When Good Athletes Go Bad
There are plenty of athletes and players who would elicit nothing more than a yawn from sports enthusiasts if their name turned up on a jail blotter or in a press release from Rodger Goodell announcing a three-game suspension.
This is because trouble and all its trappings—anger, substance abuse, a broken family, etc.—is awfully difficult to compartmentalize. So while the failures and misbehavior of an individual whose fate appears snake bitten can be as tragic, they rarely shock the public and media.
One thing about trouble is that it will seize the opportunity to find even the most well put-together person, if they open the door. People snap. People can have their buttons pushed. People have bad days. People get wasted. Cracks can form in even the most meticulously constructed facade.
When an athlete who has built a reputation as a consummate professional, as a great example for their sport, as a champion or even a pillar of their community, makes headlines for all the wrong reasons—it can be shocking or even disheartening.
This is a list of moments When Good Athletes Go Bad.
Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts
Pat McAfee became a member of that exclusive club of collegiate punters to hear their name called during the NFL draft when the Indianapolis Colts selected him in the 7th round in 2009. A Ray Guy Award finalist and 2nd Team All American at West Virginia University, McAfee began his pro career without any baggage or reputation for being anything less than a hardworking player and solid teammate.
Providing further proof that booze has the ability to make even the most milquetoast person get involved in some pretty insane shenanigans, McAfee was arrested one very early morning in October 2010 after a woman called 911 to report a shirtless man had approached her car at an intersection.
With a blood alcohol level of .15 (two times the legal limit), the second year player admitted to taking a swim in a city canal, explaining his reasoning with, "I am drunk."
McAfee served a one-game suspension, got shamed pretty brutally by the fans and media, but has hung onto his job and avoided more early morning drunken canal dips.
George Brett, Retired MLB
Legendary third baseman George Brett had an exceptional career in MLB that spanned a full two decades. He played all 20 years with the Royals and in 1999 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Brett is one of the most beloved players of a generation; the infamous Pine Tar Incident may be the only blemish on an otherwise stellar record. In a 1983 game against the Yankees, the umpires ruled that the large amount of pine tar on Brett's bad exceeded the amount allowed by rule.
The incident was odd and ugly and resulted in a Yankees win. The Royals protested the game after Brett's home run was nullified and he was called out. The AL president upheld their protest and ruled that the game would be restarted from the point of Brett's home run. The Royals ended up winning the game.
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
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Lions Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has a reputation of being a beast on the field and a quiet, philanthropic do-gooder type off the field. But the reputation of the self-described "fun-loving teddy bear" took a hit in 2011, when his on-field intensity manifested itself in the infamous Thanksgiving day stomp of Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.
The stomp, which was the fifth on the field incident Suh had been disciplined for, resulted in a two-game suspension and a fine. Instead of laying low in his Oregon hometown during his suspension, Suh found himself in more hot water after crashing his car into a tree in the early morning hours of December 3, 2011.
The circumstances surrounding the accident were mysterious, but police were quick to close the case. Unfortunately for Suh, it didn't stay closed; in July 2012 he was slapped with a lawsuit from one of the other passengers who claims he paid her to keep quiet after the accident.
Elizabeth Lambert, Women's Soccer
In 2009, then freshman New Mexico Lobos defender Elizabeth Lambert became an unwitting viral internet sensation when she spent the better part of 90 minutes manhandling an opposing player during a match against the Mountain West Conference rival BYU Cougars.
In a sport that can certainly get chippy, but more noted for violence carried out by the spectators rather than the players, the video of Lambert's virtuoso performance was quite shocking. She checked all the boxes on the Cat Fight Scorecard: punching, slapping, and most impressively, jerking her victim to the ground via ponytail. Except this cat fight was scary, not sexy.
Described as a "high quality student athlete" by her coach, Lambert was suspended for two games and issued a public apology. She is currently finishing her senior season with the Lobos.
Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
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In a June 2012 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera came off looking like a saint. He was affectionately described as a spiritual and quiet "mama's boy" who was maturing and destined for a huge payday in 2013. Heck, they even pointed out that his father's name was Jesus.
Just two months later it was reported that Cabrera had been suspended without pay for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. He quickly apologized and accepted full responsibility, but not until after the ridiculous scheme he concocted to try to cover it up failed miserably.
Chad Johnson, NFL Free Agent
Free agent wide receiver Chad Johnson has made his share of headlines since being drafted by the Bengals in 2001. For nearly a decade those headlines were all football related, but something has shifted in recent years and for the first time in his playing career he recently found himself on the wrong side of the law.
Johnson was arrested in August 2012 for domestic violence for allegedly head-butting Evelyn Lozada, his wife of just over a month at the time, during the course of an argument. He was almost immediately cut from the Dolphins and his wife filed for divorce.
Johnson isn't letting the situation get him down though—he bought a brand new Lamborghini weeks later. That is some sound financial planning for an unemployed father of four who is going through a divorce and is at risk of losing his home to foreclosure.
Jim Leyritz, Retired MLB
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During his 10 year career in MLB, (now) retired catcher Jim Leyritz was known as a clutch performer who always came up big when it counted most. He was an eccentric character, but never found himself in any trouble until years after his retirement in 2000.
In December 2007, Leyritz was arrested for DUI at the scene of a Florida car accident that left the other motorist dead; his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit. Leyritz was ultimately convicted of DUI in 2009, but acquitted of the harsher charge of vehicular manslaughter.
While awaiting trial he was arrested for battery against his ex-wife and was in and out of jail for various alcohol related violations of his bail agreement. Leyritz seems to have pulled it together since setting his legal issues in 2010 and he was hired by the Yankees in April 2012.
Eugene Robinson, Retired NFL
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Retired safety Eugene Robinson was signed by the Falcons in 1997 and went on to have the third Pro Bowl season of his 15 year career in the NFL. Atlanta made it to Super Bowl XXXIII that season and the day before the game Robinson won the Bart Starr Award, which celebrated his high moral character.
Unfortunately, he didn't live up to the responsibilities of the award. Hours after accepting the award he was arrested in Miami for soliciting oral sex from an under cover police officer. The Falcons lost to the Broncos in a blowout the next day and fans and media were quick to point fingers at Robinson's poor performance in the game.
Robinson quickly offered a sincere apology to his family and teammates and accepted responsibility for his actions. He has since stayed out of trouble and currently works as a broadcaster for the Panthers radio network in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, MMA Fighter
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Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has been one of the biggest stars in MMA for almost a decade. His success in the ring has led to opportunities outside the ring too. Jackson has appeared as himself in a number of television shows, coached in two seasons of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter and he even landed a role in the big budget movie The A-Team in 2010.
But he narrowly avoided disaster in 2008, when he was arrested and booked in California on suspicion of felony reckless driving, just days after losing his UFC light-heavyweight title to Forrest Griffin. Jackson led police on a high speed chase through Costa Mesa, running several red lights and narrowly avoiding a number of pedestrians.
It was later revealed that there were no drugs in his system, but rather that Jackson had been driven to madness after four straight days of not sleeping. He faced a number of charges for the hit-and-runs he was involved with, but ultimately avoided jail time.
Donté Stallworth, NFL Free Agent
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Free agent wide receiver Donté Stallworth's once promising career has hit the skids in recent years, seemingly coinciding with his 2009 DUI arrest following an early morning accident in which he struck and killed a pedestrian. He would eventually plead guilty to manslaughter, serve a short prison sentence and miss the entire 2009 season to suspension.
Stallworth hadn't had any run-ins with the law prior to the incident and has stayed out of trouble since, but his career never got back on track. He's been on three teams in three seasons and was released by the Patriots in August 2012.
Al Unser Jr., Retired IndyCar Driver
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IndyCar racer Al Unser Jr. retired for the first time in 2004, ending a very successful 25 year career in the sport. Perhaps he found trouble moving on in his life after racing, because just two years later the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner announced plans to attempt a comeback.
Unser's comeback came grinding to a halt in January 2007 when he was arrested and charged with DUI following an accident on a Nevada freeway in which he fled the scene. He failed several field sobriety tests, which makes sense considering his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit.
Unser plead no contest to the charges stemming from the incident and agreed to seek treatment for alcoholism. The treatment didn't stick; he was arrested and charged with DWI again in September 2011 after police spotted him drag racing another car in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Plaxico Burress, NFL Free Agent
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Considering the issues that have plagued free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress in recent years, it's extremely impressive that he managed to stay out of trouble for the first eight years of his career. Whether or no he was on his best behavior during that time or just lucky is not clear, but what is clear is that the wheels came off whatever was driving him in 2008.
From August-October that season police responded to two domestic disturbances at Burress' house, he incurred a one game suspension by the Giants and three fines for violations totaling $45k. Then in November he suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his thigh when a firearm he had been carrying in the waistband of his sweatpants inadvertently discharged.
The fallout from the incident was considerable and the New York media was relentless and merciless. Burress was made an example of and sentenced to two years in jail for the incident, of which he served 20 months.
Kevin Stevens, Retired NHL
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Boston native Kevin Stevens was one of the greatest power forwards in the NHL when he was injured in Game 7 of the Patrick Division Finals in 1993. Then with the Penguins, Stevens failed to connect properly on a check to Islanders defenseman Rich Pilon; instead he connected with his visor, was knocked unconscious and fell face first onto the ice, resulting in catastrophic facial injuries.
Stevens has pointed to that incident and the subsequent reconstructive surgeries as the beginning of the drug problems that led to his 2000 arrest. He was arrested in the early morning hours of January 24th and was charged with soliciting a prostitute and possessing drug paraphernalia. Police found crack cocaine on Stevens and the prostitute. At the time Stevens and his wife were expecting their third child.
Tiger Woods, PGA
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It feels like it's been a millennium since Tiger Woods was the indisputable king and face of pro golf. Woods began his PGA career in 1996 on the heels of the kind of hype only bestowed on a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He instantly made an impact as both a player and spokesperson for the game, winning the Masters within a year, and moving to the number one spot in the world rankings with unprecedented speed. He was golf's Michael Jordan and Sidney Crosby rolled into one man.
The son of an army veteran, Woods projected an image as the consummate achiever who seemed impossibly polite. Later in his career nagging injuries, inconsistent play and disappointing performances led to speculation that his career was in decline. Despite questions about his game and health, Tiger was still Tiger—the face of golf.
Then on November 25, 2009, the image began to crack. The National Enquirer published a report that Woods was having an affair, and four days later he was attacked by his wife in a bizarre incident that resulted in severe facial lacerations. More rumors of infidelity surfaced and Woods' business relations and endorsements began to disappear.
While Tiger has engaged in a aggressive campaign to repair his reputation, the fact he was the last superstar you would expect this to happen to means it will never be the same.
Brett Favre, Retired NFL
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Retired quarterback Brett Favre played with the Packers for 15 seasons and over that time he became one of the most beloved players in the game. The Gunslinger had an early brush with trouble in 1996 when he spent two months in rehab for addiction to painkillers prior to the start of the season.
But it would be 14 years and a move to New York City later before Favre found himself in trouble for a second time. In 2010 the NFL launched an investigation after it was reported that The Gunslinger had attempted to digitally seduce (then) Jets Gameday host Jenn Sterger via lewd text messages and photos during the 2008 season.
Favre was lucky to have his indiscretions swept under the rug the first time, but he would not be as lucky the second time. His behavior and the subsequent investigation became one of the biggest stories of the entire year and will ultimately be a permanent stain on his once stellar reputation.