Most athletes in college or trudging around in the minors dream of making it to the big show. Going pro means the big money, the high profile and all of the countless benefits, both big and small, that come along with the territory. Who doesn't want that kind of lifestyle?
It sounds amazing, but that kind of shift is a major adjustment that not all athletes are prepared for. In 2009, Sports Illustrated estimated that 78 percent of NFL players face serious financial problems within two years of retirement, and as many as 60 percent of NBA players are flat broke within five years of retirement.
Many athletes fall victim to their own financial mismanagement, the temptations of drugs and alcohol or just really bad decision making. Then there are the few that fall victim to all three and throw in something else terrible for good measure.
Let's take a look at 15 athletes who have fallen from grace and see where they were then and where they are today.
Former NFL tight end Mark Chmura was selected by the Packers in the sixth round of the 1992 draft. Chmura went on to make three Pro Bowls and was part of the Packers team that won Super Bowl XXI.
In 1997, Chmura became the original Tim Thomas when he declined to join his team at the White House for the customary post-Super Bowl visit because he didn't respect President Bill Clinton.
In 2000, Chmura was charged with sexually assaulting his children's babysitter at a high school prom party. Ultimately, he was not convicted but confessed to inappropriate behavior of some sort...like attending a prom party?
Apparently, the people of Wisconsin were willing to forgive and forget whatever Chmura's indiscretions may have been. Chmura hosts his own show called "Miller Lite Football Show" on ESPN 540 in Milwaukee and has been doing so since 2004.
In 2010, Chmura's comments about Packers tight end Jermichael Finley attracted some attention. Finley was up for a contract extension at the time, and Chmura repeatedly called him a "moron" and insisted he should "shut (his) mouth."
In June 2012, his son, Dylan Chmura, committed to play tight end for Michigan State.
In 1983, Darryl Strawberry was the next great MLB hitter. Drawing comparisons to the great Ted Williams, the young phenom crushed 26 home runs and was named NL Rookie of the Year in his first season with the Mets.
Strawberry went on to have an outstanding career, winning four World Series titles and was an eight-time All-Star. However, much of his career was overshadowed by struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, as well as a virtual mélange of legal and personal problems—likely stemming from both.
After retiring in 1999, Strawberry’s issues with drugs and alcohol continued, as he faced court-ordered treatment and struggled to meet the conditions of his probation. He served 11 months of a suspended, 22-month prison sentence for violating the terms of his probation, before he was released in 2003.
Despite his numerous run-ins with the law and personal demons, Strawberry remains involved in events with the Mets and Yankees and has opened a restaurant in Queens, New York.
He recently produced the documentary Harvard Park, which debuted on BET in April 2012.
Coming off of a breakout junior season that included a shocking road victory against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, it seemed as if Garcia was poised to finish his career on a high note. The Gamecocks entered the 2011 season with high expectations and talent on both sides of the ball.
Ominous developments leading up to the season opener foretold Garcia’s fate—he was suspended for a fifth time in April 2011 after an embarrassing incident at a school leadership event, and Steve Spurrier-favorite Connor Shaw earned the start.
Despite getting his starting job back, Garcia couldn’t escape his own poor decisions on and off the field. After five tumultuous, up-and-down seasons, the controversial, boozing quarterback from Spurrier’s first recruiting class was finally dismissed from the team.
The troubled but talented quarterback entered the 2012 NFL draft and worked out for scouts at South Carolina’s pro day. After going undrafted, Garcia signed with the Montreal Alouttes in June, but Canada has offered no refuge from embarrassing headlines.
The rise and fall of former track and field star Marion Jones is more than just a cautionary tale about how quickly an athlete can fall from grace. It represents a watershed moment in the world’s effort to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs.
After becoming the first woman to win five medals (three gold, two bronze) at a single Olympics in 2000, Jones had become a superstar at the pinnacle of her career. However, she turned in a relatively disappointing showing at the 2004 Summer Olympics, which was followed by explosive revelations about Jones and her husband’s involvement in the BALCO steroids scandal.
After testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from perjury and her role in the BALCO scandal, Jones was stripped of her medals in 2007, banned from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation.
Since completing her sentence, Jones—a basketball star at the University of North Carolina—played briefly in the WNBA for the Tulsa Shock in 2010 before being waived after one season.
During a recent interview on Piers Morgan Tonight, Jones expressed remorse for the pain she caused her family and openly discussed her personal and financial struggles.
In retrospect, few quarterbacks would fare well in Ryan Leaf’s position. You’re the second-overall pick after future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning—not only are you the dude taken right after the guy with the "laser, rocket arm," but you play quarterback.
Your career and your fate are forever tied to the success of Peyton Manning.
It’s a shadow few men could escape and was certainly beyond the capability of Leaf, who by all accounts was a jerk in the locker room and lazy in the film room. While Leaf’s plight is one of the most infamous in NFL draft lore, his story certainly isn’t unique—plenty of players have come into the NFL with high expectations and failed to meet them.
Leaf pissed off his teammates, was belligerent with the media and was awful on the field. After two seasons he was waived by the San Diego Chargers, and after brief stints with Tampa Bay, Dallas and Seattle, his NFL career was over after just three years.
After retiring in 2002, Leaf earned his bachelor's degree from Washington State in 2005 and went on to work as a volunteer quarterback coach with West Texas A&M. He seemed to come to terms with his legacy, but in 2008, Leaf resigned after improperly soliciting pain medication from a player.
This incident seemed to be just the beginning of a sad, new chapter in Leaf’s life, as multiple arrests for felony burglary and drugs culminated in a five-year prison sentence with 15 months of substance abuse treatment.
After being named AL Rookie of the Year in 1986, Oakland Athletics slugger Jose Canseco quickly established a reputation as one of the best hitters in baseball. Together with teammate Mark McGwire, the Athletics featured one of the most feared batting lineups in MLB from 1987 to 1992.
They were the "Bash Brothers," just a couple of big dudes knocking baseballs into another time zone and gaining mass in weird places. Canseco was a good baseball player, but by the time he retired and thereafter, his career—his legacy—had become an albatross around the neck of Major League Baseball.
Performance-enhancing drugs helped Jose Canseco become an All-Star slugger, and when MLB and Congress began cracking down on steroids, he turned his chemical career-booster (and the scandal surrounding it) into a tell-all book implicating Mark McGwire and other former teammates.
Canseco has stayed busy in those two realms where the irrelevant thrive: reality television and Twitter. He’s also managed to play a little minor league baseball, signing a one-year contract with the Worcester Tornadoes last spring.
However, his play generates far fewer headlines than his bizarre tweets.
By all accounts, Marcus Vick had all of the potential and all of the talent to be a game-changing dual-threat quarterback like his older brother Michael. Vick followed in his brother’s footsteps, committing to Virginia Tech in 2002 as one of the nation’s most prized quarterback prospects.
However, Vick’s run-ins with the law began early and often. Following his second season, Vick and two other players were charged with statutory rape and contributing to the delinquency of minors after an incident involving a 15-year-old girl. Vick was suspended by the team but eventually reinstated.
He repaid head coach Frank Beamer by stomping on Elvis Dumervil’s head during the 2006 Gator Bowl and racking up enough traffic violations to make Lindsay Lohan look good by comparison. Four days after the Gator Bowl incident, Vick was dismissed from the team. His response was surely noted by NFL scouts: "It's not a big deal. I'll just move on to the next level, baby."
After he was dismissed from Virginia Tech, Marcus Vick—once considered an NFL talent—attempted to move on and become a pro player. Vick entered the 2006 NFL draft but wasn’t selected. He signed a free-agent deal with the Dolphins and spent an uneventful season on the team before being released.
While his football career has sputtered, Vick has continued to get entangled in an impressive web of criminal and civil legal problems. The list is long and exhausting.
His most recent offense came in March 2012, when he was jailed for contempt of court for failing to appear for two court dates stemming from a suspended license charge.
JaMarcus Russell is the contemporary gold standard of supremely talented NFL busts, but Todd Marinovich blazed a trail for players like Russell—men with unlimited potential but limited commitment to the profession.
Marinovich seemed designed to be a great NFL quarterback. His pedigree, his physical attributes, his intelligence—it's almost like he was the product a supercomputer programmed to define the perfect player.
But like we learned in Jurassic Park, nature has a way of sabotaging even the best-laid plans of mankind. In Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs began to adapt in unexpected ways, becoming uncontrollable—with Marinovich, his disruptive force was addiction.
After a solid career at Southern Cal, Marinovich was selected 24th overall by the Raiders (of course), falling to the latter part of the first round after being arrested for cocaine possession a few months earlier. Marinovich struggled with alcohol and substance abuse, and his inconsistent performances on and off the field reflected his troubles.
Within two years, he was out of the NFL.
After leaving the game, Marinovich has continued to suffer from alcohol and drug addiction—he’s faced numerous drug-related charges and has undergone multiple treatment programs.
But he seems to have found his true calling and come to terms with his legacy.
In a recent ESPN 30 for 30 special about Marinovich’s career and life, he revealed that he is focused on his true passion, which is art.
Even though former figure skater Tonya Harding was eventually implicated in the 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, she was still allowed to compete at the Olympics just weeks after the attack because the investigation was still ongoing. Harding probably should have stayed home—she finished a disappointing eighth place, while Kerrigan won silver.
Her life from that point on went as follows:
1994: Harding and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly co-starred in the nastiest celebrity sex tape of all time.
1995: Harding was suspected of falsely accusing her ex-husband of stalking her.
1997: Harding reported being abducted at knifepoint to police. The police found no evidence to support her story.
2000: Harding was arrested on fourth-degree domestic violence charges and ordered to stay away from her former boyfriend and lay off the sauce.
2002: Harding was charged with DUI.
2002: Harding began her embarrassing boxing career.
2004: Harding ended her embarrassing boxing career.
2005: Harding called police to report being attacked by masked men, but then admitted it was a domestic incident with her boyfriend. They each claimed the other was the aggressor, and Harding was again ordered to lay off the sauce.
2007: Harding called police to report that intruders were trying to steal things and hide firearms on her property. Police investigated and found her to be high on drugs of some sort.
Today, the responsible and rational Tonya Harding is a mother, responsible for raising another human being. In May 2012, Harding was interviewed by tabloid television show Inside Edition and discussed the joys of motherhood.
She also discussed her pregnancy and the fact that her "boobs hurt!" during the ordeal. Harding has remarried, and neither half of the couple has been arrested for domestic assault.
At least we don't have to worry about seeing her baby boy caught up in an ill-conceived plot against a figure-skating rival down the road. Says Harding, "Skating is so political and I really don't want my son wearing tights."
The career of Lenny Dykstra, the former center fielder for the Mets and Phillies, was cut short due to injuries in 1996—which is especially unfortunate because perhaps a longer career would have kept him out of trouble...but probably not.
In 2008, Dykstra started a high-end charter jet business that was a complete financial nightmare from the get-go. Within a year, Dykstra's financial worth went from nearly $58 million to selling off his World Series ring and filing for bankruptcy.
Just another case of financial mismanagement by an athlete, right? Wrong.
Within a year of filing for bankruptcy, Dykstra was living out of his car because he had lost most of his assets and the house that he owned was uninhabitable due to toxic mold problems.
And then all of this happened:
June 2010: It was determined that he had lied under oath about his assets during his bankruptcy hearing.
December 2010: He was accused of bouncing a check to a prostitute.
January 2011: Dykstra was accused of sexually assaulting his housekeeper.
April 2011: He was charged with indecent exposure after behaving grotesquely with someone he had lured to his house with a Craigslist ad seeking a "personal assistant"—a scam he pulled at least six times previously.
April 2011: Dykstra was arrested on a plethora of charges, including grand theft, embezzlement, bankruptcy fraud and obstruction of justice.
June 2012: Dykstra agrees to a plea deal on all charges, which lands him in jail for just three years.
Seriously—and that's not even all of it.
Former quarterback Art Schlichter was selected fourth-overall out of Ohio State by the (Baltimore) Colts in the 1982 NFL draft.
Almost immediately, Schlichter found himself in hot water with the league over his gambling habits. He was suspended for a full year in 1983 and later admitted to gambling through his suspension. Schlichter was out of the NFL for good by 1986 and out of football entirely by 1992.
Schlichter spent all but a few months between 1995 and 2006 in 44 different prison facilities for countless felonies. Most were directly related to his gambling, like passing bad checks and theft.
Schlichter managed to keep himself out of trouble for several years after his release in 2006. He even founded a non-profit organization to educate the public about the perils of gambling addiction. Unfortunately, it didn't last.
In 2010 Schlichter concocted a scheme to sell bogus tickets to sporting events. By 2011, the authorities were on to his shenanigans and began a large-scale investigation for fraud.
Schlichter was ultimately charged with scamming victims out of more than $1 million. In May 2012, he was sentenced to 11 years for his misdeeds.
Former pitcher Dwight Gooden played most of his 16 years in MLB with the Mets. He won a World Series with the Mets in 1986 and two with the Yankees in 1996 and 2000 before retiring the next year.
Gooden had some early problems with substance abuse and brushes with the law, but things didn't really start to go downhill until his retirement—although, he confessed to being too high to attend the Mets' World Series parade, so his problems were big, but he managed to stay out of trouble.
Between 2002 and 2006, Gooden was arrested on a number of charges, including DUI, driving with a suspended license, domestic battery, fleeing from police and violating his probation. He ended up serving seven months in prison before being released.
Gooden insisted he had learned his lesson in 2006 and wouldn't end up back in prison. And he actually did a pretty decent job of not ending up back in prison for a while, but that streak ended after four years in March 2010.
Gooden was arrested in New Jersey after fleeing the scene of an accident. He was found nearby and was charged with DWI with a child passenger and leaving the scene of an accident. Gooden pled guilty but managed to avoid prison time for the incident.
In June 2011, it was announced that Gooden had been cast on VH1's fifth season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew [Pinksy]. Apparently, his former teammate Lenny Dykstra wasn't down with the idea and tried to spring Gooden from the house.
We're halfway through 2012, and Gooden has yet to be arrested and has been making regular appearances in New York. Let's hope it stays that way.
Former Penguins great Kevin Stevens was in the prime of his career when he suffered one of the worst injuries in sports history during Game 7 of the Patrick Division finals in 1993. Stevens missed on a check, knocking himself out in the process and causing him to fall face-first onto the ice.
The injury was so severe that his face needed to be reconstructed with metal plates, and it required over 100 stitches to close the wound. Stevens' career never recovered, and his dependence on painkillers after the accident eventually gave way to more serious addictions.
In January 2000, Stevens, a prostitute, her pimp and a cab driver were all arrested at a motel outside of St. Louis after a disturbance was reported. Stevens was said to have bought more than $500 worth of crack in one night and entered rehab shortly after.
Stevens was hired by his old friend Mario Lemieux as a scout for the Penguins in 2005. He was one of a number of former Pens to play in the alumni game during the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.
Not much was mentioned about his success in the role, but he remained with the organization until March 2012—Stevens left, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. According to a Post Gazette report, he still coaches youth hockey in Boston.
Just two days before Christmas of 1999, Sports Illustrated published a profile of (then) Braves pitcher John Rocker. It was perfect timing because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a hateful rant about everything and everyone inhabiting New York City. Just kidding—they should have held that story until Halloween.
So what did Rocker rail against? Whatever you got:
On "foreigners": "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners."
On drivers: "They turn from the wrong lane. They go 20 miles per hour. It makes me want — Look! Look at this idiot! I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman."
On the subway: "Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids."
On an overweight black teammate: "a fat monkey."
On irony: "I'm not a racist or prejudiced person."
On hypocrisy: "Baseball is a game of humility. You can be on top one minute, as low as possible the next. When you're young, you don't realize it. But sooner or later you learn—we all do. Be humble."
To the shock and amazement of absolutely no one, today John Rocker is exactly the same guy he was in 1999.
After retiring from MLB in 2003, Rocker spent a few years screaming at people he hates, but doesn't know how to "SPEAK ENGLISH!" Condescending T-shirts and screaming are always the best one-two punch to accomplish your goals.
Rocker went on to write Rocker: Scars and Strikes, a personal memoir that was published in December 2011. He did all he could to promote the book, including copping to steroid use, but the Rush Limbaughs of the world, to whom he said the book was aimed, didn't buy it.
After failing at writing books, Rocker has moved on to failing at writing political commentary. Deadspin highlighted his first column with WND.com, which they accurately described as "an even stupider version of The Daily Caller," insisting we all take a moment to appreciate Rocker's vast stupidity.
Done and done. Moving on...
After winning a national championship in 2002, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett sat out the entire 2003 season after being charged with a misdemeanor account of falsifying a police report. Clarett then dropped out of school in hopes that he could sue his way into the 2004 draft—a miscalculation on his part.
The Broncos surprised everyone in 2005 by taking Clarett in the third round of the draft, but he didn't even make it through training camp. By January 2006, Clarett had been picked up by the cops on suspicion of two armed robberies—by summer, things would get a whole lot worse.
In early August, Clarett was spotted making an illegal U-turn and then led the police on a high-speed chase. He was eventually caught, and this (see: photo) is a photo of his car at the time of arrest. Clarett was in possession of two Japanese swords, two loaded handguns, an open bottle of vodka and an AK-47.
Thankfully for Clarett, police stopped him before he reached his destination. Otherwise, he would have spent way more than four years in jail.
I don't think many had much hope for Clarett after the disturbing details of his arrest emerged, although every now and then, someone will surprise you.
After being released in 2010, Clarett re-enrolled at Ohio State and was signed by the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks four months later in August. Clarett discussed his life story in a two-part must-read feature on Grantland in late 2011. He had a brief setback in April 2012, grabbing some headlines for swearing about Mel Kiper Jr. on Twitter—really, who can blame him there?
But by July 2012, Clarett was back in Columbus and back on track, according to a report entitled "The Football Fever: Maurice Clarett's Next Chapter" on the local ABC news affiliate. The next chapter includes his own ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, which will premiere in Fall 2012.