Names of athletes from all over the world are etched proudly on an imagined wall of honor. The granite façade exists somewhere in the human psyche as a guerdon to ultimate achievement and endeavor. So, too, does the presence of a name further a nation’s pride, yielding the same sense of provincial vigor afforded to city-states by the ancient Olympians. Yet for each of the names etched, there are a number of others who, by their own actions, stopped the furrow of the mason’s chisel.
In order to reach the competitive heights of an athletic event, you need supreme belief in your abilities. A distinguished career in sports doesn’t come from diplomacy and civility, nor is it commensurate with mastery of the discipline. A capacity to do something well is only the beginning; the real journey is to conquer and destroy. Duly selected to compete for your nation, your physical and psychological muscle is flexed to the rhythm of ultimate carnage. Human flaws are not tolerated as little ones, such as poor diet and missed training for a simple reason: they prove to be weaknesses.
Competitive athletics is not as popular a way to make a living as you might think. It’s hard going, it’s lonely, it’s relentless and it’s fickle; the penalty for underachievement is the loss of a precious and lucrative career. Not only are you expected to hold aloft your standards of performance at all times, but so, too, are you counseled against succumbing to natural and normal human desires and failings.
Unfortunately for some, the rewards seem not enough to rally against the demons.
15 Lance Armstrong
American former professional road cyclist Lance Armstrong is a high-profile case among athletes who take drugs. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013, the 45-year-old admitted to a chronic drug habit over a period of several years in competition. From the present day back to 1998, Armstrong was taking some form of PES in order to compete on the international circuit. During this time, he won an unsurprising number of competitions including seven Tour De France races.
Mainly through testimony, Armstrong was already convicted of drug offenses a year before his public admittance and was soon stripped of every title won back to 1998. He was also banned for life. The United States Anti-Doping Agency called him “the ringleader of the most sophisticated professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” In addition, his sponsors, the US government, and an insurance company that paid him win-bonuses are suing him. Armstrong will soon be, if not already, a broken man.
14 Barry Bonds
With career statistics suggesting that American Barry Bonds was the greatest ever baseball player, it's no small wonder that his fall through addiction became something of a national pastime. According to a book written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, during the 1990s and early 2000s, Bonds was “using a vast array of performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids and human growth hormone.”
If true (Bonds has consistently denied drug use), it would mean that one of the greatest players the nation has ever known might have had some chemical help to success. Apparently, the Chronicle had illegally obtained information from court hearings during the BALCO scandal. It is, however, entirely probable that -- with the extent of BALCO’s influence -- many sportsmen and women would test positive for steroids without even being aware they had taken any. It must be a question frequently posed by the US Doping Agency.
13 Johnny Manziel
American Football player has-been Johnny Manziel sat in a downward spiral these last two years due to substance abuse. Despite being assisted through his addiction and notwithstanding expert mentoring by coaches and teammates, the 24-year-old, last year, was considered a danger to himself and others. Since 2012, Manziel has been arrested for various offenses, including disorderly conduct, violation of team drug policies, and physical assault.
By continuing to indulge in temptations that affect his performance and persona, Manziel is bleeding out friends and opportunities. His marketing agency LRMR announced last year that it would no longer work with him, according to CNS Sports. Additionally, Manziel's agent, Erik Burkhardt, announced in the same year that he would stop representing the footballer for promotional work and TV deals. Manziel’s reputation has caused him to be virtually untouchable and has lost him a fortune.
12 Diego Maradona
Having played for various clubs in his career including Boca Juniors, FC Barcelona, and SSC Napoli, Diego Maradona was a popular figurehead for the sport of soccer. He also played for Argentina in a number of internationals and became a national hero. Reviled by the English and loved by Latin Americans, he was intentionally self-imagined as an outlaw and an unapologetic hard man of the game.
By the start of the 1980s, his long-running addiction to cocaine was taking the edge off of his performance. He was given a 15-month suspension in 1991 after testing positive for the drug, and on his return to the sport again failed a test for ephedrine. By 2004, when by all accounts he had finally kicked the habit, he had played nearly half his career under the influence of cocaine and other drugs. Although his skills with the ball are exemplary, Maradona’s murky past still haunts him and some say lost him a career that could've been revered by successive generations.
11 Scott Hall
Anyone proficient in a sport can be called an athlete. We think the combination of physical skill and theatrical performance brings professional wrestling under this banner. Mimicking a more physical combat sport, the rules of pro wrestling tournaments such as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) are kept secret to all but the performers and their coaches; the non-combative maneuvers are pre-defined and acted out for the entertainment of the spectators.
The legendary Scott Hall, inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014, began his uber-successful career at the age of 26. But by the late 1990s, word was spreading about a drug addiction that seemed to be beginning to seriously affect his health. Having had a defibrillator and a pacemaker fitted at 52, Hall continued to take barbiturates and was admitted to hospital several times. In combination with this drinking, Hall has also been arrested for a catalog of felonies. He continues to be unemployable.
10 Manny Ramirez
In terms of being the very best sportsman, 45-year-old Manny Ramirez was a safe bet. The Major League Baseball outfielder was signed to five different teams between 1993 and 2011; this included his retirement from the Major League in 2009 and subsequent appearances within the sports small-club system.
Before his retirement, it was discovered the Dominican-American had taken a female fertility drug known commonly to be taken after a course of steroids. With both human chorionic gonadotropin and anabolic steroids on the MLB’s list of banned substances, Ramirez was hit with a 100-game ban in 2011. He chose to retire instead of facing such a long and degrading public humiliation. Although Ramirez has attempted several comebacks, he didn’t ever get the chance to play again in the Major League -- a tragic and untimely end to a promising career and one that will always be remembered for the wrong reasons.
9 John Daly
When American professional golfer John Daly first stepped out onto the Erin Hills tee in 1986, he had no idea what rough terrain was lurking just a few yards from the calm grass of the fairway. By 1994, he had stood down from competitive golf after suffering the withdrawal effects of alcohol abuse. In fact, he went six years without a win as a result of his addiction. Daly was checked into a rehab clinic in the same year as taking time out.
By 2008, Daly’s drinking had got out of hand and was affecting his sport beyond measure. Coach Butch Harmon quit in March, having stated that “the most important thing in (Daly's) life is getting drunk.” So, too, in this year, Daly was discovered inebriated and sitting outside a branch of the pub food chain Hooters. The negative publicity this generated has plagued him until the present day. In July 2016, British newspaper The Sun even ran with the headline: “Recovering alcoholic John Daly sports boozy trousers”.
8 Marion Jones
Caught up in a 2002 scandal over the provision of Performance Enhancing Substances, Marion Jones was a victim of circumstance. A US company called BALCO was accused by the US Federal government of supplying athletes with PESs undetectable within sports supplements. It was suggested that those supplied with BALCO’s products were aware that the supplement also contained anabolic steroids.
Jones, an American track and field athlete, won three gold medals and two bronzes at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia but was duly stripped of the titles after it was discovered she, too, had been supplied with BALCO’s special concoction. However, prior to her doping, the athlete rightfully won three gold medals in 1997 and 1999, which she was able to retain. Nevertheless, for her part in the scandal, Jones was publicly disgraced and sent to jail for six months in 2008.
7 Roy Tarpley
A rising star in the American NBA League, Roy Tarpley was just 21 years old when he won the NBA Big Ten Player of the Year Award; two years later, he was nominated for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. These accolades launched him into a promising position with the league, and he was selected to play for the Dallas Mavericks. However, just two years later and midway through the season, Tarpley was suspended from the NBA pending an investigation into driving while drunk.
Over the course of the next three years, Tarpley was hit with successive bans for failing to get his act together. Eventually, in 1995, he was permanently disenfranchised from the NBA for 'using alcohol and violating the terms of a court-imposed personal aftercare program.' It was a tragic end to a career that held a great deal of hope not just for Tarpley but also his teammates. Although the medical report into Tarpley’s death didn’t list a cause, members of the Mavericks’ traveling party admitted to being told liver failure was to blame.
6 David Thompson
Another basketball great, American David Thompson was the victim of his own success. Having leaped to fame and fortune in 1977, Thompson achieved exceptional status among fans and players alike. All in all, his career had been nothing short of miraculous. He's a four-time NBA All-Star, a NCAA champion, and a three-time ACC Player of the Year. But none of this physical achievement was enough to prevent the great man from succumbing to addiction.
Toward the end of the 1983-84 season, Thompson was removed from the NBA. Recurring injuries and persistent problems with alcohol abuse would plague Thompson’s form and render him effectively a dead weight to promoters and teams. For someone who was used to signing what were then record-breaking contracts, it was a sad demise of one of the NBA greats and proof of the destructive nature of addiction.
5 Michael Richardson
In 1986, the NBA banned Michael Richardson for life following a string of failed drugs tests. Better-known for playing for the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets, the now 62-year-old was at the height of a prosperous career. Returning under a cloud two years later with his ban lifted, Richardson had an opportunity to relive the glory days. Instead, however, he was again tested and returned a positive result for cocaine use.
Richardson never returned to the NBA but continues to coach basketball. The sport mourned the loss of a man who was nicknamed “the next Walt Frazier,” a complimentary nod to the former basketball giant of the 1960s and the '70s. His plaudits were short-lived; as with any sport, the muddying of waters has a knock-on effect, and despite still being involved in the sport, it was his obsession for chasing dragons that he's remembered for.
4 Dwain Chambers
After a sample taken during the 2003 World Championships tested positive for a banned substance, British sprinter Dwain Chambers was banned for two years. The substance related to the BALCO steroid scandal, which had also caught out Marion Jones. In fact, Chambers later admitted to having used PESs a whole year before the championships in France. He was banned from competing in the Olympics for life and was also stripped all medals he’d won since 2002. Chambers’s misdemeanor also cost his 2002 relay team their medals, and he was ordered to pay back all winnings from the predetermined date.
Although Chambers now regularly visits schools and other institutions to ward off those tempted to cheat by the use of drugs, he's still living with what he did. In a recent article for The Telegraph, he admits the guilt of his choices is as hard to bear as the punitive damages. “I got worse on drugs,” he said. “It did not help me in any capacity. It made me a very unsociable person and ruined my career and the image of the sport. I hate to think I caused that. That is guilt. It ruins your life, and you will regret it forever.”
3 Keon Clark
Back to the NBA and a story of a promising young player called Keon Clark. The now 42-year-old Illinoisan began his career with the Denver Nuggets in 1998. Although he only played until 2004, during this time, he relied heavily on alcohol. By his own admission, he would even drink alcohol at half-time and had supposedly never played a game sober. It was a failing of his that had gone unnoticed by his teammates and coaches but which ultimately led to his downfall.
Voluntarily leaving the game in 2004, Clark’s life continued downward exponentially. Sentenced in 2006 for possession of drugs and a firearm, he was also found in contempt of court and jailed for two-and-a-half years. In 2013, he was again sentenced for possession of a firearm and this time jailed for eight years. From the stardom of the NBA to a small jail cell in East Moline Correctional Center, Clark’s must surely be one of the sadder faces of addiction.
2 Shawn Kemp
Retired professional basketball player Shawn Kemp began his career in 1989. 20 years old at the time, he arrived on court with the Seattle SuperSonics. At first, although athletic, he lacked the skills and maturity of match play, but he was mentored well and quickly became an NBA All-Star. His career peaked during the 1995-1996 season even though his gaining weight was beginning to raise performance concerns among the coaches.
It was revealed in 1999 that Kemp was suffering from alcohol and cocaine addiction, which some believe was the precursor to his weight gain. He entered rehab in the same year, but his contract with new team Portland Trail Blazers was waived. In essence, this signaled the end of Kemp’s promising career. He signed as a “free agent” for several seasons but carried with him the label of his addiction despite an upturn in his fitness in recent years.
1 Todd Marinovich
Former American and Canadian football quarterback Todd Marinovich held much promise as a young man prior to his entry onto the professional circuit. However, even as a college player, Marinovich indulged in drink and drugs, prompting the NFL, at his sign-up, to request regular doping tests. Although some subsequent tests returned negative, it was only because Marinovich was substituting his urine samples for a fellow “clean” teammate.
However, he was eventually found out and suspended prior to being paid. His habit of taking LSD post-match affected his next-day performance and judgment; his erratic off-pitch behavior, including arrests for possession, brought negative publicity to the club and eventually placed his team bosses at the Los Angeles Raiders in an untenable position. A brief return in 2000 only proved to pay him a sufficient amount to support an ongoing cocaine habit, and Marinovich’s reputation continues to sink to new depths.
Sources: en.wikipedia.org, bbc.co.uk, bleacherreport.com