Lance Armstrong and the Top 20 Tainted Sports Heroes Of All Time

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterJanuary 20, 2011

Lance Armstrong and the Top 20 Tainted Sports Heroes Of All Time

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    The sports world is filled with figures who have shattered records and piqued the imagination with their otherworldly play. These athletes are upheld as bastions of the sport. They are heroes to the meek and average—most of the time.

    Sometimes, those who are the greatest come with a caveat to their legacy. Whether it be rumored performance-enhancing drug use, gambling problems or just a horrible outlook on life, these athletes are not as beloved as their stat line would have you believe.

    These are the tainted, the scarred. These athletes were geniuses in their sport but fell short of legend status for some reason or another. Here are the top tainted sports stars of all-time.

20. Alex Rodriguez

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    Alex Rodriguez used steroids. This much we know. He stated that his use was relegated to the 2001-2003 seasons he spent with the Texas Rangers.

    If we buy into this, we still have to place him as one of the best infielders ever to don a Yankees uniform. He is still a Hall of Famer whose bat has wielded some gaudy numbers. Take the supposed clean 2007 season wherein he batted .314 and belted 54 home runs.

    The fact is that we cannot trust him. While he may have used steroids for a brief time, his legacy will maintain otherwise.

19. Shoeless Joe Jackson

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    Joe Jackson finished his career with the third highest batting average in history, .356. He even batted .408 as a rookie. But the taint on him is not how he played during his career. It is how he finished.

    Though he played great during the 1919 World Series, he admitted to taking money to throw those games.

    The act garnered him a lifetime ban from baseball. Now one of the greatest left-fielders in baseball is without his proper due as a legend.

18. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant could give a lesson to all these people on this list. Your image can be regained. Just because they hate you now, does not mean they will in the end. He is the living example of "winning cures all ills."

    Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting and raping Katelyn Faber while he was staying in Colorado during the offseason in 2003.

    The charges were dropped, but the subsequent fallout was huge. He was vilified in Los Angeles and abroad. He started to get renewed shouts that it was his fault that Shaq left the Lakers. Then came his resurgence.

    Kobe will never fully live down Colorado. But his championships and pedigree of talent have gone a long way to make people remember what kind of person he really is.

17. Michael Vick

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    This is an interesting one for this list. We have yet to see how much of a taint his dog fighting scandal will have on his legacy.

    Michael Vick was already a superstar with the Atlanta Falcons. But he was sent to prison for his part in a dog fighting ring.

    However, Vick has returned better than before. He is much more of a pocket passer and nearly took his team to the NFC Championship this season.

    He will have a few more seasons to turn his life around. But at the end of it all, there will still be the stain of a scandal on his resume. He better get to winning some Super Bowls then.

16. Zinedine Zidane

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    Zinedine Zidane is a three-time FIFA Player of the Year. He won the Ballon d'Or in 1998 and won the golden ball following the 2006 World Cup.

    Zidane is one of the best French players ever to play the game of soccer. Yet he will always be remembered for being sent off at a crucial moment in the 2006 World Cup Final against Italy.

    Marco Materazzi was talking trash and Zidane took offense. So much so that he head butted his way out of the game.

    I always loved that he used his head. I understand there are no hands in soccer, Z. But if you are going to get sent off, feel free to use a fist.

15. Isiah Thomas

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    In the '80s and '90s, there were two point guards who ruled the roost. One was Magic, the other was Zeke.

    Isiah Thomas was a premier Hall of Fame guard who was a pill for defenses to handle. He was a clutch performer whose only joy was killing your hopes and dreams.

    He was the perfect leader for the Bad Boy Pistons. He could break you off the dribble and then make you apologize for it as he won you over with his smile.

    But now the only thing he causes is a great debate. That debate is centered on the question, is Isiah Thomas a worse coach or general manager?

    Some guys should just stay retired.

14. Ty Cobb

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    Cobb is one of the greatest ballplayers ever. During his career, he set 90 records. He finished with a .366 batting average and over 4,100 hits. Yet, he is a player who is thoroughly hated by fans.

    His demeanor and personal beliefs transcended the wonders that he created on the ball field. He routinely went out of his way to hurt the opposition.

    It was not uncommon for him to go in with his spikes up, hoping to impale whoever dared stand in his way.

    He is also viewed as a violent man. He fought spectators who had the audacity to heckle him and even stabbed a man for intervening in a fight between him and a black elevator operator.

    He could very well be the best in the game; instead, he is viewed as a man who played with hate in his heart.

13. LeBron James

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    LeBron James is low on this list because I am confident he will once again become a popular figure in the sports world. As it stands of this writing, he is Public Enemy No. 1.

    James is a freak of nature. He is basketball genius who has the body of a linebacker. He makes mediocre teams into contenders.

    He can beat you off the dribble or behind the three-point line. You only have to look at his team's troubles when he is off the court to realize his impact.

    But his ego and public relations decisions have caught the ire of every sports fan who is not in Miami. The only thing that will turn around his image is winning. That is a certainty with his talent.

12. Brett Favre

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    The man refused to let injuries keep him off the field. He holds the record for most consecutive starts, which is mind boggling when you consider the extra games he played in the playoffs. He remained stout in a sport that epitomizes rough play.

    But there are a great many things that will hurt his legacy. He refused to quit while he was on top. Instead of bowing out as a legendary Packer, he continued beyond.

    He played for the Jets, where his time has been documented to include lurid phone messaging with a Jets worker. That sex scandal is foremost in the minds of fans currently.

    He then went on to play for the Vikings, a hated rival of the Green Bay team he came to mean so much to. The career that was so special ended with the worst season he has ever posted.

    Favre looked like an aged man without the necessary skill to continue to play.

    A man who was brilliant for so many years was left hobbled on the field.

11. Marion Jones

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    There is seldom a venue that places an athlete higher in the hearts and minds of sports fans than the Olympics. It is a place where national heroes are born. Marion Jones was the best American sprinter for a time during the late '90s and early 2000s.

    She then fell under the trappings of the day. Jones used performance enhancing supplements and her once-great legacy was forever tarnished. We will never forget her sob-filled press conference when she apologized for the lying and cheating.

    The sports world had put faith in her and she abused it. Instead of being the greatest ever to put on the spikes, she is seen as a tragic story of abuse.

    Her final 200-meter run can be seen at 4:30 on the video.

10. Lance Armstrong

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    Lance Armstrong had cancer. He beat it, then immediately went out and won seven-straight Tour de France titles. He is generally considered a great athlete and fine example of human perseverance. But his feats should be upheld on a daily basis.

    What he accomplished was nothing short of amazing. There is one reason that he does not get as much love as he should: trust. The modern sports-watching public has issues trusting the words of athletes that state they have never used performance-enhancing drugs.

    Sometimes all it takes is one person to say they have knowledge otherwise for us to buy in that they might have cheated. It may be an unfair system, but it is a sign of the times.

    Armstrong may have never touched the stuff, but many have come forward to dispute his claims of riding clean.

    His own teammate, Floyd Landis, is one of them. The sad truth is that his legacy is not as pristine, simply from allegations.

9. Tiger Woods

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    Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all-time. There is no getting around the dominance that he inflicted on the PGA Tour for a decade. But for the time being, that sentiment is lost.

    Woods was entangled in the biggest sex scandal in recent memory. His affairs made national headlines.

    For a time, you would have thought the man had killed someone. While his extramarital affairs are deplorable, we sometimes forget that they are separate from his feats on the links.

    It will take some time for fans to distinguish between the two. Even then, you have to think this stain will be with him a lifetime.

8. Sammy Sosa

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    Slammin' Sammy Sosa went from a rail-thin outfielder into a behemoth slugger who would crush the ball a mile. He was heralded as one of two players to save the game with his otherworldly power.

    But we now have the conviction that Sosa caused offensive havoc while being juiced. There has never been a more loved Cubs player since Ernie Banks. Fans would flock early to games to see his masterful swing.

    Now he is just another player who fell victim to the promises that steroids could bring.

7. Roger Clemens

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    Roger Clemens was already a Hall Of Fame pitcher. Nobody dominated the plate the way he did when he was with the Red Sox.

    But then he started to age. The writing was on the wall. So Boston decided to send him off.

    That is when the pitcher underwent a resurgence. He was just as masterful as ever. He continued his dominance when he later signed with the Yankees.

    This made us all wonder. How does a man get better and faster with age?

    Well, now we know the answer. The allegations of doping surrounding Clemens are rampant. He just couldn't leave well enough alone.

6. Pete Rose

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    The man with the most hits in Major League Baseball history is banned from ever being a part of the game that he helped shape.

    There should be a plaque in Cooperstown with Pete Rose's face on it. It should state all the offensive accolades that the man collected. It should also boast that he never, for one second, gave anything less than his all.

    His demeanor on the field was the stuff of legends. It earned him the moniker Charlie Hustle.

    But a gambling scandal forced commissioner Bart Giamatti to ban him from baseball. Pete Rose always maintained that he never bet on baseball.

    That statement was later rescinded with a caveat. He did bet on baseball. But in Pete Rose fashion, he bet on his team to win every time.

5. Ben Johnson

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    Talk about the quickest fall from grace ever. Ben Johnson was heralded as a national hero one minute; three days later, he was scorned as a cheater.

    Ben Johnson was the "it" sprinter for the '80s. He enjoyed great success at the Los Angeles Olympic Games and the subsequent media push made him an international star.

    Canada was sure to get gold in the '88 Olympics. Johnson was a lock to destroy the competition in the 100 meters. He did just that.

    There was a feeling that Johnson would be even bigger this go-round. But only three days later, he was disqualified for doping. He has since been the face of Olympic cheating.

4. Mark McGwire

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    No sports figure was more beloved during the span from 1997-2001. Baseball was fresh off the disaster of a lockout and McGwire was one of the players credited with saving the game.

    He hit 70 bombs in 1998, breaking the hallowed Roger Maris record. McGwire, it seemed, could do no wrong.

    Then came the steroid allegations. A dark cloud came over the slugger that may never be lifted. He has recently come clean and admitted to the obvious: Mark used steroids.

    The ramifications can be felt, as he has received minimal votes for the Hall of Fame.

    Now the once-unthinkable is entirely possible: McGwire may never make it into Cooperstown.

3. Mike Tyson

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    Mike Tyson was the greatest heavyweight we have ever seen. He was powerful and menacing. But the thing that set him apart was his quickness. His hand speed was that of a middleweight.

    There was nobody in the ring that could touch him. That was true until he killed his career. Tyson was arrested in 1991 for rape that later turned into a conviction and a prison stay.

    The scandal left a bad taste for many boxing fans. But that would not be the end of his maniacal behavior.

    Toward the end of his career, he fought fan-favorite Evander Holyfield. During the fight, he bit off a piece of Holyfield's ear. The end result was a boxer scorned by the press.

    Now we see Tyson as a crazy athlete who could have been so much more. Rarely are we reminded of his feats, which included a myriad of first-round knockouts.

2. Barry Bonds

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    The greatest hitter of all-time will always be considered nothing more than a cheater and malcontent.

    Bonds is one of the top fallen stars because he mixes the two main ingredients for fans to hate you despite success. He is an alleged doper and a horrible teammate; at least that is the overall perception. 

    Minus the steroid allegations and BALCO ties, Bonds would still be seen as a player that distanced himself from the media and his teammates.

    That put a sour note on a remarkable career. His last few years were so amazing that pitchers refused to throw the ball in his vicinity.

    He could possibly be the greatest hitter of all-time, but it will take quite some time for his image to be refined.

1. O.J. Simpson

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    How can you not have O.J. Simpson top this list? The man was a national hero.

    From his USC playing days all the way to his cameos in the Naked Gun movie series, people loved "The Juice." Fans would flock to see him and the man could do no wrong. Then he did.

    O.J. is widely considered to be a murderer who got off on all criminal charges. His life since has been beset by controversy as well as continued run-ins with the law. He is currently in prison for robbery and assault, as well as a myriad of other felonies.

    The man who broke so many records and won the hearts of millions will never get back what he lost.