In the real world, a falling star is one of the most beautiful sights to witness with the naked eye. In the world of professional sports, a falling star is like a car accident — you really shouldn’t look but, for some reason, you can’t take your eyes off it. Most of the time, fans just hope their team wins or their favorite player has a good game but when an individual’s life and personal career garners negative public attention, the media takes a field day. Whether it’s our fascination with self-destruction or witnessing a long overdue confession to the vices of cheating, drugs and money, the world loves an athlete who has fallen from grace.
Over the last few weeks we’ve witnessed how quickly a scandal can become newsworthy from Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda and the pine tar incident to South African track star Oscar Pistorius‘ murder trial. Just how quickly can one moment change the rest of our lives? According to Yahoo, former New England Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez went from making $4 million a year to being arrested and taken into custody as a free agent in less than two hours. Hernandez is still on trial for murder and may never play football in the NFL again. Some athletes face roadblocks that tarnish their careers but don’t ruin them. Some athletes endure career-ending scandals but move on to successful positions in other departments or industries.
But the hardest truths to swallow are the ones that have long-lasting ramifications. The late Joe Paterno, former head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, went from being the most winningest NCAA football coach and 2008 Hall of Famer to arguably the most disgraced coach in sports history. His professional career was virtually wiped as the NCAA stripped victories dating back over a decade while his personal life went up in flames as the media revealed Paterno’s involvement in the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. Paterno was eventually fired and passed away 2 months later. It only takes a brief moment or one poor decision for years of work to be shattered. Looking back at the last 30 years of professional sports, these are the top 10 most disgraced athletes.
10. Brett Favre
The rugged All-American family man managed to blacken an incredible 20-year career when he left the Green Bay Packers in 2007. After playing in every single game except one during his 16 year reign with the Packers, Brett Favre announced he was going to retire in an emotional press conference. Fast forward one year and Favre is QB1 for the New York Jets and is sending inappropriate text messages to a woman that’s not his wife. A year after that, Favre’s back in the NFC North… with the Minnesota Vikings. Although Favre was rumored to have had an opportunity to play for the St. Louis Rams in 2013, he really retired in 2010. It seems Favre should’ve kept his Wrangler jeans zipped in Wisconsin.
9. Michael Vick
Michael Vick was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft. Prior to allegations of scandalous off-field activities, Vick was well-liked in Atlanta and quickly became a fan favorite during his 6-year career with the Falcons. In 2007, the Virginia Tech southpaw was implicated in an illegal dog-fighting ring that would see Vick face jail time. The details of the the dogs involved were gruesome and this cruel crime will follow Michael Vick everywhere. According to ESPN, the Falcons’ poster boy pleaded guilty to federal charges that kept him off the football field until signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.
8. Marion Jones
Marion Jones was America’s favorite track star when she won 5 Olympic medals at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. Jones fought for years to keep her name clean from drug use despite incessant allegations of steroid abuse. According to the Washington Post, Jones finally admitted to cheating in 2007 and was forced to relinquish the 3 gold and 2 bronze medals she had won in Australia. The California track star held an emotional press conference to announce that she had cheated and reportedly struggled financially following the repercussions of her confession.
7. Mark McGwire
Former Major League first baseman, Mark McGwire had a powerhouse 16 season career with the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals respectively. But it was the 1998 regular season that brought about the hunt to beat Roger Maris’ single season home run record and it came down to Chicago Cubs’ outfielder Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Sosa was no stranger to steroid use allegations but McGwire broke the home run record and actually admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs years after he retired as a player. McGwire currently serves as hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
6. Mike Tyson
As controversial as Tyson‘s personal and professional history is, it’s hard to determine whether he had ever been a well-liked athlete. His reputation went downhill early with allegations of domestic abuse in 1988 and sexual assault in 1992 and never really got better. Tyson served partial time in jail for his conviction but was in the ring making a comeback by 1996. He would go on to bite Evander Holyfield‘s ear off, announce his retirement, file for bankruptcy, get a tattoo on his face and would later admit to alcoholism and excessive cocaine abuse throughout his career.
5. Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez made his Major League debut with the Seattle Mariners in 1994. When he signed his 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2001, it was the biggest contract in Major League history. Rodriguez didn’t fully served his contract before he was traded to the New York Yankees. In 2004, A-Rod was in the Big Apple and 5 years later he confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs during his career with the Texas Rangers. According to ESPN, Rodriguez swore he had been clean his entire time in New York but found himself back in the hot seat in 2013 when rumors of a BioGenesis clinic started making the rounds. If A-Rod ever returns to professional baseball, he may get hit by more than just Ryan Dempster’s pitch.
4. Pete Rose
Thinking back to the days of the player-manager, Pete Rose is the first person that comes to mind. There is a lot of controversy surrounding Pete Rose’s involvement in gambling on games and really no official conclusion to the matter. According to ESPN, Rose was banned from the game and made ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. Although the allegations surrounding the switch hitter’s managerial choices were reportedly proven, whatever deal was made to stop the formal investigation from being pursued any further is somewhat of a grey area. Ultimately, the lack of integrity and respect for the sport was so unforgivable that Pete Rose was virtually blacklisted from baseball.
3. O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson was signed by the Buffalo Bills in 1969 AFL-NFL Common Draft. The USC running back played with the Buffalo Bills through 1977 before joining the San Francisco 49ers. During his 11-season career, Simpson managed 2,404 carries for 11,236 yards and 61 TDs and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Ten years later, Simpson was famously acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Simpson would follow this up by releasing a book outlining how it would have happened had he killed Brown and Goldman. According to the New York Times, Simpson was arrested with multiple armed robbery charges from an incident in 2007 and is currently serving out his four-year sentence in Nevada.
2. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is considered by many to be the greatest golfer of all time. He is also responsible for arguably the most famous public sex scandal involving a professional athlete. In 2009, tabloid magazines were talking about Woods having an affair with a New York nightclub promoter. After a week of gossip, there were more than a dozen different women claiming to have had a sexual relationship with the golf superstar, Woods’ family fell apart and he lost some big endorsement deals. Tiger Woods took some personal time away from his career and eventually made a successful comeback to professional golf, although he hasn’t won a major since the news came out.
1. Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong is the brightest star to have fallen from grace. The former 7-time Tour de France champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 and made a miraculous return to road cycling within a year. Armstrong was cancer-free and an incredible inspiration to the world. But the ability to overcome intensive surgeries and chemotherapy and dominating the world of competitive cycling proved too good to be true for America’s golden boy. In 2013, Armstrong finally admitted to the doping allegations that had haunted him throughout his entire career and was eventually stripped of all of his Tour de France titles.