Football has long been a pivotal part of American tradition. From throwing the ball around the yard with the kids to high school games and the Super Bowl, it’s a sport that is much loved and revered throughout the country - and across the world.
The NFL boasts some of the finest players and athletes ever seen, and while they impose a strict regimen of training and a large list of do not’s – there are still those that manage to spectacularly fall off the wagon. The NFL is no stranger to scandal, and when there are thousands of dollars tied up in a player, things can go from bad to worse quicker than you can shout ‘TOUCHDOWN!’
Over the years, we’ve been privy to some extremely high profile falls from grace, from star players murdering their girlfriends to strip club shoot outs, domestic violence and dogfighting, there’s almost nothing we haven’t seen. These mistakes have more often than not cost players their careers and teams titles that should've been theirs. While it may look like the perfect career to an aspiring college football star, there is a seedy underbelly to the NFL that is less than desirable.
With being a sports star comes great responsibility, fame (and a hell of a lot of money). Let’s take a look at how a plethora of players have taken their power for granted in one way or another, tarnishing the reputation of the NFL. Welcome to 20 Explosive Scandals The NFL Want You to Forget.
20 OJ SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL
The OJ Simpson murder trial rocked the NFL, America, and the world. Nicknamed ‘The Juice’, Simpson was one of the most popular Athletes and most decorated running backs of all time. Coming from humble roots, Simpson was the ultimate success story, going from the housing projects of San Francisco to the Hall of Fame. His star was still burning bright when he was tried for the brutal murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. A media circus ensued and the evidence against Simpson was almost bulletproof - but he was found not guilty and acquitted. It was so highly publicized that it was dubbed The Trail of The Century. It remains one of the most controversial murder cases in recent history, with no one else ever charged.
19 MICHAEL VICK AND DOGFIGHTING
Michael Vick had a rough time in 2007. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was caught up in a dogfighting scandal that left many fans angry and upset. A huge number of dogs (including 53 pit bull terriers that had all suffered injuries) were seized from Vick’s property following a search. A further 12 were found dead at the scene. The star athlete had no choice but to plead guilty to the federal felony of dogfighting conspiracy, and it went downhill from there. A year later, Vick filed for bankruptcy, with an estimated debt of a whopping 20 million dollars. This is a real lesson in how to ruin your life. Interestingly, these days he campaigns for animal welfare.
18 RAE CARRUTH AND THE MURDER OF CHERICA ADAMS
In 2001, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth arranged to have his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Cherica Adams, murdered in cold blood. He paid a known criminal to set up a drive by shooting. Supposedly, Carruth didn’t want Adams to keep the unborn child, while she wanted to continue with the pregnancy. Carruth’s career never really took off, which may explain his resistance to pay child support. The deal was struck and Adams was shot 4 times through the car window. Her little boy survived, and was born by C-Section. Sadly, his mother died a month later as a result of her injuries. The former football pro was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and is due to be released next year.
In 2009, The New Orleans Saints were on top of the NFL. They had just triumphed at Super Bowl and everything looked as good as it could possibly be. Little did we know that a few short years later, some disturbing facts would come to light when the NFL caught wind of a bounty program. Head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were both suspended for the 2012 season without pay, when they were found to be handing out bonuses to players who injured the opposing team. It’s not unheard of for teams to offer a bounty program under the radar, but The New Orleans Saints got caught red-handed.
Keeping on the theme of gates, here’s Spygate. 24 hours prior to the New England Patriots loss of Super Bowl, the Boston Herald reported that the Patriots had taped a St. Louis practice game prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. It came to light when a video assistant, Matt Walsh, copped up to it after he was dismissed by the team in 2003. Rather than admit to guilt, head coach Bill Belichick denied the allegations vehemently. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t take the bait and punished the team with a $250,000 fine. Belichick didn’t get off lightly either, and his dirty tactics cost him $500,000. Ouch.
15 PAUL HORNUNG & ALEX KARRAS GAMBLING SCANDAL
Let’s throw it back a few decades for this one. As an NFL player, it’s a major rule that you can’t bet on the games. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras obviously felt like taking their chances when they did exactly that, resulting in suspension for both players. At the time Hornung was a big name in the sport, with Karras an annual Pro Bowl selection. After a year and a good slap on the wrist the two players were reinstated by then commissioner Pete Rozelle. Hornung went on to have a great career, earning himself a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1986. Karras didn’t make it quite that far but was given a spot on the NFL’s all-decade team for 1960. Not bad for two rule breakers.
14 THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS LOVE BOAT
It’s not a scandal list of any kind if it doesn’t involve sex. 12 years ago in 2005, 17 members of the Vikings took it upon themselves to rent two houseboats and fly in a bunch of prostitutes from Georgia and Florida. A party ensued with a lot of touchy feely antics. There were around 90 people at the ‘event’, and it wasn’t long before pictures of the escapades started circulating. Players Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, Fred Smoot and Moe Williams were charged with indecent conduct. Smoot and McKinnie were fined on top of that – but, despite the debauchery, no one was suspended and it was business as usual.
13 BRETT FAVRE AND HIS D**K PICS
Oh, Brett Favre. Where to start. Favre’s stay with The New York Jets was a disaster on and off the field. His performance was below par, and when pictures of his genitalia arrived on the internet in 2010, he was a certified embarrassment. The All-Pro quarterback got himself into hot water when he sent pictures of his nether regions to sideline reporter Jenn Sterger. Sterger kept hold of the pictures and obviously – they leaked and that was that. Not only was it embarrassing for Favre and Sterger, but a total ordeal for his wife and family. Not cool, Favre. No one likes an unsolicited d**k pic.
12 BEN ROETHLISBERGER AND THE SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS
Things went sour for Roethlisberger in 2009, when a Nevada hotel employee accused him of sexual assault. It didn’t stop there, and in 2010 a 20-year-old college student also came forward with her own allegations. This time, to say he had assaulted her at a nightclub. TMZ and CBS broke the stories, but no charges were ever brought forward on the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback. As they say, there’s no smoke without fire and mud sticks. The NFL decided to take action, even if the courts didn’t, and Roethlisberger was suspended for 4 games – but his reputation has never fully recovered.
11 EDDIE DEBARTOLO JR. SUSPENSION
Former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., is no stranger to scandal – and it cost him his team. DeBartolo Jr. was a popular owner, credited with bringing San Fran to the forefront of NFL when he brought Super Bowl championships to the area. He was loved by fans and players alike, so when a past mistake caught up with him in 1998, it shocked the public. He got caught up in the corruption case brought against Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, and was found guilty of failure to report extortion. DeBartolo was suspended from the league for one year and fined an eye watering $1-million-dollars. While he could have returned to his team, he decided to hand control over to his sister Marie Denise DeBartolo York.
10 AARON HERNANDEZ MURDER TRIAL
Some people look like they have it all, just to swiftly flush it all down the drain. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder in April 2016. Despite a violent history, it took cops until 2013 to nab Hernandez. When they did, it was for the shooting of Odin Lloyd. Police searched his house and found enough evidence against him to charge and convict Hernandez for the killing. While in prison serving life without parole, the former star was charged with a separate homicide charge. Although he was acquitted, it was all too much for Hernandez and he was found dead five days later, having made a noose out of his bed sheets. In a strange twist, there were drawings in blood on the cell walls, including the all-seeing eye of god and the word ‘Illuminati.’
We’ve all heard of locker room talk, but Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins supposedly took a battering in 2013. Fellow teammates and offensive linemen bullied Martin to the point where he felt he couldn’t even finish out the season. The leader of the group, Richie Incognito, was suspended as a result and wasn’t resigned. He went on to strike a deal with the Bills. The incident unearthed a lot of issues with bullying and locker room talk across the whole of the NFL, causing teams to crack down on teasing, what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
8 JOVAN BELCHER MURDER-SUICIDE
The case of the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Jovan Belcher, was a sad state of affairs for the NFL and America. In 2012 Belcher was living with his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins. The couple had a three-month-old daughter together, and a volatile relationship. On December 1st Belcher returned home to have an argument with Perkins. He shot her 9 times, while his own mother was there. Belcher fled the scene as his mother called the police, driving to the Chief’s practice ground. When he got there, he was met by the Chief’s general manager. After asking Scott Pilo and owner Clark Hunt to take care of his daughter, he knelt on the floor and shot himself in the head. It was later discovered that Belcher suffered from the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease commonly found in football players.
7 ADRIAN PETERSON CHILD BEATING SCANDAL
Star running back of the Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson, was deactivated for week 2 of the 2014 season when he was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. He had beaten his 4-year-old son with a switch. Although the team reactivated him, he was placed on the NFL’s Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List just two days later, effectively meaning that he was banned from football forever. Eventually, he managed to claw his way back in, when his charges were lessened to reckless assault. Peterson was then suspended, but re-joined the team with a $44-million-dollar deal. That tastes sour, doesn’t it?
6 RAY RICE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
In 2014 the Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for a total of two games when footage surfaced of him assaulting his fiancée. The video was horrendous, showing Rice dragging his unconscious partner out of a hotel elevator. Another video came to light of Rice punching her – strangely, she went on to marry him. The NFL didn’t take it lightly and he was panned by the Ravens, with the NFL suspending him indefinitely. They didn’t play it out smoothly though, and the NFL investigation was riddled with errors, forcing the commissioner to publicly apologize and revamp the domestic abuse policy.
5 RAY LEWIS MURDER INVOLVEMENT
Another Baltimore Ravens star, linebacker Ray Lewis was arrested and pleaded guilty to the obstruction of justice regarding the unsolved murder of two men. After Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, Lewis and his friends were involved in a brutal fight that resulted in two individuals being stabbed multiple times. While no one was ever charged with the crime, Lewis was fined $250,000 by the NFL- but shockingly, never suspended. It put an everlasting mark on a star that many looked up to. Do you think the punishment was just, or did Lewis get away with murder?
4 JOSH BRENT AND THE DEATH OF JERRY BROWN
Nose tackle of the Dallas Cowboys, Josh Brent, drove under the influence and crashed his car, killing passenger and fellow team-mate Jerry Brown in 2012. It wasn’t the first time that Brent had been arrested and charged with a DUI, but this one got him a charge of intoxication manslaughter too. Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years probation, before he re-joined the Cowboys in 2014. The scandal highlighted the NFL’s long-standing failure to control players behavior. Sadly, this isn't the only time that player has died at the hands of an intoxicated teammate. Brown was just 25 years old.
3 ADAM ‘PACMAN’ JONES AND…EVERYTHING
If the NFL had a poster boy for bad behavior, Jones was it. Aside from impressive career credentials, Jones was just as famous for his antics off the field. In 2012, the Cincinnati Bengals cornerback had to pay $11 million in damages to Las Vegas strip club employees who were injured in a 2007 incident. A lone gunman opened fire outside of the establishment, supposedly on Jones’ orders. Club manager Tommy Urbanksi was left paralyzed from the waist down after the incident. According to the shooter, Jones and a group of others were earlier ejected from the club and he was offered $15,000 to commit the crime.
2 PLAXICO BURRESS AND THE TIME HE SHOT HIMSELF
Some are blessed with brains, some are blessed with a glittering NFL career. The New York Giants wide receiver made headlines when he accidentally shot himself in the foot inside a New York City nightclub. If that wasn’t enough, the incident lead to him being arrested and charged with criminal possession of a handgun. Burress hobbled his way to a 20 month sentence in prison in 2008. His team unraveled after the loss of one of their key players. Although he was released in time for the 2009 season, the Giants released him from his contract, when it was apparent criminal proceedings were taking longer than expected to wrap up.
1 BARRETT ROBBINS AND MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES
Raiders star Barrett Robbins disappeared the day before Super Bowl XXXVII, without a trace. The Raiders were forced to replace their Pro Bowl center and subsequently they lost 48-21. Robbins had stopped taking his depression medication, which sent him on a downward spiral, culminating in a partying bender in Tijuana. When he was located, he spent 30 days at The Betty Ford Center where he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Despite that incident, he battled on for one more season before failing a test for performance enhancing drugs. As a result, he was cut and that was the end of his career. In 2016, Robbins was arrested on felony battery charges for hitting a mother and a daughter. He was sent to a mental health facility.