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The Most Controversial Athletes In History



The only significant problem with athletes continuously living in the spotlight is their propensity to be under a microscope, especially when they do something wrong. But when the press and fans all decidedly turn against a player after an incident, earning respect back can be tough.
And even the most popular of athletes are prone to criticism, if not more likely to be cast in a dark shadow amidst a bit of controversy. Some of the greatest have had to overcome adversity, but others were less fortunate and remained tainted. These are the most controversial athletes.

O.J. Simpson

While he is one of the greatest athletes of all time, O.J. is also one of the most controversial. The 4 time NFL rushing leader is currently serving out a sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping. He also was the defendant in one of the most publicized trials ever, after he was the main suspect in the murder of his ex-wife and her “friend.” O.J. was given a verdict of not-guilty, but many people would question that ruling.

Mike Tyson

Tyson is one of the most iconic boxer’s in recent memory, but his character is definitely in question. When he was only 25, Tyson was accused and convicted of rape. However, he only served 3 of the 6 year sentence. He was able to return to boxing, but his aggressiveness after stopped fights has harmed his reputation as well.

Lance Armstrong

Lance was the best cyclist and he had become a health icon. However, this all came crashing down on him when Armstrong’s doping was discovered. At this point, the disgraced athlete has fallen out of the spotlight, but it’s a shame that an inspirational athlete had to resort to these measures.

Aaron Hernandez

The young Patriots tight end fell into trouble after he was convicted of murdering his friend. Hernandez was also accused of another double homicide, but he was declared to be not-guilty in that trial. Hernandez would later commit suicide after receiving the not-guilty verdict.

Dennis Rodman

While charismatic, Rodman just had a lot of issues. He was a violent player during his NBA career, and this appeared to carry over into the rest of his life. In 1999, Rodman and his then-wife Carmen Electra were both charged with misdemeanors after a domestic dispute. This was just the beginning of Rodman’s history of domestic violence, DUIs, and disturbing the peace.

Tiger Woods

The greatest golfer of all time had his career derailed by injuries, but his time in the news certainly didn’t help him either. Woods had at least one affair, and this led to his highly publicized divorce in 2010.

Michael Vick

Vick was an extraordinary athlete. This is demonstrated clearly in career and season rushing records from the QB position. Unfortunately, Vick ran a dog fighting ring, and this fact was discovered in 2007. Vick was only in prison for less than a year.

Barry Bonds

Bonds has set almost every hitting record in the book, but his achievements have been marred by overshadowing performance enhancing drug accusations. Frankly, this is overblown, and there is no way to know whether the supplements were knowingly taken or not.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel never got a real chance in the NFL because of his constant partying and alcohol issues. Sadly, Johnny Football loved the spotlight, and that really ended up being his downfall. Every issue he had was publicized and this in turn, drove him to drink.

Tonya Harding

The two-time Skate America Champion was banned for life from the sport after a vicious attack on competitor Nancy Kerrigan. She sent her ex-husband and bodyguard to break her rival’s leg. While they didn’t succeed, Kerrigan was injured enough that she had to withdraw anyway.

Ray Lewis

Throughout his career, Lewis was an absolute force at the middle linebacker position. In 2000, he was involved in an altercation that led to a murder trial, but Lewis was eventually acquitted after a plea-deal. The NFL fined him $250,000 for the incident, but Lewis was able to come back and win Super Bowl MVP the following year.

Ray Rice

A former Super Bowl champ, Rice hit the national spotlight after TMZ released the video of his third-degree assault on his fiancee. The charges were dropped by the court and the NFL only gave him a 2 game suspension. However, Rice never played football again.

Caitlyn Jenner

The Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner, went under the most public sex change transformation in history. This was a huge step forward for the LGBT community, but Jenner certainly received a lot of positive and negative attention for her decision.

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod is controversial for a lot of reasons. He’s a Yankee, he had an excessively large contract, he’s an arrogant guy, and most importantly, he was found to be taking PEDs towards the end of his career. Although his career is marred by this information, he is still regarded as one of the greatest players ever.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Nobody in boxing history has made more pay-per-view money than Floyd Mayweather Jr. Throughout his career, Floyd has had constant convictions for battery and domestic violence. At this point, it is suspected that Mayweather is almost bankrupt, despite the huge amount of cash he’s won.

Pete Rose

The all-time hits leader has gotten a bit of a bum rap when it comes to his legacy. After his playing career, Rose was found to be betting on games as a coach, and this has kept him out of the Hall of Fame.

Ben Johnson

A two time sprinting medalist in the Olympics, Johnson seemed poised to go down as a great runner until he admitted to doping. Both medals have since been rescinded. Johnson returned to the sport, but was again disqualified for using testosterone during a race in France.

Luis Suárez

Frankly, Suarez is just a dirty player. He has constantly been accused of diving during his career to gain an unfair penalty advantage. Plus, he has bitten opponents on three separate occasions.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe has been a polarizing figure for most of his career, but the sexual assault allegation in 2003 gave his critics a real excuse to attack him. Bryant admitted to the extramarital affair, but it remains unclear whether or not the encounter was consensual. Kobe rebounded from the event and never had another similar issue.

Jose Canseco

Violence and recklessness seem to run throughout Canseco’s career, but he is most known for his steroid use. This was during the roid era of baseball, so it’s not exactly a big surprise.

Muhammad Ali

Ali has a reputation as a civil rights activist, but the situation isn’t quite that clear. He actually had advocated for a ban on mixed-race marriage among some of the more positive things.

Mark McGwire

The multi-season home run leader admitted to taking a muscle enhancement drug that was banned in most sports, but it had not been banned in MLB at the time. McGwire also later admitted to using steroids to recover from injuries.

Hope Solo

The iconic American goalkeeper was a celebrity after the 2012 Olympic gold medal. In 2014, she was arrested for fourth degree assault on her half-sister and nephew. The charges were eventually dropped after the alleged victims didn’t cooperate with the court.

Sammy Sosa

What do you know, another baseball player that had drug issues. Sosa never tested positive, but it seems unlikely that he will make the Hall of Fame.

Shoeless Joe Jackson

Shoeless Joe was a part of the “Black Sox” team that reportedly were paid to blow the 1919 World Series against the Reds. He admitted to agreeing to the fix, but he was one of the most reluctant members. He in fact, tried to tell the owner, but the owner wouldn’t meet with him.

Lawrence Taylor

The two time Super Bowl champ has an impressive resume, including an MVP title. Sadly, Taylor had a significant substance abuse issue when it came to cocaine. This didn’t affect his career too much, but he would’ve been banned with a third positive drug test.

John McEnroe

While McEnroe wasn’t as violent as some of the members on this list, he is best known for his ranting against the refs. The short-tempered tennis pro would constantly lose his composure and start insulting the officiating in all kinds of creative ways. These catchphrases would often make for entertaining headlines, so public opinion on McEnroe was fairly polarized.