Players who are leaders on and off of playing surfaces are invaluable to their teams. They are part-time coaches who help boost the performances of those around them. In some cases, top-tier team captains even keep teammates out of trouble before, during and after regular seasons. The likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Mario Lemieux, Tim Duncan and so many others are respected by fans, analysts and their peers for what they did behind the scenes when nobody was watching as much as they are praised for all that they accomplished on the field, on the court and on the ice during their historic careers.
At the other end of the spectrum are athletes who are referred to as being locker room “cancers;” players who alienate coaches, teammates and even fans with their behavior. Some of those individuals were/have been able to overcome their own personalities and produce positive numbers for their teams despite the fact that not everybody playing alongside them was keen on doing so. Others, however, could not help but constantly trip over themselves en route to costing themselves years of playing time that would have netted them millions of dollars in salary figures and potential endorsement deals.
Every player featured in this piece either possesses or had, during their primes, elite athletic ability that landed them in professional sports. Some even deserve to Hall-of-Fame honors because of how well they played during their careers, even if they didn’t make friends in organizations. With great talent comes great responsibility, to steal a phrase, and those who fail to learn that there is no “I” in “team” are quickly exiled by clubs the moment that they are no longer worth the headaches that they create. In fact, this list begins with a young talent who was released in the prime of his football career.
20. DeSean Jackson – NFL Wide Receiver
The Philadelphia Eagles stunned the pro football world last March when, seemingly out of nowhere, the club parted ways with the talented wide receiver. Rumors emerged that Jackson may be involved with some questionable people in his personal life, and it was later reported that he was not well liked inside of the Philadelphia locker room to the point that head coach Chip Kelly was happy to dump Jackson and get nothing in return rather than shop a play-maker who would have netted the Eagles a decent draft pick in such a deal. Do not cross Mr. Kelly, current and future Philadelphia players.
19. Ryan Leaf – NFL Quarterback
Leaf is widely regarded as being one of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL, and for good reasons. He had all of the physical tools to be a superstar pro quarterback, but Leaf could not emotionally or psychologically handle the pressure that came with being a professional athlete. Leaf battled with teammates and members of the front office before ultimately flaming out of the league. His life continued to spiral out of control after football, and he has since spent multiple stints behind bars. Leaf was released from prison in December of 2014, and the hope is that the 38-year-old can get his life under control.
18. John Terry – Premier League Centre Back
Some athletes anger teammates by not giving it all they have during games, and others are accused of having affairs with the significant others of teammates, as was the case with the Chelsea star back in 2010. What exactly happened, if anything at all, may never be known for sure, but the rumors resulted in Terry being stripped of his England captaincy for some time. Despite that story and other blunders, including Terry being accused of racially abusing an opponent during a game, Terry remains a beloved figure among many who follow Chelsea each and every English Premier League campaign.
17. Gilbert Arenas – NBA Point Guard
Firearms possession is a hot-button topic in the United States every year. Regardless of where you come down on the matter, everyone should be able to agree that the locker room is no place for guns. Arenas didn’t get that memo in December of 2009, when it was learned that he had stored guns inside of the locker room of the Washington Wizards. That curious decision resulted in Arenas earning a lengthy suspension from the NBA, and it was also the beginning of the end of his Washington career. “Agent Zero,” as he has been known, has not played in the league since 2012.
16. Alex Rodriguez – MLB Third Baseman/Shortstop
You have to give A-Rod credit in that he has never been shy about being “me over team” since linking up with the New York Yankees. The only reason that Rodriguez remains an active Major League Baseball player heading into the spring of 2015 is that the Yankees are already paying him a boatload of money, so they might as well try to get something productive out of him during games. Nobody can deny that Rodriguez was, when at his best, an incredible talent and maybe the best player of his generation. That he won’t be remembered for his positive contributions is only his fault.
15. Albert Haynesworth – NFL Defensive Tackle
The former NFL defensive tackle rewarded the Washington Redskins for giving him a massive contract by refusing to participate in team workouts, showing up to training camp out of shape, and giving what could generously be referred to as half-efforts during games. He didn’t play two full seasons with the Redskins before Washington cut ties with the player, and he is often regarded as being the worst free agency signing in league history. Not to be outdone by what he achieved with the Redskins, Haynesworth went on to cause trouble for the New England Patriots before the Pats gave up on him after four months.
14. Milton Bradley – MLB Outfielder
Anybody who watched Bradley during the early stages of his baseball career could see that he had the goods to be a perennial All-Star. He just could not control his temper, nor could he remain in the good graces of any team for a significant length of time. Bradley reportedly attempted to confront a television announcer regarding comments made during a game, he publicly buried the Chicago Cubs while with the club, and he also got into a confrontation with manager Lou Piniella. In total, Bradley played for eight clubs during his career, never reaching the high expectations that were had for him when he broke into the league.
13. Carmelo Anthony – NBA Forward
The public got a glimpse of what some around the NBA think of Anthony this past summer when no team went out of their way to acquire him via free agency. Anthony, who has never met a shot that he didn’t like as a professional player, ultimately returned to the New York Knicks, giving the club somewhat of a hometown discount in the process. That deal could still do more harm than good for the Knicks over the next several years, a time in which the team is in a painful rebuilding process. New York, a club that has no trouble drawing crowds despite the team’s lousy record, would have been better off moving on from Anthony.
12. Dez Bryant – NFL Wide Receiver
Bryant is a phenom on the football field, one of the top wide receivers in the NFL in 2015, but more than a few football insiders believe that the Dallas Cowboys would be at least a bit foolish to offer him a massive deal filled with guaranteed money this coming offseason. Bryant has gotten into altercations on and off the field, he has gone nose-to-nose with teammates on NFL Sundays, and he famously chose to take himself back to the locker room before the end of a game. While he is an elite play-maker who can strike at any point when his offense is on the field, any team would be taking a risk going all-in on Bryant.
11. Latrell Sprewell – NBA Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Being a pro basketball coach is a daunting challenge. One has to deal with millionaire players, many of whom bring millionaire attitudes and egos to practice sessions and games. P.J. Carlesimo likely found himself considering a career change in 1997 when he was on the receiving end of a Sprewell choke during a team practice. Sprewell, who was a four-time All-Star by the time he retired as a player, wouldn’t play in the NBA again until 1999, and his reputation was forever ruined. The choking incident is what he is most remembered for, along with a moment that including him stating that $21 million was not enough to feed his family.
10. Keyshawn Johnson – NFL Wide Receiver
Before the days of Johnson being an entertaining NFL television analyst who appears across the ESPN family of networks, he was a typical diva wide receiver. He wrote a book entitled Just Give Me the Damn Ball that did him little favors among teammates, and Johnson aggravated head coach Jon Gruden to the point that Gruden deactivated Johnson in November of the 2003 regular season. Johnson has since hit out at Gruden regarding their relationship while they were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he and Warren Sapp have not had nice words about each other since retiring from the game.
9. Vince Young – NFL Quarterback
Young entered the NFL with plenty of promise, and some believed that he would change the way that the quarterback position was played in the pros. He was instead more a headache for Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher than he was a positive performer for the club, and Fisher happily started Kerry Collins over Young after the latter suffered a knee injury. Young would go on to compete for a Comeback Player of the Year award, but his relationship with Fisher never settled. The quarterback was released by Tennessee in the summer of 2011, he never won another starting QB job, and he has since retired.
8. Mario Balotelli – Currently Plays for Liverpool (EPL)
At just 24 years old, Balotelli could still evolve into the player many thought he would be when he linked up with Inter before the start of the 2007-08 season. While he has buried a plethora of highlight reel goals for clubs and for nation over the years, Balotelli has also played himself off of four clubs and out of two countries. Liverpool are already reportedly sick of his antics just five months into his stint with the club, and it is rumored that the Premier League outfit may not keep Balotelli through the completion of the current season. For all of his talent, Balotelli has not been worth the trouble.
7. Chad Johnson – NFL/CFL Wide Receiver
Johnson, who changed his last name to Ochocinco during his playing days, was the consummate entertainer while in his prime, known as much for the celebrations that would follow his touchdowns as he was for his scores. What was considered to be acceptable, albeit tiring behavior when he was at his best got old quickly as Johnson’s skills diminished, and he was an absolute flop with the New England Patriots following his successful career with the Cincinnati Bengals. One can’t help but wonder what he could have meant to Major League Soccer had Johnson, who once “tried out” for Sporting Kansas City, chosen soccer over football years ago.
6. Manny Ramirez – MLB Outfielder
Ramirez was one of the best hitters of his time, and his quirky behavior made him a fan-favorite in cities such as Cleveland, Boston and Los Angeles. His moments of “Manny being Manny,” which often involved Ramirez not running out ground balls or taking vacations while in the outfield, angered teammates and coaches at times, and his inability to stay away from performance-enhancing drugs during the latter stages of his career made Ramirez’s final few years in Major League Baseball largely forgettable. That said, fans of the Boston Red Sox will forever remember Ramirez for helping the club win the World Series on two occasions in the span of four seasons.
5. Randy Moss – NFL Wide Receiver
Moss is one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history, and he and Tom Brady made history while with the New England Patriots during the 2007 regular season. Moss was also unceremoniously shipped out of town by three different franchises, twice by the Minnesota Vikings. Just as with Chad Johnson, Moss’ insufferable attitude became intolerable when his football skills began to fade, but the Vikes, Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers all gave him contracts before he decided to retire. His place in the Hall of Fame is cemented despite the fact that Moss was not always a pleasant teammate with whom to work.
4. Jeff Kent – MLB Second Baseman
Just how much of a problem was Kent when he was with the San Francisco Giants? Some believed him to be the biggest clubhouse cancer on a team that included Barry Bonds. Tension grew between the two players, so much so that it was reported that Kent and Bonds got into an altercation during the 2002 Major League Baseball season. Despite Kent’s impressive offensive output and the success of the Giants, he lost the support of everybody within the organization and even among reporters who covered the club. Kent would have little to complain about, however, earning millions upon millions of dollars from the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.
3. Richie Incognito – NFL Guard
One of the dirtiest players in the NFL, Incognito was featured in national headlines in the fall of 2013 when ESPN reported that he had harassed Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin. Stories of Incognito using racist and homophobic slurs emerged, and Martin left the team because he actually feared for his safety. Incognito was suspended for the remainder of the season, and he never again played for the Dolphins. Despite the fact that the 31-year-old has All-Pro talent and is eligible to sign for the team of his choice, Incognito remains a free agent. His future as an active NFL player remains up in the air.
2. Terrell Owens – NFL Wide Receiver
Join a team. Flash elite wide receiver skills. Annoy just about everybody within the organization. Sign for a new club, and then start all over again. It was the T.O. Cycle that repeated itself on three occasions when Owens was, talent wise, one of the best receivers in the NFL. Nobody could question that Owens was a gamer – he played for the Philadelphia Eagles in a Super Bowl while essentially on one foot – but his attitude wore thin with every team he played for during his career. Owens could have been one of the greats, but his playing days ended with a whimper instead of with a team press conference during which he was praised for his play.
1. Barry Bonds – MLB Left Fielder
Bonds was said to have a legendary ego throughout his career, and his teammates happily informed the press of their attitudes regarding the player for years. They told stories of Bonds refusing to attend team events, and also of Bonds distancing himself from others inside of the clubhouse. “In the San Francisco Giants clubhouse, everybody knows the score is 24-1. There are 24 teammates, and there’s Barry Bonds” was once written about the player. That so many knowledgeable baseball people refuse to view Bonds as any time of home run king is karma haunting a man who seemed to be downright miserable despite his wealth and numerous successes.