The lives of professional athletes are seemingly enviable existences that those of us who are not rich and famous can only dream of having. Those who are the best in their sports are paid handsomely, to the point that some cash in on small fortunes all because they can throw a football with great velocity and accuracy, kick a soccer ball better than anybody else on their team or dominate on a basketball court more so than can any other player. Recognized names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Peyton Manning, LeBron James and so many others also ink endorsement deals that are worth millions of dollars.
Pro athletes are also human, and thus they are prone to messing things up and seeing their careers end in disgrace. These stories have, in the past, made for headlines news and discussions among friends, family members and co-workers in part because the downfalls of famous people such as pro athletes fascinate we in society for whatever reasons. How could somebody who has such great wealth, God-given physical gifts and a boatload of talent take all that he had and throw it all away because of selfishness and/or acts that are careless or, in some cases, even downright stupid?
There is a long list of athletes who ended their careers in disgrace before falling out of the public eye. Some of them were involved in tragic tales that had heartbreaking endings which probably could have been avoided had others seen any existing signs of what was to come. Others, however, felt that they were above the law and could get away with whatever crimes they perpetrated all because of who they were and/or who they could silence either with money or with acts of violence. The biggest shame in those stories is that the athletes involved were able to harm others and, in some instances, even kill.
20 Tonya Harding
The story has been retold numerous times in documentaries and made-for-television productions. Tonya Harding was a promising American figure skater leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics when Nancy Kerrigan, her main competitor, was brutally attacked. What Harding knew about that incident prior to the attack may go to the grave with her, but she has since become a walking punchline known for being featured in sex tapes and celebrity boxing matches. Harding will be known for a lot of things, none of which will be what she achieved while on a skating rink.
19 Joe Paterno
Joe Paterno was an athlete during his college days, and thus the former Penn State football coach deserves to be mentioned in this piece. Paterno was a well-respected and well-loved figure in college football when his coaching career ended in disgrace due to the child abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Some within the Penn State community remain convinced to this day that Paterno did nothing wrong, and he is still beloved among many who travel to State College for Saturday afternoon games. Unless he is proven to be fully innocent in the future, Paterno's name will now forever be associated with the awful things Sandusky did.
18 Mike Tyson
“Iron” Mike Tyson was a dominant boxer who could end a fight in an instant during his prime. He also had his boxing career twice come to a halt in disgrace. Tyson spent time in prison in the 1990s after he was found guilty on rape charges, and the former “Baddest Man on the Planet” had to call time on his career in 2005 after he had embarrassed himself inside of the ring on multiple occasions. Life has not been able to keep Tyson down over the years, however, as he has been featured in movie roles and also in World Wrestling Entertainment segments.
17 Art Schlichter
Art Schlichter was advertised as one of the top young quarterbacks entering the National Football League after his time at Ohio State. Little did those running the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts know at the time that Schlichter loved gambling even more than he loved playing pro football. Schlichter blew hundreds of thousands of dollars and also a promising NFL career, and even being unceremoniously booted from big-time pro football was not enough to help him defeat his demons. He has spent multiple stints behind bars that have stemmed from his addiction, and Schlichter is seen as one of the biggest draft busts in the history of the NFL.
16 Stanley Wilson
The story of Stanley Wilson is one that often gets retold in the weeks and days leading up to a Super Bowl Sunday. Wilson was preparing to play for the Cincinnati Bengals at Super Bowl XXIII when he was caught high on cocaine, and he was subsequently left off of the team's roster. It has been suggested that Wilson not being able to play in that game cost Cincinnati a chance to defeat the San Francisco 49ers and win a championship. Cocaine cost Wilson his NFL career, and several attempts to clean up his life were unsuccessful. Wilson's addiction and drug habits eventually cost him his freedom following a burglary gone wrong.
15 Daniel Koellerer
Daniel Koellerer built himself quite the reputation during his tennis career. He was accused of making racist remarks against an opposing player in 2010, and he was also known for going too far with other types of trash-talk during matches. Koellerer turned into a historic figure of the sport in 2011 when he became the first tennis player to receive a lifetime ban for match-fixing. His appeal of that ruling was unsuccessful, and thus his professional career, one that never saw him even flirt with being one of the best players in the world, has ended in infamy and disgrace.
14 Oscar Pistorius
Known as the “Blade Runner” because of the blades that he wore during competitions, Oscar Pistorius was an admirable figure who became a world-famous athlete despite the fact that he portions of both of his legs amputated before he was one-year-old. Pistorius' career ended in 2013 when he shot and killed girlfriend and model Reeva Steencamp inside of his home, an incident that shocked and rocked the sports world. The track athlete claimed that he mistook her for an intruder, but Pistorius was nevertheless found guilty of culpable homicide. While Pistorius received a five-year sentence, it is likely that he will be released from prison before August 2015 comes to an end.
13 War Machine
The mixed martial arts competitor who was given the name Jon Koppenhaver at birth is, by all accounts, an awful human being who has spent time behind bars and who was, as of the summer of 2015, facing 32 felony charges. “War Machine” is a badass nickname for any fighter, but the man who holds it has disgraced himself time and time again. While his career is not technically over, nobody should expect to see War Machine step into the cage for a sanctioned bout anytime soon. Society would probably be better off if he never saw the light of day again.
12 Marion Jones
A world champion and one of the top Olympic champions of her time, Marion Jones will not be remembered for the records that she set or the awards that she won. Jones will instead always be labeled a cheat who took performance enhancing drugs and who disgraced herself in multiple ways. Along with being stripped of gold medals, Jones spent time behind bars due to her involvement in a check fraud case. Some athletes get so used to getting around the rules that they believe they can do so in legal matters, as well, but Jones learned valuable life lessons the hard way.
11 Barry Bonds
There is little question among experts that Barry Bonds is one of the finest all-around baseball players in the history of the game, and his retirement should have been met with celebrations and a ceremony that was shown on national television. Bonds instead had his career end in quiet disgrace and with no team wanting to sign the slugger when he was an available free agent. It is widely believed by fans that Bonds used performance enhancing substances during his career, so much so that some refuse to acknowledge that he is technically the home run champion of the Major Leagues.
10 Miguel Tejada
Miguel Tejada is still, as of the posting of this piece, playing in Mexico, but it his Major League Baseball career that has likely ended in disgrace following multiple suspensions. Tejada struggled to understand the rules on what he was and was not allowed to put into his body while playing in the Big Leagues, and his time as an active member of any roster ended while he was in the Minor Leagues. Along with a history of using performance enhancing drugs, Tejada has also been accused of lying about his age for years. Age is nothing but a number, I guess.
9 Chris Benoit
The great tragedy in the downfall of Chris Benoit is that it included the murders of his wife, his child and the suicide of the professional wrestler. Whatever was going through the mind of Benoit when he removed himself from a World Wrestling Entertainment tour to return home and commit those horrifying acts is anybody's guess, and it is likely that he was mentally and psychologically a shell of his former self on that fateful weekend. Benoit will always be remembered for those deaths, and his career inside of the ring has largely become an afterthought.
8 Lance Armstrong
The career and public life of Lance Armstrong has been a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs, and both have been lost to disgrace. Armstrong became a US sports hero after defeating cancer and dominating the cycling world en route to winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles, but he was stripped of those championships and hit with a lifetime ban following a long doping investigation. Not only is Armstrong perceived to be a cheater. He is also, upon reading up on allegations made against him, seemingly a thoroughly unlikeable person who truly earned his fall from grace.
7 Joe Jackson
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson is widely regarded as one of the greatest hitters of his era, and his involvement in the scandal that involved the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series has been debated for decades. What is known is that Jackson and his teammates received a lifetime ban from baseball, and it is “Shoeless” who will forever be associated with that story because of his fame and his great talents. Jackson is, of course, no longer with us, and thus he did not live to be appreciated for the positive things that he accomplished as a player.
6 Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth went from being a promising play-maker on the football field to a coward who was caught hiding in the trunk of a vehicle after he became a wanted man following the death of a woman who was carrying his child. Carruth was found guilty of conspiring to commit murder, and thus his football career ended in disgrace and was replaced by the former member of the Carolina Panthers being placed behind bars. It has been learned that Carruth has spent time as a prison janitor, a long cry from the days when he made thousands upon thousands of dollars for every game he played.
5 O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson was a beloved football star who had successful careers as an actor and as a television analyst. Both of those careers ended in disgrace when he was accused of killing his ex-wife and her companion. While Simpson was found not guilty in the court of law, it is widely believed among many who followed the so-called “Trial of the Century” that Simpson, who was later found liable for those slayings in a civil suit, committed the killings. The former running back is currently behind bars after he was found guilty for taking part in a robbery.
4 Pete Rose
The story of Pete Rose is one that continues to play out in public opinion poles and in Major League Baseball discussions. Rose was accused of betting on baseball while a manager, claims that he denied for years, he was banned from the game for those crimes, and he eventually came clean while at the same time making some additional money for himself through those confessions. Baseball fans from around the country have forgiven Rose and believe that he should have his day at the hall of fame. Whether or not that occasion will occur while Rose is still alive has yet to be determined. Maybe it will never come.
3 Hulk Hogan
The man who has been professional wrestling royalty for decades has always managed to bounce back and beat the three count when it looked as if his career was about to be over, but that may not be the case this time around. Hulk Hogan had his World Wrestling Entertainment career end in disgrace in the summer of 2015 when racist and homophobic comments that he had made in the past saw the light of day. Time heals all wounds, or so goes that famous saying, and Hogan may resurface in the wrestling world at some point down the road. That likely will not occur underneath the WWE umbrella, though.
2 Darren Sharper
Well respected for his abilities to play the safety position in college and in the NFL, Darren Sharper was one his way to enjoying a career as a television analyst for stations such as the NFL Network. That came to a screeching halt when Sharper faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, and his days being in front of a camera disappeared forever when he was found guilty of being a serial rapist. Perhaps the biggest disgrace of the entire matter is that such a despicable person will one day be eligible to have his freedom. The crimes that Sharper committed, according to the legal system, are disgusting.
1 Aaron Hernandez
Aaron Hernandez was an All-Pro tight end for the New England Patriots set to make well over $40 million in salary when the world first saw him in handcuffs and accused of committing horrific crimes. Hernandez is now, in the eyes of the public and the court of law, a sociopath who was found guilty of murdering a supposed friend and accused of killing two other individuals. The former target of quarterback Tom Brady will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars as a disgrace and an absolute waste of physical talent who could have been so much more.