25 Sports Figures Who Should've Kept Their Mouths Shut

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

25 Sports Figures Who Should've Kept Their Mouths Shut

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    If you don’t have anything nice (or morally sound or intelligent) to say, maybe just keep your mouth shut. Too bad no one mentioned that to John Rocker. 

    Sports figures have a long history of ill-advised jaw-flapping. The degree to which these geniuses should’ve kept quiet is often directly proportional to how much their comments affected their reputations in the long term. How bad were the comments? How muddy was the aftermath? And most importantly, how lasting were the impressions left on their legacies? 

    Here we’ll count down 25 sports figures who definitely should have kept their mouths shut or their tweets to themselves. 

    Not included are those who made comments without knowledge of the recording. Donald Sterling, Riley Cooper, Andy Gray and Richard Keys’ offenses were atrocious to be sure, but you can’t keep your words private if you don’t know they’re going to be made public. 

    Also not included (but very close to making the cut) were these honorable mentions: Magic Johnson, John Calipari, Jason Whitlock and Patrick Crayton. 

    Here we go.

25. Mike Tyson

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    Understatement of the year: Mike Tyson has said a lot of things that he absolutely should not have said. 

    But this quote directed at Lennox Lewis after a 2000 fight was in particularly poor taste: “I want your heart, I want to eat his children.” 

    One good thing did come out of Tyson’s threats of cannibalism, and that was Lewis’ comeback. According to BoxingInsider.com, Lennox responded by saying he was confused. He thought Tyson was a vegetarian.  Zing.

24. Jalen Rose

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    In the 2011 ESPN Films documentary "The Fab Five," Jalen Rose said he used to feel like Duke only recruited black players “who were Uncle Toms.” 

    This naturally angered some, most especially Duke alumnus Grant Hill. The New York Times published Hill’s reaction, and Hill called Rose’s comments “a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events.” 

    Rose took a PR hit initially, but the incident left more of a bruise than a scar. Three years later, he is a successful analyst for ESPN—although I don’t imagine Grant Hill will be inviting him over for dinner any time soon.

23. Richard Petty

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    In February 2014, all-time NASCAR win leader Richard Petty told Wheels.ca that the only way Danica Patrick would win a race is “if everybody else stayed home” (h/t USA Today).

    Petty did not apologize for his comment but did insist that he is not a sexist. On the one hand, Petty didn’t come off looking great; but on the other hand, he doesn’t seem to care.

22. Herm Edwards

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    When former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced that he is gay, reaction to the news was mostly positive. But during an interview with ESPN’s Steve Levy, former NFL head coach Herm Edwards struggled a bit to articulate his thoughts. 

    For starters, Edwards couldn’t be bothered to remember Sam’s name, often referring to him as Michael "Sans" or "Sams." Edwards also suggested that Sam’s sexual orientation would bring “baggage” to an NFL locker room, akin to players with “off-the-field issues.” 

    While his comments were not seen as homophobic, Edwards did take heat for his choice of words and for his lack of journalistic integrity. Seriously. It’s Michael SAM.

21. Donovan McNabb

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    Donovan McNabb has never exactly been known for his sharp wit, but you’d think he’d have the rules to his own game down.

    Following a 2008 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, McNabb told a room full of reporters that he was unaware ties were possible in the NFL, forever cementing his reputation as not the brightest bulb in the box.

20. Donovan McNabb, Again

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    It’s one thing to be ignorant of your own game’s rules, but it’s quite another to accuse Jimmie Johnson of not being an athlete. 

    McNabb’s 2013 comments on Fox Sports Live angered NASCAR fans, who rushed to defend one of their biggest stars. According to USA Today, "the hashtag #PeopleWhoAreMoreAthleticThanDonovanMcNabb was the No. 1 trending topic in the U.S. at one point" following the comments.

    And to anyone who still thinks drivers aren’t athletes, I have two words for you: Gravitational. Forces.

19. David Pollack

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    In 2013, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was rumored to be a member of the new College Football Playoff selection committee. In response, David Pollack said on College GameDay that women pretty much aren't welcome in the boys' club. 

    Pollack was backed into a corner, yes, but he still should have known better than to say, on air, that women don’t belong on the committee. He kept his job but probably lost a fan or two among the ladies.

18. Joe Thornton

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    In 2013, San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl scored four goals in a game against the New York Rangers. 

    When asked about his teammate’s accomplishment in the locker room, Joe Thornton had a "colorful" quote. According to Jason Botchford of Vancouver's The Province (h/t Sports Illustrated), Thornton told a group of reporters, “I’d have my c--k out if I scored four goals. I’d have my c--k out, stroking it.” 

    Criticism arose not only regarding Thornton’s quote, but also Botchford’s choice to put that quote in print. 

    Boys will be boys. But, uh, maybe not so publicly next time?

17. Bryant Gumbel

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    Back in 2006, Bryant Gumbel expressed his disdain for the Winter Olympics on HBO’s Real Sports by referring to “a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.” 

    There was an immediate uproar, and several members of the media, including Dan Patrick (then at ESPN), called for Gumbel’s job. There was criticism from both sides of the political coin, and Gumbel’s reputation as an outspoken critic of conservatives lives on to this day.

16. Tim Hardaway

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    In 2007, retired NBA player Tim Hardaway actually came out and said that he hates gay people in an interview with Dan Le Batard on Miami radio station WAXY-AM. According to ESPN, his exact quote was, "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known.” 

    It's hard to come back from that one, but Hardaway has had some success, speaking out on behalf of gay rights and even calling NBA center Jason Collins to voice his support of Collins’ decision to come out, Collins told Bill Simmons on the B.S. Report.

15. Jim Irsay

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    Badmouthing Peyton Manning in Indianapolis is like criticizing Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa. Maybe just don’t do it?

    In 2013, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay displayed his Super Bowl ring as he told USA Today, “We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these." He also said, “You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times."

    Needless to say, folks in Indianapolis were not pleased, and Irsay has found that the road to redemption in Indy is perhaps a bit longer than he’d like.

14. Pete Rose

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    Pete Rose told Pittsburgh radio station 93.7 The Fan (via CBS Pittsburgh) in a 2013 interview, “I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend.”

    While the statement was obviously insensitive, Rose was smart enough to apologize right away.

    He probably should’ve kept his mouth shut, but then again, what more does this guy really have to lose?

13. Tony Kornheiser

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    In 2010, Pardon The Interruption host Tony Kornheiser took to the airwaves to express his disapproval of ESPN colleague Hannah Storm’s “horrifying, horrifying outfit.” He criticized the length of her skirt, pontificated on her age and at one point actually used the term “sausage casing.” 

    Kornheiser served a two-week suspension, and while not generally known for his deeply sensitive remarks, he should have known better than to make fun of Storm’s go-go boots.

12. Michel Morganella

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    In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the Swiss men’s soccer team lost a match to South Korea. In what was certainly a moment of passion, Swiss defender Michel Morganella tweeted some pretty dark stuff in French to all of South Korea. According to USA Today, the translated version included Morganella telling South Koreans to “burn” and referring to them as a “bunch of mongoloids.”

    The immediate aftermath for Morganella was a prompt and forceful exit from the Olympics.

    As is often the case with little-known athletes who tweet things they shouldn’t, this unfortunate incident will likely remain right at the top of Morganella’s Google search for a long time.

11. Nik Lewis

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    Different senses of humor exist in this world, but you know what’s never funny? Murder. Someone should have mentioned that to CFL receiver Nik Lewis before he posted this tweet in 2012:

    "I just bought OJ’s gloves on eBay. Now all I need is a white girl named Nicole."

    The CFL fined Lewis for violation of the league’s social media policy. Lewis apologized, of course, saying he was simply trying to exercise his “comedic rights.” Sorry, Nik—guess you’re just not that funny.

10. Stirling Moss

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    When Stirling Moss was asked about women in Formula 1 in 2013, the British racing legend told BBC Radio 5, “The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don't think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race."

    Susie Wolff, Formula 1 developmental driver, disagreed with Moss’ comments and responded to the BBC, saying, "I completely disagree with him. It makes me cringe hearing that." The old-timer made no friends among females that day, to be sure.

9. Chris Culliver

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    You’d think a progressive city like San Francisco would be pretty unlikely to have two instances of anti-gay remarks represented on this list. But here we are.

    Prior to the 2013 Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told radio host Artie Lange, “We ain't got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do.” 

    Culliver later apologized and has since had other issues to worry about, namely being charged in a hit-and-run investigation.

8. Garrison Hearst

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    In 2002, former NFL defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo revealed that he was gay. At the time, 49ers running back Garrison Hearst was asked if he would want a gay teammate. His response was one riddled with profanity and anti-gay slurs.

    Hearst later apologized and indicated his empathy with the gay community due to his own experience as a minority.

    Hearst’s unfortunate response to the question of a gay teammate is a blemish on his otherwise favorable reputation—he played in the NFL for ten seasons and ran for over 1,000 yards four times.

7. Steven Shapiro, Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini

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    Steve Gleason is a former NFL safety and suffers from ALS. He has his own foundation, Team Gleason, and spends his time raising money and awareness for the disease.

    In 2013, Atlanta radio hosts Steven Shapiro, Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini did a completely insensitive mock interview with Gleason that made fun of his very serious illness. The very unfunny bit included this knock-knock joke (really?):

    Knock, knock.
    Who’s there?
    Smother who?
    Smother me. Do me a favor.

    Not only does all of America think these three are real a-holes, but they also lost their jobs. Good luck listening to the recording without being overcome by a fit of rage.

6. Jason Williams

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    When an athlete couples anti-gay slurs with death threats, and directs both at a fan, it’s probably not going to end well for him.

    In 2001, a fan accused Sacramento Kings guard Jason Williams of shouting racial slurs at him during a game. According to the fan, Michael Ching, Williams managed to cram anti-gay sentiments, profane language, derogation against Asians and death threats all into one tirade.

    NBA Commissioner David Stern eventually levied a fine of $15,000 against Williams.

5. Don Imus

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    Radio host Don Imus sparked heated controversy with his 2007 on-air comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The key phrase used was “nappy-headed hos.” 

    Among those who advocated for Imus’ departure from CBS were the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson. They got their wish a week later when CBS cancelled Imus’ show and fired the broadcaster. 

    Imus’ fall was a great one. According to Judy Faber of CBS News, Imus was named one of the "25 Most Influential People in America" by Time magazine at one point, and he is a member of the National Broadcaster Hall of Fame.

4. Al Campanis

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    While GM for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987, Al Campanis publicly doubted the abilities of black people to hold managerial or executive positions in MLB. He also suggested to Nightline viewers that black people aren’t good swimmers “because they don't have buoyancy."

    There was outrage from political leaders and players. Hank Aaron, who at the time was the highest-ranking black executive in baseball, told the Los Angeles Times, “All that shows is how ignorant the man is.”  

    Campanis was forced to resign from his position with the Dodgers.

3. Jimmy "The Greek"

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    Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was a commentator for CBS Sports in the 1970s and '80s. He made offensive on-air comments in 1988, among which was the suggestion that black athletes are better-suited to play football because they were “bred that way” during the slave trade. Regarding coaching jobs, he said, “If they take over coaching…there’s not going to be anything left for the white people.” 

    For his comments, the Greek lost his job and gained a reputation that would follow him until his death in 1996.  

2. Marge Schott

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    Donald Sterling’s recent comments and subsequent NBA lifetime ban have many reminiscing about former Cinncinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. Schott was suspended by MLB twice during her ownership tenure for racially charged remarks. Her offenses included derogatory remarks regarding black people, Jews, women in the workforce and people of Japanese descent. She made pro-Hitler comments on several occasions and kept a swastika armband in her home. 

    Schott was one of the first female owners in MLB, but unfortunately she will be remembered much more for her repeated controversial statements than as a pioneer for female sports executives.

1. John Rocker

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    Was there ever any doubt?

    John Rocker’s career as a relief pitcher was riddled with controversial remarks, but perhaps none were as damaging as his 1999 comments to Sports Illustrated in reference to New York City:

    It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. 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. It's depressing.


    The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?

    For his choice words, Rocker served a 14-game suspension at the beginning of the 2000 season. But these and other derogatory remarks would ultimately define his career.