NFL's All-Time Most Embarrassing Off-Field Moments
There's something about football in general, and the NFL in particular, that lends the sport to headline-grabbing gaffes and public relations nightmares.
Some would say it's the money, of which there is quite a bit in the NFL. Others might suggest it's the nature of the sport, which implicitly encourages men in their 20s and 30s to cause serious physical harm to one another on a regular basis.
Perhaps it's a combination of these two factors and it could reasonably be due to an entirely different set of influences.
Either way, the NFL has had to deal with some pretty ridiculous stuff off the field of play over the years, and it seems as though misconduct by players, coaches, owners and just about anyone else affiliated with the league is only becoming more common and more preposterous in this age of ubiquitous technological transparency.
With that in mind, let's have a look at some of the most notorious off-field blunders to ever muck up the "pristine" name of the NFL.
The Colts Sneak out of Baltimore, 1984
We begin with one of the more egregious affronts to have ever been taken against a fanbase—the movement of the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
The story of the Colts' relocation goes back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar and his successor William Hudnut endeavored to have the city construct the Hoosier Dome, which later became the RCA Dome and, of course, the home of the Colts until the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium in the fall of 2008.
However, things didn't really heat up until 1983, when Colts owner Robert Irsay, father of current owner Jim Irsay, went about looking for a new city to move the team to after he was rebuffed by the city of Baltimore in his attempt to get the city to pay for the renovation of Memorial Stadium.
The process went into overdrive in late March of 1984, when it became clear that Indianapolis and not Phoenix would be the best partner city for the Colts. On March 28th, Irsay agreed to a deal with the mayor of Indianapolis that would allow the Colts use of the Hoosier Dome, a $4 million practice facility and a $12.5 million loan.
Irsay didn't wait long to get his team out of town so as to avoid the Maryland State Police, who would have attempted to halt the move. A fleet of Mayflower Transit trucks began packing up the team's equipment from its practice facility in Owings Mills at 2:00 AM on March 29th and was on the road to Indianapolis by 10:00 AM that very same morning, leaving behind a city devastated by the sudden departure of its beloved Colts.
The Browns Skip Town, 1996
Ironically enough, football returned to Baltimore in much the same way it had originally left; that is to say, acrimoniously.
In 1995, Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, announced midseason that the team would be moving to Baltimore after the season.
Of course, this was far from a spontaneous decision by Modell. Cleveland Stadium, where the Browns played and which Modell owned, was in disrepair and, with the Cleveland Indians moving to a brand new ballpark at Jacobs Field, he didn't have the money to fix it up or build a new stadium himself.
Thus, Modell went to the city of Cleveland for $175 million in tax dollars to renovate Cleveland Stadium, but, already dissatisfied with the city, signed a deal with the city of Baltimore to move his team on November 5th—two days before voters decided overwhelmingly to give the Browns the money Modell had sought.
What followed was a series of lawsuits, congressional hearings and appeals by celebrities like Drew Carey to keep the team in Cleveland.
The result? Cleveland emerged from the aftermath with the rights to the Cleveland Browns, while Modell was allowed to move his team to Baltimore as an expansion franchise in 1996, which became the Ravens.
Oh, and Modell is still the most hated man in the history of Cleveland sports, even after the LeBron James fiasco of 2010.
Darryl Henley: Football, Drugs and Murder, 1993-1995
Between those blunderous moves came a case of even greater legal intrigue involving a player, a cheerleader, a large supply of cocaine and a contract killer.
In July of 1993, Darryl Henley, then a defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams, was arrested in connection to a drug bust involving then-girlfriend Tracy Donaho, a 19-year-old junior college student who also happened to be a cheerleader for the Rams.
Donaho was caught moving 12 kilograms of cocaine from L.A. to Atlanta, which (long story short) led to the conviction of Henley and four co-defendants in US District Court of drug trafficking and a minimum sentence of 10 years for everyone except for Donaho, who received a much lighter sentence—four months in a halfway house—for cooperating with the investigation.
The story takes a turn toward the bizarre 14 months later when Henley was caught trying to arrange for the murders of Donaho and Gary Taylor, the judge who presided over Henley's case, and the movement of $1 million worth of heroin from L.A. to Detroit.
All from his jail cell in L.A.!
For that, Henley's sentence was extended from 10 years to 41. Henley has since been moved to a medium-security facility in the South, where he is due for release in 2031.
For Henley's side of the story, check out his website.
Eugene Robinson Gets Busy Before the Super Bowl, 1999
It's not all that uncommon for things to go wrong for NFL players, especially when the Super Bowl is involved.
Take Eugene Robinson as a prime example. Robinson was the safety on the Atlanta Falcons squad that played in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999.
Robinson was also the guy who, the night before the Super Bowl, was arrested by an undercover police officer when he tried to solicit her for oral sex in exchange for $40, thinking that she was a prostitute.
This, mind you, occurred just after Robinson had the Bart Starr Award from Athletes in Action, a Christian faith-based group, in recognition of his "high moral character."
To add insult to injury, Robinson was involved in two crucial plays that helped the Denver Broncos come away with a Super Bowl victory—an 80-yard touchdown given up to Rod Smith and a missed tackle in the fourth quarter that allowed Broncos running back Terrell Davis to score.
Barrett Robbins Jumps off the Deep End, 2003
You think Eugene Robinson had a bad Super Bowl experience? Just ask former Oakland Raiders lineman Barrett Robbins about his.
Robbins went missing the day before Super Bowl XXXVII and didn't turn up until later that evening, incoherent and off of his anti-depressants. Some time later, Robbins admitted that he'd gone down to Tijuana to party that day, thinking the Raiders had already won the Super Bowl.
Of course, they hadn't, and without Robbins at center, the Raiders were crushed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Robbins' life since then may best be described as a series of unfortunate events, from his involvement with the BALCO scandal in 2004 to multiple arrests and encounters with police officers to his most recent troubles—a five-year prison sentence for violating his probation when he was found with crack cocaine in his car just outside of Dallas.
A sad turn, indeed, for a talented football player done in by his struggles with bipolar disorder.
Onterrio Smith and the Whizzinator, 2005
The 2005 season was an interesting one, to say the least, for the Minnesota Vikings.
The trouble began in May, when Vikings running back Onterrio Smith was detained at the Minnesota-Saint Paul International Airport when it was discovered that he was carrying dried urine and a "Whizzinator," a rather elaborate kit used to dodge drug tests.
The very next Month, Smith was suspended by the NFL for the entirety of the 2005 season after violating the league's drug policy for a third time.
Smith was released by the Vikings in April of 2006 and hasn't seen any time on the field in the NFL since the 2004-2005 season.
Minnesota Vikings on a Love Boat, 2005
Before the Lonely Island made boating so popular, the Minnesota Vikings were busy "gettin' jiggy" on Lake Minnetonka.
A host of Vikings players, including Daunte Culpepper, Fred Smoot, Pat and Kevin Williams and Bryant McKinnie, rented out a pair of boats in early October and flew in prostitutes from Atlanta and Florida for a sex party that was allegedly attended by about 90 people.
And, of course, word got out, thanks in part to leaked photos of people "caught in the act" on the boats.
Needless to say, the aftermath was not pretty. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was infuriated by the incident, going so far as to threaten several players that he would have them cut from the roster. He later had written up a 77-page code of conduct for each player to adhere to.
As far as actual consequences are concerned, four players were charged with misdemeanor misconduct of some form or another and two—Smoot and McKinnie—were fined one game check by the NFL.
The smear left on the Vikings franchise, however, would not be quite as easy to forget.
Bad Newz for Michael Vick, 2007
As embarrassing as the Love Boat Scandal was, few incidents could have brought more grief to the NFL than the breaking up of the Bad Newz Kennel dogfighting ring set up by Michael Vick.
Vick, mind you, was among the most popular players in the NFL at the time, having played in three Pro Bowls and rushed for 1,039 yards from the quarterback position in 2006.
The bad news for the NFL began in April of 2007, when police investigating drug charges involving Vick's cousin Davon Boddie stumbled upon some rather extensive and highly illegal dogfighting facilities in southeastern Virginia. Further investigations by state and federal authorities uncovered an interstate operation that also included drugs and gambling.
In July of that year, federal prosecutors brought Vick and three of his associates up on felony interstate dogfighting charges, with Vick in particular being accused of being the main financier and partaking in several of the fights and executions.
It didn't take long for the NFL to act, as commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely without pay just hours after his guilty plea while allowing for the possibility of conditional reinstatement. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank demanded that Vick reimburse the team for $20 million of the $37 million signing bonus he was given in 2004, with an arbitrator eventually deciding that Vick was in breach of his contract when he originally signed it.
Vick and his associates accepted plea bargains, while Vick himself was sentenced in December and served 23 months in a federal penitentiary.
Vick has since returned to the NFL with considerable success, though his image, and that of the league, has yet to completely recover.
Plaxico Burress Pops His Glock in Public, 2008
The Michael Vick scandal was the first big bump in the road of Roger Goodell's time as commissioner, but it would be far from the last.
In November of 2008, the NFL ran into yet another public relations nightmare when New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress made headlines when, while at a posh New York nightclub, he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh with a Glock pistol that had been tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants.
Why Plax showed up to a night club in sweatpants was mystery enough. Why he was carrying a concealed firearm, for which he had no license in the state of New York, was an entirely different conundrum.
Enough of a conundrum to land him in jail. In August of 2009, Burress was indicted by a grand jury on three felony charges—two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment.
Burress is set to be released from jail this coming June, though it's currently unknown as to which teams, if any, would be interested in signing him once he's out.
Brett Favre Gets Funky with His Phone, 2010
Brett Favre's career on the field ended with a whimper for the Minnesota Vikings this past season, though he still managed to stay in the news for a bit after yet another tearful exit.
In October of 2010, amidst a disappointing and injury-plagued season, Favre became the subject of an investigation by the NFL into allegations that the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback had sent inappropriate photographs via text message to and left seductive voice messages for Jenn Sterger, a "Gameday" host for the New York Jets.
The league later concluded that Favre was not, in fact, in violation of its personal conduct policy, though he was fined $50,000 for failing to cooperate with the investigation.
Things certainly could have turned out worse for Favre and the NFL in this case, though having one of the greatest players of all time embroiled in such a prolonged public disgrace was not exactly what Roger Goodell and the rest of the league had hoped for.
Lawrence Taylor's Entire Affiliation with the NFL, 1981-2011
As relieving as it was for fans to finally see Brett Favre hang 'em up, the suits at the NFL must have been at least a thousand times more relieved the day Lawrence Taylor finally called it quits.
Not that he did anything to slow his self-destruction or prevent the damage done to the league by the flying shrapnel of his shattered personal life.
LT summed it up perfectly when, in 1987, he said, "For me, crazy as it seems, there is a real relationship between wild, reckless abandon off the field and being that way on the field."
Indeed, Taylor played as hard off the field as he did on it, abusing a range of substances, from alcohol to crack cocaine, while also engaging in wild parties involving drugs and prostitutes during his playing days.
Of course, the party didn't stop once LT retired. In fact, things arguably got even more out of hand once Taylor was no longer subject to the NFL's substance abuse policies.
And while LT has since allegedly kicked his drug habits, he hasn't quite managed to avoid the perils of the limelight. Just last month, Taylor was sentenced to six years probation as part of a plea agreement stemming from charges of statutory rape and patronizing a prostitute brought against him last year that he paid for sex with a 16-year-old girl.
One can only hope that LT will finally turn his life around, for his sake and for that of the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger's Reckless Behavior, 2006-2010
Of course, Brett Favre's transgressions pale in comparison to those of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Big Ben's blunders began in June of 2006, when he was seriously injured in a traffic accident while riding his motorcycle around town without a helmet or a proper license.
The recklessness continued in 2009, when Roethlisberger got tangled up in a civil suit brought on by a woman who alleged she'd been sexually assaulted by Big Ben at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. The case lost a great deal of credibility when one of the woman's co-workers testified that the plaintiff had bragged about having consensual sex with Roethlisberger and had even gone so far as to hope that she would become pregnant with "a little Roethlisberger."
Roethlisberger's self-destructive behavior reached a crescendo in March of 2010 when police in Milledgeville, Georgia looked into allegations that he had sexually assaulted a 20-year-old college student in the women's rest room of the Capital City nightclub.
The chargers were later dropped, but that didn't stop Roger Goodell from slapping Roethlisberger with a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Thanks to good behavior, Big Ben saw his suspension reduced to four games, though the reduction did little to untarnish his rather sullied reputation as a human being.
The 2011 NFL Lockout
One could argue that, when it comes to embarrassing the NFL, even the worst off-field misconduct by players pales in comparison to the possibility of a lockout this coming season.
Despite the ongoing global recession, the NFL remains a booming, multibillion-dollar business that is easily the most popular and most profitable professional sporting league in America.
Yet the league and its owners, seeking an even greater share of the revenue, might still prevent the players from taking the field this fall.
After weeks of tense negotiations in a last-ditch attempt to put together a collective bargaining agreement satisfactory to both sides, the players decided to decertify and dissolve the NFL Players Association and file a class-action lawsuit against the league, citing the owners for violations of antitrust laws.
The federal court proceedings have since begun in St. Paul, Minnesota, though it could be weeks before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, the judge presiding over the case, comes to a decision regarding whether or not the owners must allow the players to play.
Either way, this fiasco is sure to leave all involved with a black eye or two while leaving out the league's legion of loyal fans as the biggest losers of all.