The mere mention of an athlete's name in a particular scandal's story is sometimes all that's required to ruin the reputation of that athlete forever.
That's just an unfortunate side effect of the Internet age. People can be charged, tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without ever even having the opportunity to tell their side of the story.
Then again, for every athlete that has been brought down by scandal, there's another for whom negative publicity is like water off a duck's back. Time after time, it just slides right off.
Here are some athletes who have proven themselves to be absolutely scandal-proof... at least for now.
Believe it or not, and you probably don't, the Saints saintly quarterback Drew Brees has actually been involved in a few incidents over the last few years that would have hurt the reputation of an athlete who was less highly regarded.
First there was his involvement with the NFL lockout in 2011. Brees was among the group of players to file the antitrust lawsuit against the league, which ultimately triggered the work stoppage. Following the lead of the players that filed suit in 1993, Brees and company sought personal exemptions from the franchise tag.
It was definitely a selfish move for Brees, who was entering the last year of his contract in New Orleans and wasn't going to have a repeat of the situation he dealt with in San Diego. Many athletes take a lot of heat from the public—who laments their greed—during free agency, but not this guy.
Brees must have accumulated more good will than can even be measured, because it seemed the entire world was on his side during his negotiations with the Saints after the 2011 season. He wasn't even scathed by the infamous "Bountygate" scandal that rocked the club that same year.
Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera gets a surprisingly limited amount of press coverage, given that he was the first MLB player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox did it in 1967. Cabrera is actually so boringly consistent as a hitter that it seems he's almost willfully forgotten by the sports media.
He's been among the greatest hitters in baseball dating back to his sophomore season with the Marlins back in 2004, but even when he finds himself mired in controversy it tends to be forgotten. In the very early morning of a day in early October 2009 police were called to the home of Cabrera after someone reported a disturbance at the residence.
In February 2013 a quote from his teammate Octavio Dotel, in which he questioned Cabrera's credibility as a leader, made the rounds, but was ultimately dismissed as the musings of a less-than-great reliever talking trash about a world-class talent.
Cabrera has been named an All-Star eight of his first 10 years in the league, yet remains stunningly under the radar. He may be heading for the best "Triple Crown Encore Season Ever," but he's doing it mostly in the dark from his past accomplishments and his past scandal.
A lot of really talented athletes come back from serious criminal charges to make an impact in the NFL—Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is the first that comes to mind. So the fact that current Redskins wide receiver Donte Stallworth has managed to comeback from his 30-day jail sentence in 2009 isn't a huge surprise.
Stallworth was with the Browns when he was sentenced for killing a pedestrian in Florida while driving drunk earlier that year. He didn't play at all in 2009, but went on to play at least part of the next three seasons with the Ravens, the Redskins and the Patriots, respectively. Teams taking a chance on a topnotch athlete who has been released from jail is one thing, but Stallworth is anything but that.
He fell 55 yards short of 1,000 receiving yards in 2005 with the Saints—which was by far the best season of his career. In May 2013 Stallworth tweeted about a ridiculous brush with the CIA after being inexplicably signed by the Redskins again, and in June 2013 Stallworth's "butt caught fire" during a hot air balloon ride in which the balloon made contact with some power lines.
More recently Stallworth opened up to ESPN's Outside the Lines about his past history of homophobia and how he's changed in recent years, proving that, despite the baggage he brings to the table, Stallworth may have value to players well beyond his on-the-field production.
Irish golfer Rory McIlroy was heralded as "the next Tiger Woods" for awhile, but he enjoys an advantage that the actual Tiger Woods doesn't when it comes to the press coverage he receives. The advantage is that he doesn't have to deal with the media as much in the U.S. because golf is largely ignored outside of Woods and Phil Mickelson.
This means McIlroy has gotten a pass on a number of incidents over the last two years—which is a very good thing since he's not good at taking criticism. In July 2011 he responded via Twitter to a reporter who spoke less than glowingly of his course management skills, tweeting: "Shut up…you're a commentator and a failed golfer. Your opinion means nothing."
In late 2012 Oakley Inc. announced it was suing both McIlroy and Nike over a $200 million deal which they claim breached an already existing contract between the golfer and Oakley. In March 2013 McIlroy walked off the course and went straight to his car after going seven over par at the Honda Classic. He didn't return to the event and gave a number of conflicting excuses for why he left.
Much of his behavior, including public drunkeness and his high-profile (career killing?) romance with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, has been excused because of his age. But someone should tell McIlory, who just turned 24 in May, that his Teflon coating won't last forever—eventually something is going to stick.
If anyone would have told me that by 2013, America—particularly Cleveland—would have been ready and willing to forget the universal scorn it held for former Cavalier LeBron James after his infamous "Decision" in July 2010, I would have told them they were crazy.
Seriously! James went from being the object of universal scorn and mockery after the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, to winning a championship, an Olympic gold medal and another MVP in 2012. He was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 2012 and won his second NBA championship in 2013.
Obviously all the controversy didn't hurt his earning power, as he was listed as Forbes magazine's No. 4 highest-paid athlete in the world for 2013. It also seems that the good people of Cleveland are more than willing to forgive and forget, as James' potential return in 2014 has been one of the biggest stories of this current offseason.
Even skeptical members of the media and fans have changed their tune from "Hell no!" to "Maybe… but don't hold your breath," which is a bigger shift than I could have imagined three years ago. Kind of like, we're still mad, but we won't be if you come back.
U.S. women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo came out of nowhere in October 2011, thanks to a very undressed appearance in ESPN The Magazine's annual Body Issue. A month later she was eliminated from the ABC reality show Dancing with the Stars and was so sour about it that she broke down into tears and refused to give interviews.
In July 2012 Solo pretty much ruined the Olympics, upstaging the gold medal-winning American women by lashing out at former teammate Brandi Chastain for comments made during one of their matches. A month later she continued railing against DWTS in her memoir Solo: A Memoir of Hope, claiming the show was rigged and that her partner, dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, had slapped her during training sessions.
Chmerkovskiy vehemently denied the accusations and threatened to sue her. Then Solo married former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens just hours after he was arrested for a domestic violence charge stemming from an incident involving the two.
All that, yet Solo remains one of the most popular female athletes in the U.S., with shockingly little negative reaction or fallout from her past problems, proving that winning is truly the greatest elixir.
Retired big man Shaquille O'Neal is one of the funniest and most likable personalities in NBA history. A little personality can go a very long way in terms of the public's perception of scandalous behavior and the long-lasting impact it can have.
For awhile he and former teammate Kobe Bryant were locked in a hateful feud that dated back to their early days playing together in Los Angeles. But the personal scandals Shaq has been involved with over the years have dealt mostly with his infidelity.
Countless stories have come out about Shaq's wandering eye during his marriage to ex-wife Shaunie, of Basketball Wives fame and the mother of his four children. Yet none of them seem to have impacted him much.
Shaq has even gotten a pass for his hideous forays into the rap world and appearances in cinematic plagues on humanity like Kazaam and Freddy Got Fingered, which have both been far worse than anything he's ever done in his personal life.
American swimmer Michael Phelps is proof that winning enough is really all you need to weather any small to moderate scandal that may, or may not, involve a bong. After the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, pictures of the golden boy were splashed over tabloids and gossip sites all over the country.
Phelps did lose one major endorsement—Kellogg's dropped him—but, for the most part, he emerged from the incident relatively unscathed. He went on to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London, where he became the most decorated athlete in the history of the games.
Phelps has since retired, though it's estimated that he could earn over $100 million in endorsements over his lifetime. You can't keep a winner of such historic proportions down.
Women's tennis star Serena Williams has routinely found herself in the middle of self-created scandals throughout her career. Some have been pretty big deals—like the times she's lost her temper and lashed out at line judges.
At the 2009 U.S. Open Williams actually lost a match on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty she took after threatening to kill an official over a disputed foot fault called on her. Two years later, again at the U.S. Open, she freaked out and told a line judge that she was "unattractive on the inside" and added, "I truly despise you." In August 2012, for good measure, she said in an interview that she would never be sorry for any of the incidents.
Williams reportedly celebrated her Olympic gold in 2012 by busting out a "Crip Walk," and in June 2013 she made shockingly casual remarks about a West Virginia rape victim in an interview with Rolling Stone for which she was forced to apologize. Those are just the most recent and high-profile incidents, though. She makes headlines like this at least once or twice a year.
Scandals may hurt her reputation a little, but they certainly haven't impacted her earning power or her game on the court. According to Forbes, Williams is the No. 3 highest earning female athlete in the world—a list she has been included on for the last decade.
Need proof that Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky is absolute scandal-proof? Well, how about the fact that when I asked a friend of mine for his ideas on scandal-proof athletes and he said "Wayne Gretzky," I said "What are you talking about?"
That's even more legit than it sounds, because I am a diehard hockey fan and have been since 1989. I'm well aware of Gretzky's scandalous past behavior, which includes his controversial trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings after marrying Janet Jones, an American actress who has been compared to Yoko Ono by Canadian hockey writers.
It was Janet's gambling habits that implicated Gretzky in the infamous NHL gambling ring in 2006. She and Gretzky's "great friend" Rich Tocchet, a former player who served as assistant coach to him with the Coyotes, were both involved in the ring.
Although Gretzky maintained he was never involved, his wife reportedly wagered over $500,000 on various sporting events, but never faced any charges because the betting didn't involve hockey games. If that's not enough, there's his eldest daughter Paulina's online reputation as the Internet's preeminent athlete "celebuspawn" trollop.
Luckily, Gretzky's on-ice achievements are enough to earn him a lifetime pass from the controversy.
Public sentiment regarding golf great Tiger Woods tends to run hot and cold. It's been like that since he burst onto the seen in 1996. After turning pro, he immediately inked deals with Nike and Titleist—the richest endorsement contracts in golf history at the time. The same year he was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year and the PGA's Rookie of the Year.
In April 1997 he became the youngest person ever to win a major, and shortly thereafter he set the record for the quickest ascent to a No. 1 ranking. Woods didn't do anything wrong, obviously, but his early success painted him as anything but the underdog. Some people are genetically predisposed to hating whoever is winning.
This is why his infamous cheating scandal—which was like 20 different scandals in one—that first broke in late November 2009, didn't really impact Woods in a major way. People that loved him still love him. People that hated him now hate him even more. According to Forbes Magazine, Woods is the highest-paid athlete in the world for 2013.
Talk about scandal proof.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must sometimes wonder how recently retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis largely escaped any long-term fallout from being implicated in the deaths of two people in early 2000, while he may forever be known to so many as "Rapistberger," despite never being criminally charged.
Lewis wasn't ultimately charged with murder, but his role in the crime has remained the subject of much speculation. Criminal activity can haunt an athlete his entire career—even the perception of criminal activity can hurt—yet Ray Ray managed to dodge any serious fallout from his.
The thing about Lewis is that people really love a story of redemption, and he has imposed his story on most everyone. One decade and two Godly covers of Sports Illustrated later and Lewis has managed to position himself in a place where even daring to ask a question about his questionable past is considered pretty much off-limits.
Well, off-limits to everyone except Boomer Esiason, who famously took Lewis to task during the last game of his career—which just so happened to be the Super Bowl. That was as negative as it seems to get for Lewis, considering the whole deer antler spray story got exactly zero traction.
There is no scandal that can bring down controversial footballer Mario Balotelli. His entire rise to international fame was built on his predilection for scandalous behavior, which puts him in a very good position moving forward.
In fact, he may be the only athlete on this list that would actually suffer in some way if he managed to avoid controversy in the future. Balotelli's behavior has been well-documented, particularly during his stint with Manchester City.
After he was sold to AC Milan in his native Italy in January 2013, many British publications took joy in running down Balotelli's impressive short-term record of deviant behavior. His suspensions, arrests and penchant for setting off fireworks in his bathroom are as much a part of him as his soccer ability, if not more.
Balotelli has proved that the best way to become scandal-proof is to be at the center of so many controversies that people can't even recognize you when you're not being scandalous.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is basically the mayor of Chicago and the king of Buffalo, his hometown. This is actually pretty amazing if you consider the Google list of suggested search terms after typing in his name:
- Patrick Kane drunk
- Patrick Kane twitter
- Patrick Kane mullet
- Patrick Kane cab driver
- Patrick Kane drug problem
Kane's partying has been in the news on a relatively regular basis since 2009. There was the time he assaulted and robbed a cab driver in August 2009. There was his infamous shirtless limo ride in January 2010. There was that black eye he was sporting at a Bulls game in May 2011. There was the University of Wisconsin Cinco de Mayo party where he got wasted and passed out in May 2012.
Whatever, though! He doesn't care if you think he has a drinking problem. P-Kane is gonna do P-Kane. He won the second Stanley Cup of his career in June 2013 and has been on the party circuit ever since. Kane appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, took the trophy to a Jimmy Buffet concert and got to hang onstage, sprayed a bunch of strangers with champagne and wore a unicorn head on a Chicago bar crawl.
That was just in June. Kane has taken some hits in the media for his party boy antics, but he remains a fan favorite. There are some people for whom this kid can do absolutely no wrong.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is such a lightning rod for controversy that the mere mention of his name is often the only thing necessary to elevate a story from newsworthy to controversial.
His early career was mired by that epic feud with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and the fallout from sexual assault allegations that were made against him in the summer of 2003.
Many prominent athletes have spent years mastering the art of constantly speaking without ever saying anything, but Bryant will say whatever he wants about whoever he wants, whenever he wants to do it.
When his wife Vanessa filed for divorce in December 2011, it was Bryant's (alleged) constant infidelity that was said to be the real irreconcilable difference. Apparently she just needed a little break, though. (The couple announced the split was off in January 2013.)
Bryant is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of athlete, of which he is well aware. There's very little he can do to change the minds of fans and foes, so he doesn't even try. As for those scandals, I guess if Vanessa can forgive him, then the rest of us can, too.
English soccer player David Bekcham has been one of the most universally beloved athletes in the world for nearly two decades. The world's love for him extends well beyond the bounds of soccer, though. Becks was definitely a talented athlete in his prime, but the contract he signed with the L.A. Galaxy of MLS in 2007 had next to nothing to do with his abilities on the pitch.
The five-year contract was reported to be worth upwards of $250 million—and he collected over $255 million, including an extension he signed with the Galaxy in 2012. Beckham has proven himself scandal-proof in the years he's been married to wife Victoria, a former Spice Girl and the mother of his four children. However, allegations of infidelity seem to rock the couple every few years.
Some of them have been acknowledged by Becks, while he's denied others. One he copped to was with a woman named Rebecca Loos, a former nanny for the couple, which is still making headlines in 2013. They were reportedly involved in a relationship back in 2004 and Loos claimed Becks referred to her as his "second wife." She claimed that he planned to leave his wife.
A father of four in the public eye cheating on the wife of his children isn't often completely overlooked like this, but obviously not everyone is as handsome as David Beckham.
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. is one of the most vile and unlikable athletes on the planet, but it seems that an undefeated record is far more important to many fans than the fact that he has been jailed for beating up women in the past—and he's been arrested and jailed more than once.
There are over four million people on Twitter—#TheMoneyTeam—who hang on every stupid word this guy has to say, and please believe me when I say that all the words are stupid. Mayweather has skated on plenty of ugly things in the past, too.
He has lashed out at supposed rival Manny Pacquiao more than once in a racist and homophobic way. His car was searched in 2009 and one of his associates was identified as fleeing the scene of a Las Vegas shooting. In 2010 Mayweather was arrested and charged with three harassment charges, grand larceny and robbery.
Yet the 36-year-old boxer remains among the highest-paid athletes in the world. In 2013 he was ranked as the 14th highest-paid athlete in the world by Forbes magazine. Mayweather was the only athlete in the top 80 to have earned none of his salary from endorsements. Every cent of his $34 million in earnings was from fighting.