas was at its height of being "America's team". The linebacker was a regular for Tom Landry, but didn't have true success until the 1978 season, when he was voted to the Pro Bowl. He was also a Super Bowl champion with Dallas. The wild "Hollywood" persona really took over Henderson's life on and off the field, and in 1983 as his football career had spiralled out of control, Henderson was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman in California. At the time, Henderson claimed the relationship was consensual as he paid for it with drugs. In the end, he plead guilty to the charge, went to rehab and then spent more than two years in prison. Upon release, Henderson turned his life around with his wild man persona and NFL career firmly behind him. He began to work with charities and as a motivational speaker. Amazingly, in 2000, he won $28 million playing the Texas Lotto, and has since donated much of the money to charitable organizations.

2 Lawrence Phillips


Lawrence Phillips was one of the most highly sought-after players when he was drafted in 1996. So sure he would be a star, the Rams made him the sixth overall pick. However, even before the team selected him and traded away future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, there were signs of trouble. In his last year at Nebraska, Phillips beat up his girlfriend and smashed her head into a mailbox when he found out she had cheated on him. His anger and aggression were well-known, and plenty of people were afraid of his outbursts. In less than two years with the Rams, Phillips was arrested three times and spent a total of 23 days in jail. The Rams released him in 1997 as Phillips was a loose cannon. The running back had become known for being out all-night drinking and going straight to games. Miami signed him after he was cut by the Rams, but they too cut Phillips after he beat up a woman in a Florida nightclub that refused to dance with him. He briefly revitalized his career during a stint in NFL Europe in 1999, but upon returning to the US and signing for the 49ers, the running back went off the rails once more. More arrests and charges for assault accumulated for Phillips and in 2002, he was released by the CFL's Montreal Alouettes due to a sexual assault charge. Three years later at what should have been the prime of his NFL career, Phillips was arrested after running down three teenagers outside the Los Angeles Coliseum with his vehicle. The former NFL player received 31 years in prison for both an assault on his former girlfriend and the attempted murder of the three teens he ran over. Phillips' story doesn't end there. In 2015, Phillips' cellmate, Damion Soward was found dead in their cell. Phillips was set to face trial for his murder, and could have received the death penalty. On January 12, 2016, Phillips was found dead after hanging himself in his cell. He had placed a note on his chest that read: "Do not resuscitate." After his suicide, Phillips' family donated his brain to CTE research.

1 Maurice Clarett


What could have been if Maurice Clarett hadn't got into a lawsuit against the NFL he couldn't win? For two years, Clarett sat on the sidelines waiting for his opportunity to play in the NFL. The Broncos shocked everyone by selecting him in the third round of the 2005 draft, and Clarett signed a ridiculous incentivized contract that would reward him based on performance. Big mistake. Clarett would never play a down in the NFL as the Broncos waived him before the 2005 season started. No teams were interested in bringing in the former Ohio State star, and if any had notions of signing him a year later, those thoughts quickly disappeared. Clarett was arrested on New Year's Day 2006 for a robbery that nabbed him $150 and a cell phone. Eight months later, Clarett was arrested again as he awaited trial. This time, he was charged with carrying weapons. In 2010, Clarett was released from a halfway house he had been staying in following his release from the Toledo Correctional Institution. Although he never played in the NFL due to his legal problems, Clarett did play for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. When Clarett completed his first rush, it was his first meaningful football action in eight years. Oh, what could have been? Now, Clarett is a justice reform advocate. He is co-founder of the non-profit organization Red Zone, which works with families and at risk youth in Youngstown, Ohio.

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