Lance Armstrong and 10 Other Shamed Superstars
Sports superstardom can lift a person to dazzling heights. Instant fame, fortune and recognition comes with success. Sponsorship deals soon follow and before anyone has had a chance to take a breath, the world is saying their name and buying their products.
Everyone wants a piece of the latest phenomenon.
There is, however, another phenomenon often seen in international journalism. Build someone up to lofty heights of achievement and then once they're at the top of the mountain, begin the process of knocking them off until they reach the lowest valley.
Journalism loves train wrecks. Just look at the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohen and Kim Kardashian. The press will follow them simply to see them once again fall over or show a little more than they should.
In the sports world, this is no different. Just as journalists like to get that picture with the gold medal, they also like to see them at the press conference where they are crying, apologising and in a state of crisis.
The following slideshow will attest just a few examples of sportsmen who had it all only to fall from grace.
In an era where almost every major cyclist took performance enhancing drugs, Lance Armstrong seemingly stood above it all. His feat of winning seven Tour de France titles was thus a massive achievement. Factor in a near death experience as a result of cancer, and the success becomes legendary.
However, take a moment to read that again.
In an era where every major cyclist was taking performance enhancing drugs—Lance Armstrong won seven World Titles.
Now either he was simply that good, or he was better at disguising it than others.
The theory of microdosing, if done correctly, permits a superstar to artificially encourage their body to produce more of what they have without being detected. Rather than taking excessive amounts and getting caught, you simply add a small fraction and do it on a regular basis. The results will be the same.
Lance Armstrong may never have tested positive, but his inability to continue his defence will always lead to questions surrounding his guilt.
Money, fame, power, prestige and respect. When you have it all, what else do you need?
Well, some hookers I suppose.
The fall from grace of Tiger Woods came as a major shock to the sporting world. How many would have bet against him beating the record of eighteen titles set by Jack Nicklaus?
However, factor in a number of extra-marital affairs, injuries and a desire to revolutionize his swing, and Tiger Woods has slipped down the mountain. With young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy now beginning to find form, how long will it be before we switch to talking about him as opposed to King Tiger?
Golf is kind on the senior players as Ernie Els' success highlights, but time is running out for Tiger if he is unable to find form, fitness and focus.
Money makes the world go round. For some, the pursuit of the almighty dollar—or in this case, the South African Zar—can make some people do some terrible things. Match fixing and gambling have gone hand in hand for far too long, and as a result have tempted some of sport's finest to betray what they know to be wrong.
South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje had it all.
He held the South African record for matches won as captain and is the third most successful captain in world cricket. For so long, he was South African cricket. He was respected as one of the world's best.
And yet his willingness to accept money in return for match fixing shook the international cricket world to its very core. There was always a chance that, with time, he could have rehabilitated his image and offered something positive back to the world.
However, Cronje died in an airplane crash on the 1st June 2002. He was just 32 years old.
Before Rory McIlroy came to prominence, Northern Ireland sports could boast several other World Champions. Most notably snooker player Alex Higgins.
In an era where snooker players were quiet and dignified, Higgins, nicknamed the 'Hurricane', would play matches whilst drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
His natural abilities led him to win two world titles a decade apart in 1972 and 1982.
However, long term battles against alcoholism, gambling and drug use led Higgins to make some highly controversial decisions that included headbutting a referee, punching another official and threatening to have fellow player Dennis Taylor shot.
His fall from grace was as tragic as his inner demons slowly took hold. Battles with cancer and pneumonia followed, and he died in 2010—a mere skeleton weighing only 38 kg.
His death was attributed to malnutrition, pneumonia, a bronchial condition and throat cancer.
Fail one drug test, and you are a cheat. Fail two and you should be banned for life. Fail three and serious questions need to be asked about drug laws and sporting authorities.
Once advised to leave the country because he was a national disgrace, Canadian Ben Johnson seemingly could do nothing that did not rely upon the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Olympic and World titles were stripped. His image was ruined. His country ashamed.
And yet his early career had shown so much promise. In an era before the Bolts, Christies and Gays, Johnson was a superstar of the 60 and 100 metres.
The superstardom came with huge endorsements. He was a much sought after athlete, earning an estimated $500,000 a month in 1987.
However, in the end, the use of performance enhancing drugs brought his journey to an abrupt halt.
Today he is a family man and despite attempts to laugh off his past and even to accuse others, Johnson reminds many young athletes about the perils of cheating. Perhaps his fourth comeback should be as a spokesman in schools and colleges to show that drugs simply do not work.
Pro-wrestling, baseball and cycling have had their fair share of drug cheats, so perhaps it's unfair to single out just one of each. The fact that Bonds now holds the most significant records relating to batting means that his form of cheating is made all the worse.
The pursuit of historical records have always excited the American public. Maybe it's a nice reminder of yesteryear or maybe its just the excitement of the chase, but when a modern athlete gets close, America and the world begin to watch.
The legendary battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was one such battle, but Barry Bonds eclipsed them both as he broke Hank Aaron's home run record.
The fact, however, that he did it using performance enhancing drugs and then subsequently lied about it decimated everything in the achievement.
When she won all four grand slam events in 1997, Martina Hingis—at the age of 16 years old—was earmarked as a legend in the making. Her youthful presence and cerebral approach convinced many that she would lead tennis well into the next decade.
By 2000, the injuries began and the championships began to dry up.
However, it's what happened next that shocked the tennis world.
Her return to tennis in 2006 was greatly welcomed by international fans looking for an old face to challenge the Williams sisters. Injuries would once again return, but it was a cocaine charge following the 2007 Wimbledon Championships that forced her into retirement.
Her protests that she had never used drugs were betrayed by a double failure on both her 'A' and 'B' tests.
At the age of just 31, she is playing the legends circuit while many other superstars are still challenging for Grand Slams.
A promising Romanian international soccer player, Adrian Mutu had a lot going for him when he moved to current European Champions, Chelsea, in 2003.
Part of Roman Abromavich's Russian Revolution, Mutu was earmarked as the striker to lead Chelsea to not only domestic glory in the English Premiership but also to Champions League success.
27 matches and just six goals, together with an uneasy relationship with his manager, Jose Mourinho, led to Mutu's Chelsea dream falling apart.
A failed drug test for cocaine soon followed amidst rumours of depression and marital problems.
The result for Mutu was a fine of $21 million, something he is still contesting seven years later.
His attempts at reviving both his fortunes and career appeared to start well when he left Chelsea and moved to Italy, but another failed drug test in 2010—this time playing for Fiorentina—left him with another ban.
He is currently playing in France for newcomers, Ajaccio.
The rap sheet against footballer Michael Vick is as long as one of his passes.
Allegations of drug trafficking, theft, sexual promiscuity, gesturing to fans and, of course, animal cruelty have led to Vick's career being almost secondary to his off-field activities.
And yet when Vick arrived on the football scene, he was earmarked for a great career, winning the Archie Griffin Award whilst at Virginia Tech. And even in recent years, his ability on the football field have seen him break significant records including most rushing yards by a quarterback in 2010.
His prison release in 2011 has seemingly allowed him to restore an element of normalcy to his career. This was partly aided by re-signing with Nike and creating a deal with Modells Sports Stores.
Time will tell exactly which Michael Vick is the real Michael Vick as the new season begins.
The overuse of performance enhancing drugs is one thing. Combine them with concussion, physical exhaustion and depression and the effects can lead to tragedy.
There are few stories in professional sports as devastating as that of Chris Benoit.
For those who follow professional wrestling, Benoit was regarded as one of the best in the business. His presence and wrestling abilities have long earmarked him for success.
However, the toll that this took on his body was slowly disintegrating his system
The tragedy that befell the Benoit family in 2007 still haunts professional wrestling to this day. For those unfamiliar, Benoit killed his wife and their son before killing himself. The subsequent autopsy showed his brain was akin to that of an 85-year-old alzheimer's sufferer.
The long-term debate surrounding steroids, prescription painkillers and wrestling 'bumps' has long been documented, but the case of Chris Benoit highlights just how far a person can fall in the name of their sport.
Perhaps ironically, Benoit was being lined up for another run as Champion before he died. This reveals just how unexpected the tragedy was—not even his closest friends could have foreseen what happened.
And yet the cocktail of schedules, drugs and depressions made it almost impossible to avoid.
And So: Conclusions
The pursuit of sporting greatness can instill within a person a great sense of discipline, objectivity and strength. The desire to be the best and be recognised as such can be a great driving force.
For some, however, the trappings of superstardom have been their undoing.
Some cheated to get where they were. Others were unable to manage being famous. Some were unable to cope with the pressures of professional sports.
For every great champion, there is undoubtedly a million others who have tried and failed. However, only those who cheat deserve criticism.
Sportsmen are role models. Go to any school or college anywhere in the world and you will find school children wanting to play football, baseball, soccer, tennis or don the lyric tights and become a professional wrestler.
Sporting greats must set a better example to this young impressionable next generation.
The case of Lance Armstrong is not over, but irrespective of what the final verdict is, his image will always be tarnished because he was even associated with such charges.
For some, though, their ability to recognise their mistakes and work educating others about the perils has allowed them to find respect once more from the sporting world.
In the end, the pursuit of success will always be tainted with pitfalls. As has been said, to appreciate the highest mountain sometimes we must experience what it feels like to have been in the lowest valley.
Many will be in the valleys, its what they do next that matters. Some have danced with the devil and turned their lives around, while others—as with the case of Chris Benoit—never got the chance.