The 50 Most Crooked Athletes

Zack Pumerantz@z_pumerantzAnalyst IIIAugust 30, 2012

The 50 Most Crooked Athletes

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    They may float like butterflies and sting like bees on the playing field, but some athletes aren't as swift and graceful when it comes to eluding the law.

    In tracing the most nefarious competitors ever to approach the sports domain, it's clear that many of these cats haven't yet mastered an understanding of correct social behavior. And for most, once you go never return.

    Let's take a look at the athletes most recognized for trading in their pads for orange getups. But beware, this presentation is not for the faint of heart.

    These competitors exemplify the collision of evil and athleticism.

50. Maurice Clarett, NFL

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    Once a gifted runner from Ohio State, Maurice Clarett soon found himself totaling more arrests than touchdowns during his brief tenure with the Broncos (who decided to take a chance on him in the third round of the '05 draft despite numerous troubles).

    Take your pick with his criminal record: robbery, spitting at cops, or perhaps a police chase in which a loaded AK-47 was found in his car.

    He wasn't quite as invincible as he once believed.

49. Corie Blount, NBA

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    Back in 2008, police intercepted 11 pounds of marijuana—then reportedly another 18 pounds at his home—that was allegedly sent to former NBA forward Corie Blount at a relative's house.

    But like they say, it's not the crime, it's the excuse. Blount was fined $10,000 and ordered to give up two vehicles and $34,000 in cash that was acquired in the bust, before he attempted to convince the judge it was all for personal use.

    Judge Craig Hedric wasn't convinced. "Cheech and Chong would have had a hard time smoking that much," he responded.

    But they'd enjoy trying.

48. Denny McLain, MLB

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    The last pitcher to win 30 or more games (31-6 in 1968), Tigers great Denny McLain now finds himself battling an outstanding warrant on the Canadian border after missing the exit to a Cracker Barrel restaurant and becoming an accidental fugitive.

    This is only a minor scrape on McLain's criminal resume. He's been to prison for embezzlement and was suspended from baseball for gambling. A fiery on-mound presence was clouded by connections with the mob and bookmarking operations. Living the dream, or dreaming for the life was the question.

47. Richard Seigler, NFL

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    Working as a linebacker for the Steelers didn't prevent Richard Seigler from getting involved in some shady activity during his free time. Seigler was investigated in 2007 for involvement in a prostitution ring operation.

    He was accused of pandering, but eventually deemed innocent. However, Seigler gets the nod for being the first NFL player to be accused of pimping, which certainly ain't easy.

46. Billy Cannon, NFL

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    The 1959 Heisman Trophy winner saw a magical LSU tenure take the back pages to a counterfeiting operation in which Billy Cannon was sentenced to five years in prison.

    The star runner pleaded guilty to masterminding a scheme to print and distribute $6 million in counterfeit bills, according to ESPN. Quite the crafty leader away from the field, as well.

    Speed and brute strength helped Cannon on the field, and tarnished him away from it.

45. Michael Nunn, Boxing

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    A 6'3" southpaw with scampering fists, the man dubbed "Second to Nunn" proved to the world he was something special when he secured a ninth-round knockout of former Olympic gold medalist Frank Tate in July of '88.

    A dominant and graceful career that saw Michael Nunn total 58 wins, 37 knockouts and only four losses would come to a screeching halt in 2004, when he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for drug trafficking.

    "As a boxer, a pure boxer," analyst Al Bernstein said of Nunn, "he was almost perfect."

44. Nate Newton, NFL

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    In the words of six-time Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton, "I couldn't see myself not being the biggest dope man." It was this competitive spirit that took Newton down the wrong trail. 

    Newton was caught transporting 213 pounds of marijuana in a van with two other women in 2001, with plans to sell it. He was stopped with 175 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of a car only six weeks later.

    The $75,000 per drug deal was too enticing for the hefty lineman.

43. Darryl Strawberry, MLB

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    A monstrous hitter with a looping swing and intimidating approach, 6'6" Darryl Strawberry never could avoid the drug temptations that haunted him throughout his career.

    While he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated seven times and led the Mets and Yanks to a combined four World Series championships, Strawberry is remembered heavily for his ferocious cocaine addiction.

    What could have been...

42. Travis Henry, NFL

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    As if having nine children with nine different women wasn't a sign of things to come, the eventually broke Travis Henry found himself facing three years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

    The former Pro Bowl running back is in a deep child-support hole that he can't escape.

41. Mike Danton, NHL

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    When 23-year-old Mike Danton was arrested in April of 2004 for organizing a plot to have his agent David Frost murdered, the Blues organization was naturally shocked. As was the sporting world.

    But beneath the haunting surface were disturbing allegations against Frost. Frost reportedly convinced Danton to sever ties with his birth family, allegedly abused Mike's younger brother Tom at a retreat and simply manipulated all youths he was in control of. In the end, we believe Frost to be the crook.

    Danton now plays for the Elite Ice Hockey League's Coventry Blaze.

40. Johnny Jolly, NFL

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    With 200 grams of codeine in 2008 and 600 in 2011, former Packers defensive end Johnny Jolly had an addiction to possession that couldn't be stopped.

    He remains permanently suspended from the NFL.

39. Jim Leyritz, MLB

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    Once revered for his awkward batting stance and timely hitting, former Yankee Jim Leyritz now looks back on a post-career mess. 

    In 2007, he was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving after an accident killed the woman who collided with him. In 2009, he was arrested for battery against a former wife. The latter was dropped, but Leyritz was charged with driving under the influence for the first case.

38. Sammie Smith, NFL

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    An inspirational story of redemption features former FSU and Dolphins tailback Sammie Smith.

    Since being sentenced to seven years in a Florida prison on two federal charges of possession and distribution of cocaine back in 1996, Smith has dedicated his life to mentoring youths.

    In the summer of 2010, Smith was restored his rights (convicted felons in Florida lose their civil rights). It was a magical moment for the former star.

37. Sonny Liston, Boxing

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    Once a ferocious puncher revered for his fearless nature, Sonny Liston's promising legacy began to crumble in 1952. Following two years in prison, he began fighting under the control of underworld figures, or those with strong ties. Allegedly, 12 of his fights were handled by mafia men.

    The notorious "Phantom Punch" from Muhammad Ali may have never even scraped Liston's face, but we'll never know. His death remains a mystery; heroin overdose, lung congestion, mob murder?

    In reference to Ali's punch, Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram claimed that Liston said to him, "That guy [Ali] was crazy. I didn't want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn't hit."

36. Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, NFL

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    The Hollywood redemption continues today, but there was a time when the fiery linebacker was suffocated by drug abuse.

    Henderson was arrested in 1983 after smoking crack with two teenage girls, who, police said, were threatened with a .38-caliber pistol and held against their will. Henderson served 28 months behind bars.

    But after turning his life around and staying clean, Henderson received a blessing. He won the $28 million Texas Lottery in '09, eventually starting a charity and enjoying a relaxing retirement.

    Lessons learned.

35. Ryan Leaf, NFL

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    The biggest bust in NFL history never could get it right, and to think the Colts were several changed minds away from choosing Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning.

    After a failed, tantrum-filled career (if we can even call it that) with the Chargers, Bucs, Cowboys and Seahawks, Leaf was indicted on burglary and controlled substances charges, arrested by customs agents as he returned to the United States during his rehab stint in British Columbia.

    Then, during a four-day span in 2012, Leaf was arrested on charges of burglary, theft and drug possession. The promising gunslinger has yet to find his Quan (as Rod Tidwell would note).

34. Jayson Williams, NBA

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    Where to begin with former NBA journeyman Jayson Williams...

    Allegedly breaking a beer mug over a patron's head in a saloon, allegedly firing a semiautomatic weapon into the parking lot at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, a DWI, a Raleigh bar fight...the list goes on.

    But perhaps the year-and-a-half he spent in prison following manslaughter charges involving the accidental shooting of a limousine driver on his property in 2002 can properly sum up his problems.

    The Nets decided not to invite their most beloved player to their final game after his release.

33. Tank Johnson, NFL

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    Speeding and numerous weapon possession charges headlined this massive defensive tackle's once promising career.

    The final straw (before he was cut from the Bears), an alleged DUI stop, was ironically found to be unwarranted. Tank Johnson was actually under the limit. Karma.

32. Mike Tyson, Boxing

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    On his quest to become the greatest heavyweight ever, Mike Tyson found himself handed six years in prison after the rape of beauty pageant winner Desiree Washington.

    During his time in prison, Iron Mike converted to Islam before making a brief boxing comeback. His pigeons are certainly grateful for his change.

31. Dwight Gooden, MLB

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    Among the most feared hurlers of the '80s, Doc was a force to be reckoned with on the mound. And in the court room.

    Repeated incidents of drug abuse, driving under the influence and violated probation compiled for Gooden during and after his baseball career. Yet another Amazin' Met who could've scraped immortality.

30. Michael Irvin, NFL

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    One of the greatest big-play threats ever to reach the gridiron, receiver Michael Irvin was perhaps just as reckless away from the field as he was on it.

    Irvin was arrested on multiple drug possession charges during and after his career, accused of sexual assault and is remembered for causing a two-inch gash in the neck of Dallas guard Everett McIver during a team haircut session.

    The Cowboy great was consumed by the glorious lifestyle.

29. Art Schlichter, NFL

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    Once an Ohio State golden boy with a rocket arm and powerful charisma, Art Schlichter found himself spiraling toward notoriety because of a ferocious gambling addiction.

    He's more associated with prison than Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, and was most recently sentenced to 11 years for "scamming participants in what authorities called a million-dollar sports ticket scheme."

    A sad trail for the former fourth-overall pick, who was once expected to be the cornerstone of the Colts franchise.

28. Dennis Rodman, NBA

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    A rebellious, bad-boy fashion sense may be the most reasonable spot to start in detailing Dennis Rodman's criminal record, but we'll avoid the temptation.

    A domestic dispute in 1999 with then-wife Carmen Electra, a DUI that same December, an interference with a police investigation regarding a code violation at a restaurant he owned and, finally, a 2003 incident in which Rodman allegedly assaulted his then-fiancee. Most recently, however, Rodman was arrested after allegedly hitting a woman at a Century City hotel

    Arguably the greatest rebounding forward in history can't seem to rebound away from the court.

27. Lenny Dykstra, MLB

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    Simply known as Dude during his playing days, former Met and Phillie great Lenny Dykstra left a hard-as-nails reputation on the diamond. But away from it, the scrappy outfielder has been charged with sexual harassment, sexual assault, indecent exposure and even bankruptcy fraud. 

    His most recent run-in may have him behind bars the longest. Charged with 25 misdemeanor and felony counts of grand theft auto, attempted grand theft auto, identity theft and several other crimes, Dykstra could potentially face 12 years.

    From beloved world champion to disastrous licorice-eating criminal, what a strange journey for the former ballplayer.

26. Tonya Harding, Figure Skating

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    Here's an example of competitive spirit clouding reasonable judgement, to put it mildly.

    While figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was training for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she was attacked in the knee with a metal baton by three henchmen, leaving her unable to compete. With Kerrigan on the sideline, heated rival Tonya Harding secured victory.

    Days later, Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and his pack were arrested, while Harding was eventually convicted of conspiracy to hinder prosecution and banned from U.S. figure skating for life.

    In the words of Oprah Winfrey, "This story had it all...Drama, scandal, heartbreak, controversy [and] competition."

25. Isaiah Rider Jr., NBA

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    With a preternatural scoring prowess, Isaiah Rider was once a blossoming prospect on the professional hardwood. But he wanted to do things his way, and he soon spiraled out of control.

    Rider was convicted of kicking a female manager of a sports bar, busted for possession of marijuana and an illegal cell phone, he spit on a fan, clashed with management and even once threatened 7'2" center Dikembe Mutombo, perhaps the craziest of his acts.

    He was arrested in 2006 for allegedly driving off with a former girlfriend against her will, and in 2008 for a confrontation with a taxi driver while possessing an unlawful firearm. Cocaine addiction was another issue.

24. Michael Vick, NFL

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    In six seasons with the Falcons, Virginia Tech product Michael Vick was a lightning rod on the field. He was beloved by fans and feared by clueless defenders. And then, 2007 rolled around.

    Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring that had been running for five years. He pleaded guilty in August of '07 and eventually served 21 months in prison. Fans, owner Arthur Blank and, especially, PETA began their verbal assault on the gifted southpaw.

    He continues his redemption trail with the Eagles.

23. Gavin Grant, Soccer

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    Three years after being cleared of a 2005 murder (Jahmall Moore murder, cleared in '07), former striker Gavin Grant was convicted of killing Leon Labastide in a retaliation-esque manner.

    Detective inspector Steve Horsley summed up the English footballer's situation. "Gavin Grant thought he had got away with murder," he said. "He carried on his footballing career while, all along, he had blood on his hands."

22. Riddick Bowe, Boxing

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    A former two-time world heavyweight champion recognized for being the first to knock Evander Holyfield out (in 1995), boxer Riddick Bowe now finds his brilliant career shadowed by family violence.

    In June of 1998, Bowe pleaded guilty to abduction of his then-estranged wife, Judy Bowe, and their five children (in February 1998), holding them at knifepoint. He would eventually serve 17 months in prison for the kidnapping before making a brief boxing comeback.

    A sad tale for the former heavyweight.

21. Esteban De Jesus, Boxing

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    Drug use may have flooded a promising career, but it was one unfortunate confrontation on Thanksgiving weekend of 1981 that ultimately landed Puerto Rican lightweight Esteban De Jesus in prison. 

    The first boxer to defeat Roberto Duran as a professional, De Jesus was eventually convicted of murdering a 17-year-old during a traffic dispute following his athletic career. While in prison, he allegedly became a born-again Christian and began preaching, while making the Puerto Rico penal system All-Star team three times.

    When he was struck with AIDS, governor Rafael Hernandez Colon pardoned him. De Jesus passed away a month later.

20. Luke McCormick, Soccer

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    While returning from the wedding of former teammate David Norris, English goalkeeper Luke McCormick had already made the poorest decision of his life: drinking and driving.

    He was eventually charged with causing death by dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol in his blood after hitting a Toyota Previa and killing two young boys. His contract with Plymouth Argyle was soon torn to shreds.

19. Bruce Kimball, Diving

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    Noted for winning the silver medal in the 10-meter platform at the 1984 Summer Olympics behind fellow American Greg Louganis, diver Bruce Kimball is now remembered most for drunkenly hauling his Mazda RX7 into a crowd of young kids, killing two and injuring three.

    He was given a 17-year sentence and an additional 22 years probation. Kimball was released after four.

18. Reggie Harding, NBA

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    Long before becoming the first high school basketball player drafted into the NBA, 7'0" Reggie Harding was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

    As a young man, Harding was arrested on some petty larcenies. As a rookie, he was suspended on gun charges. As a teammate, he held roommates and his general manager at gunpoint.

    His consciousness is perhaps best described by an attempted robbery at a local establishment, in which a masked Harding held a gun up to the cashier and demanded cash. Story has it that the clerk examined the seven-footer and said, “I know that’s you, Reggie,” to which he responded, “It ain’t me, man.”

17. Adonis Stevenson, Boxing

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    Haiti-born Canadian Adonis Stevenson was an amateur force to be reckoned with (33-5 record) and remains an aged, yet promising pro (17-1). But a dark past came to the forefront before his planned '12 fight with Jesus Gonzalez.

    When Montreal Gazette reporter Herb Zurkowsky mentioned the issue at the press conference, the 34-year-old Stevenson, dubbed Superman, admitted to serving 18 months in a Bordeaux jail—all resulting from charges of pimping, assault and making threats.

    How it was shelved this long is still unknown.

16. Adam Jones, NFL

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    Pacman, like so many controversial talents before him, already possessed a stacked rap sheet before entering the NFL. A fight at West Virginia and then felony vandalism before ever taking a snap didn't help his cause, but the Titans took a shot.

    An arrest-heavy resume reached its pinnacle during the 2007 NBA All-Star Game weekend in Las Vegas. When Nelly and Jones allegedly began raining dollar bills all over the bar, a topless dancer was said to have picked up a bag and filled it with cash. Jones wasn't pleased and began to attack her viciously.

    Jones became irate and started in with the bouncers because the money was meant to be for "visual effect." Mayhem ensued, people began firing guns and Jones was suspended for the entire 2007 season.

15. Sally McNeil, Body Building

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    A bodybuilder-wrestler known for her thrifty knockout squeeze, Sally McNeil built a lengthier resume away from the mat than she did on it.

    Being arrested in 1990 for pulling a pistol on her ex-husband and crowbar-damaging his car windows was only the start for McNeil. She was sprayed with mace that same year after fighting with policemen who were checking on the well being of her children.

    The list goes on, but one crime reigns supreme: the horrific slaying of her also-juiced-up husband, Ray McNeil.

    McNeil was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 19 years to life. She remains behind bars today. "Killer Sally," she claims, "I am still a lean, mean fighting machine."

14. Darryl Henley, NFL

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    Former Rams corner Darryl Henley got to watch St. Louis win a world title in 1999...from his prison cell.

    Henley, who left the game with 12 career interceptions in 76 games, is now serving a 41-year sentence for trafficking cocaine and for allegedly hiring hitmen to murder the judge from his cocaine trial.

    What a rise, what a fall.

13. Tommy Kane, NFL

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    A Montreal-bred receiver who spent time with the Seahawks, Tommy Kane found himself sentenced to 18 years in prison after murdering his recently separated wife when she arrived at his mother's house in an effort to get Kane to a drug-rehab center.

    Psychiatrists have detailed serious drug use as a major factor.

12. Lawrence Taylor, NFL

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    Failed drug tests during his playing career and endless possession charges afterward have clouded Lawrence Taylor's legendary accomplishments. After many years of sober living, L.T. turned back to the dark side.

    Possibly the greatest linebacker ever to suit up, Taylor was most recently given six years on probation after pleading guilty to sexual misconduct with an underage prostitute. From all-world defender to registered sex offender, what a fall for the former Giant.

11. Sly Williams, NBA

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    A journeyman baller who spent parts of seven seasons with the Knicks, Hawks and Celtics, Sly Williams wasn't as sly as his name might depict. 

    While Williams was eventually charged with sodomy, burglary, criminal contempt, kidnapping and two counts of rape, referencing incidents in September of 2001 and January of 2002, it was his response to being given five years in prison that has us baffled.

    "Did I commit a crime? Yeah. Did I do what I was accused of? No. Do I deserve five years in prison? No. Do I deserve to do some time? It depends. Did I do something wrong? Yes. I should have known that was wrong. But she asked me to do it. Was I wrong for going back? No. I still loved her. Was I wrong in the court's eyes? Yes. Did I do any of the other stuff? No. None whatsoever."

10. Lawrence Phillips, NFL

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    This bust just kept getting busted.

    After leading the Cornhuskers to two consecutive national championships, tailback Lawrence Phillips was chosen with the sixth pick of the '96 draft by the optimistic Rams. Three arrests and 23 days in jail during 19 months with the team wasn't a good start, and things only snowballed from there.

    He was convicted in 2006 of seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon after already being jailed since August 2005 for striking three boys with his car after allegedly losing a pickup football game to them.

9. Tom Payne, NBA

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    Recognized as the first African American ever to play basketball for the University of Kentucky, 7'2" Tom Payne now finds himself entrenched behind bars in Little Sandy Correctional Complex.

    Numerous rape charges piled up, with every release opening the door for a new sexual crime.

    In the end, with his life now seemingly defined by prison, Payne states, "My life, whatever I have, I want it to be a benefit to someone...I want to be able to turn some people around so that they will have a conscience.''

8. Tony Ayala Jr., Boxing

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    Former Mexican-American boxer Tony Ayala Jr. won 22 straight fights by the time he was 19. His first loss would come away from the ring. 

    With several sexual harassment run-ins already under his belt, Ayala was arrested after the rape of a 30-year-old neighbor in 1983. He went to prison but was released 16 years later.

    In 2001, he broke into a house and was shot by a young woman who feared his intent to commit aggravated assault. Finally, in 2004, Ayala was sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating the probation he was serving from a burglary conviction.

7. Evangelos Goussis, Boxing

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    An Australian former boxer and WKA Kickboxing World champion, Evangelos Goussis was secretly an underworld assassin. Goussis is now behind bars for at least two murders in the Melbourne gangland killings; the execution of 36 criminal figures between '98 and '10.

    He's mowing lawns in Barwon Prison.

6. Don King, Boxing

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    We're stretching the term "athlete" with this choice, but Don King can't possibly be excluded.

    Once the most powerful promoter in the boxing industry, the troll-haired King was known for contractual malpractice, sketchy matchmaking and a fixed TV boxing tournament. Some of his boxers even claimed to have been cheated or threatened by the boxing mogul—just ask Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson (who sued him for $100 million).

    But long before his rise to stardom, King found himself with two strikes, nearing a third. He murdered a guy who attempted to steal from one of his gambling houses in 1954, but King was released after it was deemed a justifiable shooting. Then, 13 years later, he was found guilty of second-degree murder for killing a co-worker who owed him $600. He would only serve three years and 11 months.

5. Robert Rozier, NFL

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    Because of California's third-strike law, former Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Rozier will probably never see the light of day again.

    Released by Arizona after a brief cup of coffee, resulting from allegations of drug use and petty crime, Rozier was eventually reborn as Neariah Israel, "Child of God." In essence, he joined the Black Supremacist cult led by Yahweh ben Yahweh. To prove himself, he murdered a possible nine Caucasians.

    Rozier is now in witness protection, with check kiting charges to his name.

4. O.J. Simpson, NFL

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    People of the State of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson was perhaps the most scrutinized trial in history. Legendary running back vs. the courts.

    Simpson was tried on two counts of murder following the June 1994 deaths of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was found innocent due to tampered evidence, and thanks to the crafty Johnnie Cochran-led defense team.

    The former tailback eventually wrote a book detailing how he would've killed Brown and Goldman, making things even murkier than they were from the start.

    One hundred felonies in the armed robbery of sports memorabilia collectors in a casino hotel room would secure a classy finish.

3. Eddie Johnson, NBA

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    A promising guard from Auburn, "Fast" Eddie Johnson was kicked out of the NBA a mere 10 years after being drafted, for drug addiction. Following the expulsion, his life spiraled.

    With a resume already featuring 100 arrests, Johnson struck again. A mandatory sentence of life in prison for sexual battery on an eight-year-old girl gave Johnson his last look at the real world.

2. Ugueth Urbina, MLB

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    An All-Star closer who helped coat two victories for the 2003 champion Marlins, Ugueth Urbina was most recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for the attempted murder of five workers on his family's ranch.

    But this was no ordinary attempt, as Urbina and his henchmen allegedly used gasoline and machetes in their assault. Word has it that Urbina was getting revenge against a worker who "may have" stolen a firearm.

1. Rae Carruth, NFL

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    Unlike most soon-to-be fathers, Panthers receiver Rae Carruth was apparently dreading child-support payments and early fatherhood. He decided to have his buddy, Van Brett Watkins, shoot then-pregnant-girlfriend Cherica Adams as they were coming back from a movie. She described the scene to a 911 dispatcher, who filled in the blanks.

    Carruth faces at least 18 years in prison for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder (Adams died a month later) and has to live with the fact that his son now has cerebral palsy because of the shooting. The definition of a disgraceful human being.

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