Despite what some rabid fans may lose sight of from time to time, athletes are people too. Professional athletes are the elite of the elite, men and women who have sacrificed everything in their lives for an opportunity to be the among the best in the world in their chosen sport. The road to greatness is a difficult one filled with blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice. Before they ‘make it’, most professional athletes don’t get to have a normal life. They can’t stay out late with friends because they have to be up early in the morning to train, they can’t eat the same food as everyone else because that greasy, fatty meal that their friends are eating will slow them down in the game later, and they can’t party like everyone else because their hopes and dreams depend on their bodies being in peak physical condition.
Putting that kind of pressure on a human being from the time they’re a child is bound to create some problems. Life isn’t meant to be lived in a pressure cooker. Inevitably, the athletes who fail to learn how to relax and unwind properly and healthily end up - more often than not - spiralling out of control. For every player that learns to unwind doing some post-workout yoga, you have the ones who decide to live a little closer to the edge, a little closer to the average joe. After all, what’s more relaxing than a leisurely cigarette break?
Smoking is bad. Don’t do it, and don’t let your loved ones do it. I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone, but it’s worth reiterating. Now with all that being said, a nice smoke can be an amazing way to unwind. Just ask these athletes who tried to sneak a quick one in uninterrupted, only to be foiled by those meddling paparazzi.
10 Alex Rodriguez
Baseball may not be the most cardiovascularly intensive sport, but hey, it’s a sport nonetheless. You need to be able to run real fast in short bursts, something tobacco isn’t exactly known for helping. A-Rod was photographed taking some serious drags from a big, expensive looking cigar after re-signing for the New York Yankees. Cigars sometimes get a weird ‘pass’ from people who think cigarettes are disgusting and cancerous, but the fact of the matter is that cigars are just bigger cigarettes with more tobacco. Sure, they have a ‘classier’ image, but all you’re really doing is speeding up the cancer. Rodriguez caught a bit of flak for lighting up, but overall the New York media forgot all about it.
9 Gianluigi Buffon
The Italian national team may have languished at Brazil 2014 after a premature group stage exit - damn you, Costa Rica - but it was no fault of Buffon’s. The first choice goalkeeper for the Italian national team since 1998 has played for Italian club Juventus since 2001. He’s won Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year Award 8 times, the 2006 World Cup with Italy, and countless trophies throughout his club career. He’s also allegedly a semi-regularly smoker, which is surprising until you stop and consider just how very Italian Gianluigi Buffon is. The man oozes mediterranean charm, the kind that lets nothing get in between themselves, their espresso and their smokes. If a soccer player is going to be smoking, it does make sense that they’d be a goalkeeper.
8 Jack Wilshere
Jack Wilshere is not a goalkeeper. He’s a midfielder who plays for London-based club Arsenal in the English Premier League, and he’s a young man renowned for his pace and athletic ability. You can imagine why pictures of him caught smoking outside of a London nightclub created the controversy they did amongst Arsenal fans. Arsenal’s coach, Arsene Wenger, was allegedly furious. The entire ordeal put Wilshere in some hot water, at least momentarily. The 23-year-old took to Twitter to clarify that it was all part of a prank and that he doesn’t smoke, but curiously he also tweeted a picture of another famous player who was caught smoking once upon a time - the next man on our list.
7 Zinedine Zidane
Oh, Zizou. The darling of France. Zidane spearheaded France to their first ever World Cup victory in 1998 - which was hosted on home soil for added dramatic effect - becoming a French national icon in the process. He’s also been known to slip in a quick smoke break or two when no one is looking, in typical French fashion. The peak years of his playing career were spent with Juventus and Real Madrid. In 2006 he was photographed casually smoking a cigarette in a cafe, although at this point it was in the twilight of his career and Zinedine probably saw no harm doing a little bit of damage to a body that had already achieved all it had set out to achieve in its career.
6 John Daly
Most athletes get caught smoking a cigarette by the papparazzi at a cafe or at a nightclub. For the most part they don’t get caught smoking one on the job. In fact, one could say that they never get caught smoking while playing if John Daly wasn’t notorious for being….well, John Daly. The professional golfer was the PGA tour’s bad boy for years (at least until the Tiger Woods affair came to light). At one point Daly regularly smoked while playing, and allegedly was known to have a few drinks before major tournaments. If you’re going to be a party animal and a professional athlete at the same time, golf is probably the sport you want to get good at.
5 Mario Balotelli
Poor Super Mario. After Italy’s early exit from the World Cup he got blasted by the Italian press for his perceived lack of effort in the 3 games they played. The AC Milan striker is known for wild antics like his bizarre goal celebrations and answering a police officer’s question of ‘Why do you have all this money in your car?’ when pulled over with ‘Because I am rich’. There’s simply no one like him in all of sport. Naturally, Balotelli is probably one player who’s occasional smoking is of no surprise to anyone.
4 Anna Kournikova
Believe it or not, Anna Kournikova didn’t have the best tennis career. She was ranked top 10 at one point in the world - which is certainly a huge accomplishment - but her claim to fame came from her striking beauty that captivated tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike. Her good looks generated a massive amount of hype around her when she was in her late teens and coming up in the tennis world, hype that her actual skills on the court never completely lived up to. It wasn’t that surprising when pictures surfaced of her smoking; it was a point in her career where she was more or less winding down and preparing for her retirement - at the ripe old age of 21.
3 Randy Moss
2 Wayne Rooney
English striker Wayne Rooney is undoubtedly brilliant. From a very young age, he’s been marked for glory by the English press and has had large expectations heaped on his shoulders. His detractors have accused him of failing to live up to his massive potential by squandering his talent and choosing the nightlife and other scandalous pastimes - prostitutes - instead of putting in his time on the training ground. While his fitness has been questionable at times, it might have more to do with his occasional tobacco habit rather than the ladies of the night. Rooney’s been caught smoking a few times by the paparazzi, and has actually been accused of being a semi-regular smoker. If true, his career is almost more impressive in retrospect.
1 Michael Jordan
The best basketball player of all time is also a cigar aficionado. Every aspiring basketball player growing up in the 90s wanted to be ‘Like Mike’, but I don’t think they realized that being like Mike meant smoking a cigar on the way to each home game. That’s right, Jordan allegedly smoked a cigar before his home games as a way to loosen up and get ready to perform. That’s not a victory cigar after the game, or a celebratory cigar on a special occasion, that’s straight tobacco to the system before stepping onto the court. How amazing do you have to be to show up to a game with elite athletes after smoking a whole cigar to yourself - which is incredibly difficult in itself, just ask my lungs - and then step onto the court and remind everyone why you’re the best ever? The man starred in Space Jam and has his own line of shoes for a reason. Damn, Jordan. You’re crazy.