Top 9: Worst Falls from Grace
With continuous media attention on Oscar Pistorius’s alleged murder of supermodel girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, I thought it might be a good time to count down the worst screw-ups in sports history. From drug use to high profile infidelity, these athletes really messed up.
9) Marion Jones
The track star put together an impressive performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, earning five medals and the love of the entire country. She was heralded as one of the best female athletes, and respected by all. This all changed in 2006 when reports indicated Jones had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. One year later, she admitted to taking steroids during the Sydney Olympics. Consequently, the USOC required Jones to forfeit all medals she had won after 2000. Following a check fraud case in 2008, Jones served several months in prison, clearly illustrating her fall from hero to zero.
8) Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire
After being the faces of the MLB for so many years, these men are mostly remembered now for personifying the Steroid Era of baseball. Throughout the 90s, few men were as feared at the plate as these two. In 1998, baseball fans were treated to one of the most exciting record-chases of all time: a race to see who would break Roger Maris’s long-standing record of 61 homeruns in a season in a single season. They went back and forth, with Ken Griffey Jr. in the mix as well. (Griffey would finish the season with a more than respectable 56 HRs). Both men would go on to break the record, McGwire finishing the season with an absurd 70 homers, Sosa with 66.
Neither could stay a king forever though. Eventually the rumors surrounding whether or not the two had used PEDs to achieve their Herculean numbers became almost undeniable. Finally in 2010, McGwire admitted he had used steroids off-and-on throughout his 15-year career. Sosa still claims his innocence, but everyone has their own opinion. Either way, seeing either man inducted into the Hall is probably doubtful.
7) Pete Rose
He’s now doing reality television…enough said.
6) Michael Vick
To be fair, Vick has made great strides in restoring his reputation in the last few years and today most people probably don’t care about his infamous dog-fighting scandal. Any discussions about him now revolve around his injuries or how he’ll fit in with Chip Kelly’s offense, and not the legal battles that plagued him six years ago. But during that time, he was one of the most hated athletes in America.
Vick was an absolute star with the Falcons as one of the most electrifying QBs in the league. But it didn’t last. In 2007 when news broke linking Vick to a dog-fighting scandal, his world crumbled. He was suspended indefinitely without pay from the NFL for violating its conduct policy, and after lengthy legal processions he was sentenced to three years in prison. Vick was released in July of 2009 and later that summer the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a second chance when they signed him to a one-year/$1.6 million contract. In 2010 the Eagles exercised their team option on Vick’s contract, and after trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins, named Kevin Kolb starting QB. Early in the 2010 season Kolb suffered a concussion, handing Vick the starting job. By now most NFL fans have forgiven Vick, which is why he’s number six in the countdown.
5) Manti Te’o
It was the quintessential sob story that the media loves to tell. An intriguing protagonist (not every day you get a Hawaiian Mormon playing linebacker for the most famous Catholic school in the nation), who had both his grandmother and girlfriend tragically taken from him within hours of each other, but still continued to play because it’s what they would have wanted. The media fed off this story for months, painting the picture of Te’o as a brave, resilient leader, captaining his team to an undefeated regular season. But much like Notre Dame’s hope of winning the National Championship Game after their futile first half, Te’o’s girlfriend was nonexistent.
Deadspin’s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey soon uncovered the hoax which would make the term “catfishing” a household term. Apparently Te’o’s girlfriend, named Lennay Kukua, was a creation of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Te’o. Manti explained himself by claiming he was in an online relationship with Lennay, but had never met her, and was in fact the victim of the hoax. Whether this is true or Te’o purposely duped us all is still uncertain, but his credibility nonetheless has still become questionable.
4) Tiger Woods
He was untouchable. He was by far the best golfer in the world, with a gorgeous wife, two adorable children, and more money than some entire countries. He had everything. But his seemingly picture-perfect life came to a screeching halt when he crashed his Cadillac escalade into a fire hydrant late one night in November, opening up what would become a whirlwind of media pandemonium.
As it turned out, Woods had cheated on his wife with over a dozen mistresses. Everyone clearly saw that Woods’s life was not nearly what it seemed to be. Along with losing countless endorsement deals, he lost the respect of practically every sports fan. Woods then took a break from golf to attend a recovery program for sex addiction. Upon his return to the game he struggled immensely, (apparently Elin got his short game in the divorce) and it took him another two and a half years before he won another PGA Tour Event. His game is slowly coming back to him but he is still nowhere near the Tiger Woods we once looked at with admiration.
3) Oscar Pistorius
Granted, the fact that this is in the news today may be influencing my choice to put Pistorius so high on the list, but his fall from grace definitely earns him a spot. Aside from Michael Phelps finishing out his last Olympics, Gabby Douglas winning the hearts of all Americans, and Usain Bolt proving once again that he’s a freak of nature, the “Blade Runner’s” story was arguably the most captivating of the Olympic Games. Born without fibulas, he had both legs amputated below the knees when he was just 11 months old. Despite this, he fought through adversity to become one of the best Paralympic runners in the world.
There was much controversy surrounding his appearance at the Olympics. Many believed he should not have been allowed to compete. Still, he won the hearts of many across the globe and had more people rooting for South Africa than ever before.
Then on Valentine’s Day a shocking report that Pistorius had murdered his supermodel girlfriend surprised everyone who had cheered him on just six months earlier. Pistorius claims he shot her thinking she was an intruder. We’ll have to wait to see how the rest of this saga plays out, but nobody can deny that Pistorius’s fall from grace is one of the most drastic we’ve seen.
2) Lance Armstrong
He had arguably the most inspirational story the sports world had ever seen. At just 25 years old he was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer, and told the cancer had spread throughout his abdomen, lungs and brain. With an obviously grim prognosis, Armstrong still went through surgery and chemotherapy and miraculously survived. As if that’s not inspirational enough, he then went on to win the most prestigious competition in cycling, the Tour de France, seven times. He was everyone’s hero and a beacon of hope for all those fighting for their lives.
Whenever an athlete achieves something so incredible and unbelievable there will be accusatory skeptics claiming there was doping involved. After years of denying it, Armstrong finally came clean and admitted he had used steroids. Consequently, Cycling’s governing body stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. While this may not have been entirely unexpected, it was still disappointing to see an athlete we so highly respected admit to cheating.
1) O.J. Simpson
He was a college football star at USC, winning countless awards including the Heisman Trophy. After his college career, he went on to be one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL. Simpson even took on a little acting when he retired. He was charismatic and likable, and all these characteristics made him popular in the sport and entertainment industries. His downfall started in 1994.
June 17, 1994 is a day all sports fans remember: the day of the infamous Ford Bronco chase. For nearly two hours, cops chased Simpson in his car on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. Helicopters tracked the chase as well, as millions watched on the news from their living rooms. It was so newsworthy that NBC did split-screen coverage of the chase and game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Knicks and Rockets. The story captivated audiences who could not believe “The Juice” was facing charges of a double murder.
While he was somehow found not guilty, his reputation was still damaged beyond repair. If you ask almost anyone whether or not they think O.J. was guilty, most would say he was. He couldn’t escape prison forever, however. He is currently serving a 33-year sentence (he’ll probably get out on parole in 2017) in Nevada for charges of kidnapping and armed robbery.
To go from a well-admired NFL star to hated jailbird earns O.J. the number on spot on the countdown.