Bad Boys: Sports Stars Who Are Habitual Line Steppers
Fans love athletes like Russell Westbrook who play with an edge because it elevates a contest into something closer to a gladiator sport. But the danger of having an edge is that it can get you into trouble, a problem exemplified by sports stars who, like Rick James (via Charlie Murphy), are habitual line steppers due to bad behavior.
That behavior can take several forms, including tripping opponents on purpose on a basketball court (Grayson Allen) or openly berating reporters and coaches (Richard Sherman).
The athletes and sports personalities on this list have acted out on multiple occasions and have developed a reputation for doing questionable things in their respective sports. And that behavior is trending in the wrong direction.
Note: In an effort to keep this list manageable, the athletes on this list were judged based on their behavior since 2010.
Entering the season, Allen, the 21-year-old shooting guard for the Duke Blue Devils, was a preseason All-American on the strength of a 2015-16 campaign with a stat line that included 21.6 points, 3.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds.
But that fine season also included bad boy behavior.
On February 8, 2016 he tripped Raymond Spalding of the Louisville Cardinals, and just 17 days later on February 25, he tripped Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Florida State.
The ACC reprimanded him for both incidents, but that didn’t stop Allen from giving in to his dark side again on December 21 when he tripped Elon guard Steven Santa Ana, which triggered a one-game suspension handed down by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Per Seth Davis of SI.com, Coach K did not excuse Allen’s actions but pleaded for some perspective.
“This is a stupid thing that he did,” Krzyzewski said. “We can get rid of stupid a lot easier than those other things.”
Getting rid of Allen’s legions of haters on social media will likely prove much more difficult.
Sherman, 28, has never been accused of shyness, and his opinions and interviews always have an edge to them.
But Sherman stepped over the line in January 2014 after his Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the NFC title game.
In an out-of-control interview with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews, Sherman called then-49ers receiver Michael Crabtree “mediocre,” among some other choice words.
And this past December, Sherman screamed at Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sideline during a game against the Los Angeles Rams because he didn’t like Bevell’s call on one offensive play.
Sherman vigorously defended his actions in a post-game interview, then stepped over the line again a few days later when he threatened to “ruin” the career of Jim Moore of 710 ESPN because the reporter asked if it was Sherman’s place to question his offensive coordinator.
Per Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Sherman challenged whether Moore had the experience to question his actions, and then said, “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career…I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”
Sherman later apologized, but stay tuned, because as sure as death and taxes, sports fans haven’t seen the last of the cornerback’s misbehavior.
Odell Beckham Jr.
In just three seasons, Odell Beckham Jr., 24, has already become an NFL superstar with dazzling numbers that include 288 receptions, 35 touchdowns and 4,169 yards from scrimmage.
And while those numbers might make him beloved in New York, Beckham is a polarizing figure everywhere else because he can’t rein in his worst impulses.
In the 2015-16 season, Beckham spent most of a contentious game against the Carolina Panthers fighting with then-Carolina cornerback Josh Norman.
This past season, Beckham destroyed a kicking net and wept bitterly on the sideline after New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw a late-game interception.
The act further revealed his immaturity, and Beckham didn’t make things better when weeks later, after catching a touchdown, he hugged the same kicking net.
Never one to miss a “show me” moment, Beckham then completed the net trilogy when, after scoring a game-winning touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens, he got on one knee to simulate a marriage proposal to the same net.
Per John Breech of CBSSports.com, Beckham earned $72,463 in fines by early October of the 2016-17 season.
He is that supremely talented player who always seems one bad decision away from destroying his team’s fortunes.
Johnny Manziel, 24, may yet achieve success in the NFL, but his biggest problem is managing expectations and staying focused on becoming great.
Since the Cleveland Browns drafted him 22nd in 2014, Manziel has had multiple line-stepping moments that would make Rick James blush.
Per Pat McManamon of ESPN.com, Manziel’s misbehavior includes photos of him in Las Vegas flashing wads of cash; many nights of partying that involved copious amounts of alcohol; flipping off Washington Redskins players sitting on the team’s bench; a physical confrontation with a Browns fan in the lobby of a hotel the day the Browns were readying to fly to Atlanta for a game against the Falcons and accusations of domestic violence against his then-girlfriend.
The Browns waived Manziel on March 11, 2016, and a month later, a grand jury indicted him on the misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
On January 20, Manziel sent a note to Ed Werder of ESPN that expressed his desire to return to the NFL.
“Only need one team to believe in me and I’ll do anything to make that a possibility,” part of the note read.
Time will tell if any NFL squad will take the risk of signing Manziel.
The thing about Conor McGregor, 28, is that there is no line he won’t step over, because he is committed to a persona in which there are no sacred cows.
And fans love him for it.
In a 2015 press conference in Dublin to promote his UFC 189 featherweight title bout against reigning champ Jose Aldo, McGregor grabbed Aldo’s belt and lifted it high as Aldo furiously tried to lunge at him.
Then in an August 17, 2016 press conference to promote his UFC 202 rematch with Nate Diaz, who had beaten McGregor in a non-title bout at UFC 196 (via submission), McGregor began throwing water bottles and a Monster Energy can at Diaz and his entourage, who had abruptly ended the conference and walked off stage. (Warning: The video of the incident contains language that is not suitable for children.)
McGregor was fined $150,000 by the Nevada state athletic commission and given 50 hours of community service.
And even his interviews step over the line.
Per Guy Kelly of The Telegraph, while McGregor was in Rio de Janeiro promoting the Aldo fight, he said: “I own Rio de Janeiro, so for him to say that he is the king and I am the joker, if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback, and would kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work, but we’re in a new time, so I’ll whoop his ass instead.”
Safe to say that as long as he is a reigning champion, McGregor will continue to say and do outrageous, inappropriate things, especially if his dream boxing matchup with Floyd Mayweather ever comes true.
Nick Diaz, 33, has always been a fighter who feels disrespected and undervalued, which may be why he has so often crossed behavioral boundaries.
Always combative, Diaz became notorious on April 27, 2010 after his friend Jake Shields defeated Dan Henderson in a Strikeforce bout.
When top contender Jason Miller entered the cage and tried to challenge Shields to a rematch of a previous bout, Diaz, his younger brother Nate and other friends of Shields attacked Miller.
Diaz got into more trouble after UFC 143 in 2012 when a drug test revealed marijuana metabolites in his blood.
The Nevada state athletic commission fined him $60,000 and suspended him for one year.
Then, following his decision loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 183 on January 31, 2015, a drug test again revealed marijuana in Diaz’s system, and the Nevada state athletic commission suspended him for five years and fined him $165,000.
That suspension was reduced to 18 months and ended August 2016, though Diaz has yet to accept a bout.
It’s doubtful, however, that he will behave well in the future, given his past history.
When he’s on form and playing with the right attitude (rare), Mario Balotelli, 26, is an elite-level striker who can dominate on any pitch in the world.
But Balotelli is often derided for his antics, which were chronicled in detail by Steve Anglesey of the Mirror.
The questionable behavior includes Balotelli crashing his brand new Audi R8 just two weeks after signing with Manchester City; tossing darts at youth players who were practicing on a pitch; using the F-word on live TV after an FA Cup Final against Stoke and setting off fireworks in the bathroom of his palatial home, which went awry.
Then, in a January 2013 incident that recalled Latrell Sprewell choking coach PJ Carlesimo, Balotelli and his Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini grappled after a disagreement at training, and a coach had to break up the physical altercation.
Balotelli was soon sent packing from Man City, had a stint with AC Milan and then transferred to Liverpool for two unimpressive campaigns before going back to Milan for one year.
He is now playing for Nice and may have run out of chances.
Luis Suarez, 29, a star striker from Uruguay, has resurrected his reputation with his sublime play for Spanish giant Barcelona since 2014.
But it is his biting incidents that have forever marked Suarez as soccer’s ultimate bad boy.
On November 20, 2010, Suarez buried his teeth into the shoulder of Otman Bakkal of PSV Eindhoven.
He was suspended seven matches and fined an amount that was not disclosed by Liverpool, his club team.
Then on October 15, 2011, Patrice Evra of Manchester United accused Suarez of racial abuse, and an FA panel later suspended Suarez eight games for the incident and fined him £40,000.
Suarez was at it again on April 21, 2013, when he bit Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea. The FA issued a ten-match ban, and again Liverpool fined him an undisclosed amount.
To complete the trifecta, Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini of Italy at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and received a four-month ban from all football activities and a nine-match ban in international competition.
Suarez’s opponents are hoping that his vampirism is behind him.
Rougned Odor, 22, plays like someone stole his little sister’s teddy bear, and that pugnacity has endeared him to Texas Rangers fans but made him Public Enemy No. 1 in other ballparks.
In July 2015, Odor helped trigger a bench-clearing scrum when he exchanged heated words with Houston Astros catcher Hank Conger after Odor took his sweet time getting into the batter’s box.
Then on May 15, 2016 in the punch heard throughout the baseball world, Odor decked the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista after the slugger had slid hard into second base.
Predictably, a serious brawl erupted, but the bad blood had been simmering since the 2015 AL Division Series during which Bautista had flipped his bat after hitting a towering home run against the Rangers.
Odor was suspended eight games (reduced to seven), and his reputation as a dirty player was cemented, especially since he had also punched a player while playing with the Class A Spokane Indians in 2011, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com.
“I know I’m not a dirty player,” Odor said in the Watkins piece. “I’m just trying to play hard and respect the other team.”
Volatile and volcanic are two appropriate adjectives to describe Nick Kyrgios, 21, the Australian who is blessed with enormous talent but is frequently his own worst enemy.
In October 2016, he tanked a Shangai Masters match against Mischa Zverev because he didn’t feel like playing and later said in an interview: “I don’t owe them [the fans] anything.”
The ATP fined him $16,500 after the match, then added another $25,000 and suspended him from playing until January 15.
In this year’s Australian Open, which is the first Grand Slam tournament of the season, Kyrgios blew a two-set lead on January 18 against Andreas Seppi.
And as his game went south, so did his attitude.
Per Michael Chammas of the Sydney Morning Herald, Kyrgios yelled at his box throughout the last three sets, blaming his supporters (including his coach and brother) for not properly prepping him for the match.
“I didn’t sign up for this sh-t,” he yelled at one point, and by the time he had given up his two-set lead, the Aussie crowd had largely turned on him and booed him off the court.
After the match, tennis commentator John McEnroe accused Kyrgios of giving up on the match and called him a “black eye to the sport.”
Ironic that the former bad boy of tennis would make that statement, but given Kyrgios' history of stepping over the line, the truth cannot be denied.