When an athlete finds success in the world of sports, they’re thrown into the glamorous world of celebrity with big paychecks, fans, companionship, parties, and more. Whether they were recruited from college, or picked up because of natural talent, they are thrown into a foreign world of fame and fortune. Typically diving into this brave new world young, with little life experience, they may find themselves hitting many speed bumps over the span of their careers. Many of us bystanders believe that the life of an athlete is enviable – they can make a living doing what they love, training, playing the game, earning huge paychecks from sponsorships and more. But in reality, sometimes these sports stars’ lives are turbulent and even tragic.
So, when an athlete hits rock bottom – whether it’s in their careers or their personal lives – they may find themselves back in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, as an unforgiving world witnesses their demise. The higher an athlete rises to fame, the harder the fall should they ever experience the ever-present possibility of dreaded failure.
The following ten athletes were some of the most widely-publicised incidents of sports stars who truly hit rock bottom at some point in their careers: Whether it’s a lull in their game playing time, getting caught in a lie, drug abuse, or marriages falling apart by their own hand, these athletes had a long way to go to build their careers back up, and some still haven’t recovered from their time at the bottom.
10. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods made headlines as one of the best golfers of his generation. Woods seemed to have it all – a beautiful wife and a glowing career as one of the highest paid athletes in the sports world. But in 2009, the National Enquirer broke a story alleging that Woods was being unfaithful to his wife. A few months later, Us Weekly released information on a voicemail supposedly left by Woods for one of his mistresses. Eventually, numerous women came forward claiming that they had relations with the golfer. Woods held a press conference and admitted to his infidelity. His marriage fell apart, he lost sponsorship and his career and reputation both took a serious hit.
9. Ray Williams
The story of Ray Williams is both tragic and inspiring as it shows that anyone can bounce back after a setback. After his NBA career ended, Williams found himself struggling financially to the point where he filed for bankruptcy in 1994. By 2010, Williams found himself homeless and living in his car. Once the Boston Globe picked up on his story, his former teammates banded together to help him get back on his feet. With that help, Williams was able to return to his hometown, find a place to live, and a job. Sadly, Williams passed away in March of 2013.
8. Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker was known as one of the best basketball players in the NBA who ruined his career by his own hand. He played for the NBA from 1996 to 2008 and during that time he developed a severe gambling problem which corrupted his life. He eventually pled guilty to six counts of felony charges. Even after his career ended, Walker found himself in deep debt. He recently screened a new documentary, “Gone In An Instant”, in Chicago, in hopes of warning future NBA players against making the same mistakes he did.
7. Michael Vick
Michael Vick is a well-known NFL quarterback who made headlines in 2007 for conducting illegal dogfights, which had been going on for five years. He pled guilty to federal felony charges and spent 21 months in prison plus two months of house arrest. Because he wasn’t getting his usual NFL salary and was losing his sponsorships and endorsements, Vick had to declare bankruptcy, and was let go from the Falcons. He was eventually traded to the Eagles, and currently plays for the Jets.
6. Darryl Strawberry
Darryl Strawberry made his debut into Major League Baseball in 1983, playing for the New York Mets. He was named an All Star every year from 1984 through 1991 as well as being a member of the 1986 Mets World Series Team. Strawberry’s career was on the up and up, but his personal problems soon caught up with him – leading him to publicly admit his alcohol and drug abuse problems. His first cocaine use was in 1983, which led to drinking and other recreational drugs, damaging his personal life and his marriage. By the time he hit 30 years old, his career was effectively over.
5. Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in major league baseball; however, his time was cut short when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. It turned out that he was taking a women’s fertility drug known as HCG. In 2008, Ramirez retired rather than face a 100 game suspension but he would later be reinstated in 2011, playing for the Oakland Athletics and agreeing to a 50 game suspension. He was later let go. In the 2012-2013 off-season, he played for the ED Rhinos. Then he signed a minor league contract deal, which was later let go due to his decreased batting power and speed. As of right now in 2014, he has a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs and is a coach and part-time player for the AAA Iowa Cubs.
4. Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart is currently a free agent, quite a change compared to when his NFL career first started. In college, he played for the University of Southern California and led the team to numerous victories, catching the attention of scouts. He started with the Arizona Cardinals, and then went on to play for the Houston Texans, the Oakland Raiders, and the Buffalo Bills. After breaking his collarbone in 2011, his season ended. He is still on the roster for the Buffalo Bills, but has yet to see another game since.
3. Dwight Gooden
Dwight Eugene “Doc” Gooden was a professional baseball player who played for teams such as the New York Mets, the Yankees, the Cleveland Indians, and more from 1984 through 2000. He was a four-time Major League Baseball All Star and three time World Series Champion. Gooden was at the top of the baseball world, and continued to make appearances after his retirement. Unfortunately, after he retired, he started to get into trouble with the law. In 2002, Gooden was arrested for drunk driving. In 2005, he was arrested again and charged with misdemeanor battery for punching his girlfriend after she threw a telephone at his head. A few months later, he drove away from police after being stopped for driving erratically, and turned himself in a few days later. In 2006, he was arrested for violating his probation and appeared to be high on cocaine when he met with his probation officer. He spent 7 months in jail. Then in 2010, Gooden was arrested again for driving under the influence and endangering the welfare of a child, as there was an infant in the car with him. He pled guilty and received 5 years probation and had to go to rehab.
2. Vin Baker
Vin Baker’s career started out fast and furious, as a much sought after athlete post-college. While playing for the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1998-1999 season, Baker admitted that he started binge drinking, which began to affect his game. Players admitted to smelling alcohol on his breath at practice. Baker gained weight and eventually weighed over 300 pounds, which affected the way he played the game. He fell out of the media spotlight, and was no longer an all-star player. He was eventually traded to Boston, but was later released. He would play for several more teams before he eventually retired.
1. Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong may have had the roughest descent ever to rock bottom. He was once the symbol of perseverance, strength, humility, and courage, inspiring millions of people around the world. Between 1999 and 2005, Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times in a row. He also dealt with testicular cancer in 1996, which spread to his brain, abdomen, and lungs but was beaten with chemotherapy and surgery. As a survivor, he started the Livestrong Foundation, which provides support for cancer patients. Armstrong was plagued by rumours of his drug use throughout his career – rumours which he consistently denied – but in 2011, it came to light that Armstrong was indeed using performance enhancing drugs at the time of his wins, and in 2012, all of his wins and titles were stripped from him, which he did not contest against. Armstrong was also given a lifetime ban from competition.