Respected Athletes Who Have Done Terrible Things

No one wants their sports heroes to be mere mortals. Not when they can be golden gods, capable of feats the rest of us lowly humans could only dream of. No mere mortal can stick that landing, run that 4.7 40, or hit that long ball 600 feet.

But behind the million-dollar publicists, watered-down personas, and endearing shoe commercials, athletes are still just men and women. Men and women who won the genetic lottery, for sure, but they often have deep, dark sides, and the money to keep those dark sides under wraps. 

For every O.J. Simpson, there are ten athletes who did something awful and somehow seemed to just walk away. What makes these Teflon sportsmen so special? How did their time in the courtroom not affect our fandom in the living room?

Here are just a few of the athletes who've done horrible things, and somehow survived with their reputations intact.

Adrian Peterson

Not that long ago, Adrian Peterson was considered the best running back in the NFL, racking up seven Pro Bowl appearances and being named first team All-Pro four times. Unfortunately, one fateful incident nearly derailed his career, his reputation, and his life.

On May 18, 2014, Peterson attempted to discipline his 4-year-old son for fighting with his brother. What he did next has been highly debated, often along lines of culture and class. While some parents may have chosen a timeout or just grounded the boy, Peterson used a switch, which is basically a light branch, whipping his son on the back, legs, arms, and behind.

When the boy returned to his mother, a doctor claimed the wounds were evidence of child abuse, resulting in an indictment for misdemeanor reckless assault and a lost year in the NFL. Peterson would come back the following season and win another rushing record, but his reputation has never been quite the same.

Kobe Bryant

For Kobe Bryant, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing, which might explain why he's still a free man. Younger NBA fans may not remember the Laker legend's brush with the law, but back in the summer of 2003 it was the biggest story in sports.

Bryant, already a three-time NBA champion, was staying at The Lodge & Spa in Cordillera, Colorado, prepping for off-season surgery, when a hotel employee claimed the Lakers icon raped her. According to her interview with the police, Bryant choked the 19-year-old front desk attendant before forcing himself on her. The case was brought to trial and quickly turned ugly. Her reputation savaged in court, the accuser announced she wouldn't cooperate with the prosecution, pursuing a civil trial instead.

The two eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and Kobe continued his career, winning two more titles, countless accolades, and a freakin' Oscar. These days, most fans don't like to dwell on how close the all-time great came to spending the rest of his career behind bars. It's more convenient to think about the good times.

Peyton Manning

Whether he's winning Super Bowls, hosting awards shows, or pushing pizza, chances are Peyton Manning's doing it in some sort of aw shucks, non-offensive manner. This guy has made bank by being bland, and yet even one of the most market-tested athletes of our time can have a skeleton in the ole' closet.

Back in 1996, while Manning was still a student at the University of Tennessee, he apparently asked out a female personal trainer, Jamie Ann Naughright, and was quickly rebuffed. Unhappy with her answer, he proceeded to drop trou, shoving his nether bits into the woman's face. But here's the thing, Manning was the school's star QB at the time, so his punishment was mild, losing dining hall privileges and being forced to do some early morning runs. Naughright, unsurprisingly, wasn't satisfied with Manning's dinner dilemma as punishment, and sued the school for $300,000.

All seemed settled until Manning wrote about the incident in his book, "Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy," calling Naughright a "vulgar woman." Thus, another lawsuit, and another settlement, which put a gag order on all parties involved.

That is, until Manning again brought up the incident in an interview with "ESPN Classic Sports Century: Peyton Manning," forcing Naughright to go back to court one last time. Being a champion is one thing; knowing when to keep your mouth shut is another.

Jason Kidd

No one has ever played basketball exactly like Jason Kidd, the pass-first point guard whose leadership made up for his lack of a jump shot. Over his nearly two decades in the NBA, he racked up records like a hipster in a vinyl shop. Unfortunately, there's another side to this b-ball lifer, according to his ex-wife.

She says Kidd isn't the likable superstar fans see on TV, but a serial adulterer and abuser who made her life a living hell. According to documents Joumana Kidd filed during her divorce from the NBA superstar, he was sleeping with half the Western hemisphere while keeping her on a short leash using violence. She says he hit her while pregnant, once kicked her in the stomach, and attacked her with everything from a rock to a cookie.

Kidd's counterclaim accused her of domestic violence and claimed she was "increasingly controlling and manipulative," but a 2001 arrest for punching Joumana in the mouth seems to substantiate her story. The couple have been divorced since 2007, with Kidd going on to win an NBA championship and become a coach in the league, but the tabloid stories surrounding this nasty divorce will last a lifetime. 

Kellen Winslow

For some brands, the type of publicity that Kellen Winslow Jr. brought them back in 2014 would be worth millions, but for the NFL journeyman, it nearly cost him time behind bars.

It all began with Winslow's arrest for possession of synthetic marijuana in a Target parking lot. Probably not the high point of the Pro Bowler's life, but certainly not a career killer. That is, until's Dom Cosentino started digging around and found out that smoking counterfeit kush was just the tip of the icky iceberg.

Apparently, Winslow's arrest came after a bystander noticed the tight end enjoying his Cadillac Escalade for more than the leather seats. That's right, according to the police report he could have been flagged for holding his own miniature football player. By the time the police showed up, Winslow Jr.'s Junior was put away, and he was insistent there had been no public polishing of the helmet.Instead, he said he was just looking for a Boston Market, which is a funny thing to call it. While the officer never witnessed Winslow in the act, the two open containers of Vaseline didn't exactly scream a craving for rotisserie chicken.

In the end, he was only charged with possession, but that doesn't mean all was forgiven. The locker room never forgets. Just ask his former teammate, Antonio Cromartie, who needled him via Twitter in 2015, asking if he'd been to Target lately.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger will never have to buy his own beer in Pittsburgh again. He's a legend for life, and apparently nothing can change that. Any player that's been accused of rape not once, but twice, and still gets to suit up every weekend is clearly untouchable.

The first accusation came from a civil suit filed by Andrea McNulty in 2009, claiming that the Super Bowl-winning QB forced himself on her at a Harrah's hotel in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. She eventually settled with Roethlisberger out of court for an undisclosed sum. 

Roethlisberger was again embroiled in a scandal in 2010, when an anonymous college student alleged he raped her in a bar bathroom in Milledgeville, Georgia. She eventually wrote a letter to the prosecution, asking them not to prosecute, not because she was recanting her story, but because she was afraid of the personal toll a trial would take on her.

Roethlisberger was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, and lost a slew of endorsements. But, because if you can win on Sunday all is forgiven, Nike stood by him, and he eventually signed a record-breaking four-year contract with the Steelers, making him one of the richest players in football.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown is celebrated for many things — his legendary career on the gridiron, his film stardom, and perhaps most importantly, his activism. He's been at the nexus of sports and politics for decades, helping pave the way for stars like LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick. He's also been charged with beating or raping women six times, including assault with intent to commit murder. As he told Inside Sports in 1981 after beating up a couple police officers who once responded to a call, "You got to have something, goin' out dealing with 270-pound lineman for a living. You quit playing, but that doesn't just go away."

Over five decades, he's been accused of beating a girlfriend nearly unconscious, beating and then throwing two women down a flight of stairs, and forcing himself on a woman in his home. His wife accused him of threatening to murder her, and he even served nearly four months in jail for refusing to attend domestic violence counseling.

In his memoir, "Out of Bounds," the former football star denied a number of the accusations, but did say he had slapped women. "And I never should have," he wrote (via the Los Angeles Times) "I don't think any man should slap a woman. ... I don't start fights, but sometimes I don't walk away from them. It hasn't happened in a long time, but it's happened, and I regret those times. I should have been more in control of myself, stronger, more adult."

Alex Rodriguez

Whoever Alex Rodriguez paid to rehab his image over the last few years has more than earned their money. These days he is best known as the face of baseball on Fox and back in good graces with the Yankees. That's a world away from where he was a few years ago, an unlikable clubhouse cancer, and the face of the sport's steroid epidemic.

For years, A-Rod denied he ever took a banned substance, calling the rumors a "witch hunt" and fighting tooth and nail to overturn his suspension for the entirety of the 2014 season. In a statement at the time he said, "The deck has been stacked against me from day one. ... This is one man's decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test."

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, and under oath, prosecutors forced him to admit the truth. That he'd paid $12,000 a month for two years to a fake doctor in exchange for performance-enhancing drugs.

He told Joe Buck in 2017 that he would often lay awake at night, wondering, "How the F did I get myself in this position?' I'm the only jackass that has pocket aces and figures out a way to lose the hand." Well, if his beautiful girlfriend and charmed life are any indication, it looks like he got those pocket aces back.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston is one of the NFL's more promising young quarterbacks, helping to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back to relevance. Unfortunately, his story is a lot more complicated than his Sunday celebrations would have you believe. 

Winston's issues began during his time at Florida State University, when he racked up a laundry list of infractions, from stealing $32 worth of crab legs from a Tallahassee Publix to stealing soda from a Burger King. He was also suspended one game for yelling vulgarities in the middle of a campus dining hall. And, sure, these mistakes may all seem within the bounds of a typical college kid acting out, but what happened in December 2012 surely wasn't.

According to Erica Kinsman, a fellow student, Winston raped her and then worked with the school and local police to obstruct the case. The two would eventually reach a settlement, but Winston would win a Heisman Trophy and become the face of an NFL franchise. If a recent accusation of groping an Uber driver is any indication, Winston still has a long way to go to clear his name.

Ray Lewis

These days, Ray Lewis is one of the faces of football on Fox, a broadcaster who opines every weekend and gets paid millions for doing it. Back in January 2000, he was still a star for the Baltimore Ravens, and about to take part in one of the darkest days of his life. 

It was the night after Super Bowl XXXIV. Lewis and friends were leaving a nightclub in Atlanta when they got mixed up in an altercation that left two men, Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, dead.

Lewis was originally charged with two counts of murder, but pleaded down to obstruction of justice after providing testimony against two of his companions that night, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. According to a witness the night of the murders, Lewis fled the scene, muttering, "I'm not trying to end my career like this." And he didn't, receiving one year of probation and a $250,000 fine.

Lewis insists that night is never far from his mind, telling the Baltimore Sun, "No day leaves this Earth without me asking God to ease the pain of anybody who was affected by that whole ordeal." Still, he's gotten the chance to finish out his Hall of Fame-worthy career, which is more than most with a murder charge on their rap sheet could hope for. 

Dez Bryant

When people think of troubled NFL players, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott often comes to mind. But few remember that his teammate and staunch defender Dez Bryant has also had a run-in with the law.

Back in 2012, Bryant was arrested for attacking his mother during an argument, hitting her face with his baseball cap and tearing her shirt after she tried to break up a fight between the wide receiver and his brother. In a police interview, Bryant's mother said he "started talking about how he's going to knock me out."

While Bryant's arrest could have resulted in a fine of up to $4,000 or a year in jail, he cut a deal with prosecutors, promising to stay out of trouble for the next 12 months. Bryant has gone on to become a three-time Pro-Bowler and does seem to have stayed out of trouble. In 2013, he even spoke at a "Men Against Abuse" rally in Dallas, declaring, "I'm done with domestic abuse."

Chad 'Ochocinco' Johnson

In the end, it was a box of condoms that set him off. Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson has been a superstar receiver in the NFL, a reality show fixture and one of the most tenacious tweeters in football, but when Johnson was arrested in August 2012, he was a jealous husband wondering why his wife had bought a box of condoms.

What began as an argument quickly turned physical. According to a police report filed at the time, Johnson grabbed his then-wife, Evelyn Lozada, and headbutted her. By the time the cops had arrived, a three inch laceration was visible on her forehead.

Johnson ending up pleading no contest to misdemeanor domestic battery and was sentenced to probation. He and Lozada divorced shortly after the incident, having been married for only 41 days.

Johnson did end up serving time, though, after celebrating his plea deal in court by patting his lawyer on the butt. The presiding judge was unamused, to say the least, and sentenced the football star to 30 days in jail, of which he served seven.

Tyreek Hill

Since Tyreek Hill entered the NFL in 2016, he has widely been regarded as one of the top receivers in the league. Boasting a rare combination of speed and hand-eye coordination, it seems like every week Hill is breaking a new record of some kind. Unfortunately, dating back to his days at Oklahoma State, Hill has had numerous run-ins with law enforcement. He was kicked out of the football and track programs at Oklahoma State in 2014 after he was arrested on domestic violence charges, which included physically abusing his pregnant girlfriend at the time.

After being sentenced to probation and domestic violence classes, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Hill in 2016, a move that brought widespread criticism. Hill's initial charges were dismissed in August 2018 after he successfully finished probation, but in March 2019 the police came to his house twice, both times on suspicion of child abuse. Hill was alleged to have broken his son's arm, and disturbing audio implicated him in even more incidents that weren't reported. 

The juvenile in question is the son he shares with the woman he was arrested for battering in college. Hill temporarily lost custody of his son following the March allegations. Ultimately, Hill was not prosecuted or suspended for either of the 2019 incidents.

Floyd Mayweather

Both inside and outside of the boxing ring, Floyd Mayweather is quite controversial. Even though he boasts an undefeated record with 50 wins with 27 knockouts, his career in the ring might be best remembered for what he left on the table and the fights he didn't take. Nonetheless, any criticism of his in-ring antics pale in comparison with his checkered history of domestic violence.

Mayweather's history of domestic violence dates back more than two decades to 2001, and many of the more than half-a-dozen incidents involve altercations between him and women he has children with. In 2001, he punched one of the women in the neck, and in 2003 he hit another two in the head. He faced trial in 2002 and 2004 and was convicted of battery in both. However he received suspended sentences and the 2004 charge was later vacated. The worst incident occurred in 2010. During that episode, Mayweather repeatedly hit another woman who he has children with in the head, nearly broke her arm, and threatened to assault her children. She was afraid he was going to kill her. 

The 2010 incident ended with Mayweather facing felony charges that were later dropped to misdemeanors, and he was sentenced to 90 days in jail. 

Mike Tyson

While many consider Mike Tyson to be the greatest puncher who ever lived, there are many others who argue his multiple controversies outside of the ring have forever diminished his reputation. Tyson grew up in crime-ridden areas within the inner city of New York in the 1960s-1970s, and by the age of 11 he was already committing armed robbery and was a member of a violent street gang.

Yet, he turned his life around, and in 1986 he became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history at 20 years old — but things wouldn't last. In 1988, Tyson was in the news for allegedly hitting his wife, Robin Givens, something he would later admit to in a biography about him. Tyson lost the title in 1990, and in 1991 he was charged with sexual assault against a pageant contestant, though he claimed everything was consensual. In 1992, he was convicted on three counts and sentenced to six years in prison, of which he would serve just three. 

Incredibly, despite his violent and checkered history, Tyson has largely been welcomed back into the ring by the boxing community. He continued to fight through 2005 and in 2011 was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a very prestigious accolade.

Michael Vick

Depending on who you ask, Michael Vick is either the revolutionary record-setting quarterback, or he is the vile and despicable defendant in multiple criminal dog fighting cases. At the same time as he was earning Pro Bowl awards and MVP considerations from 2001–2007, Vick was also helping to run an underground dog fighting ring known as Bad Newz Kennels. 

Vick and a few partners created the operation around the time he was first drafted in 2001, and they operated the ring out of his house in Virginia. Many of the fights that Vick ran would end with one dog killing another, and Vick personally killed multiple dogs, some with his bare hands. He initially denied involvement and blamed family members, and later lied to the FBI during their investigation. In December 2007, a judge sentenced him to just shy of two years in prison, along with nearly $1 million in restitution, and he wound up serving just over 18 months. He was also convicted on state charges for dog fighting, too.

Yet, even through his convictions, Vick was still welcomed back into the NFL in 2009. He even won the much-coveted Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2010, before signing a contract worth more than $40 million. After being released from prison, Vick worked to rehabilitate his image, but there are many who haven't forgotten his criminal history. 

Todd Helton

Todd Helton established himself an MLB legend over his 17 seasons in the league, accumulating more than 2,500 hits and 350 home runs. However, sports fans also remember him for two less than savory indiscretions, his two DUI arrests from 2013 and 2019. By the time of his first incident in 2013, Helton was just about to enter his final season in the MLB. He was arrested after he claimed he was driving to a gas station close to his residence in Thornton, Colorado. He expressed remorse in a statement the following day and was later sentenced to probation, community service, and a $400 fine.

Helton managed to stay away from law enforcement for the remainder of his career, but once again found himself on the wrong side of another DUI in 2019. This time, Helton was near his new home in West Knox County, Tennessee, in March, when he crashed his Ford F-150 pickup. The crash was bad enough that Helton was hospitalized, and he blamed the incident on Ambien, though officers suspected alcohol was involved. As a result of his second DUI, Helton entered a treatment clinic for alcoholism, and he was issued a citation.

Still, even with his arrests, Helton has earned and kept the goodwill of most of his fans. In 2014, he won the Tennessean of the Year award from the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2023 he earned several votes toward induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Alvin Kamara

The NFL's annual Pro Bowl is supposed to be a time of celebration and fun, when the league's best players get together for the annual all-star game. Unfortunately, Alvin Kamara's experience after the 2022 Pro Bowl is probably one he would rather forget. Just hours after the February 2022 game ended, which Kamara played in, he was arrested on battery charges by Las Vegas police. Apparently, the night prior Kamara and some of his associates got into a scuffle at a casino, during which Kamara assaulted a man after a verbal altercation.

The victim suffered severe injuries at Kamara and his associates' hands, including a fractured orbital (eye-socket) bone. Kamara was released on bond, but just over a year later in February 2023, he was indicted on multiple battery charges related to the incident. In addition to the legal charges, Kamara also faced a $10 million lawsuit from the victim, who he later apologized to as part of an out-of-court settlement.

Ultimately, Kamara pleaded no contest to a reduced charge, which was originally multiple felonies but was dropped down to a single misdemeanor. He was required to do community service, pay restitution, and was given a fine, and the NFL suspended him for three games over the arrest. Upon his return following Week 3, the general manager of the Saints, Mickey Loomis, called Kamara "a positive influence on the team," and said "it's good to have him back" (via the New Orleans Saints).

Conor McGregor

Since Conor McGregor started fighting in the UFC in 2013, his rise to MMA superstardom was nothing short of meteoric. After tearing through the featherweight division in two years, McGregor won the UFC Featherweight Championship in 2015, and he was soon one of the company's biggest rising stars. Known for being outspoken and brash, unfortunately, it was McGregor's antics outside the octagon that quickly started to overshadow his victories inside it.

Since 2017, he has been arrested multiple times for traffic violations, including careless driving, being uninsured, and speeding, and he's had his license revoked before. His most infamous outburst occurred in 2018, when he was arrested after throwing moving equipment through the window of a bus that one of his rivals was on. Initially charged with a felony, he later had it dropped after paying restitution and taking anger management classes.

From 2019–2021, McGregor was arrested multiple times for assault and robbery, during which he punched several people and broke a fan's phone. McGregor has also been the subject of numerous sexual assault allegations dating back to 2018, though he has never been formally charged with any crimes related to them.

Though McGregor has only fought sporadically since 2016, he is still widely regarded as one of the most popular fighters of all time, and he regularly is among the top-ranked fighters in history. In 2021, he was the world's highest-paid athlete, earning $158 million in endorsements alone, showing his immense popularity.

Brandon Marshall

Wracking up more than 12,000 receiving yards over 13 seasons to go along with 83 touchdowns, Brandon Marshall was one of the top NFL receivers for many years. However, while he may have earned a lot of awards on the field, he also had numerous problems off the field, with many of them related to domestic violence.

The problems started when Marshall was still at the University of Central Florida, when he was initially charged with several offenses in 2004, including assault on a police officer. He was arrested once again in 2005 while at UCF for theft, and his first domestic violence arrest was in 2006 for allegedly hitting his girlfriend. In 2007, Marshall was arrested twice, once for domestic violence and once for DUI, in addition to nearly a half-a-dozen other run-ins or near run-ins with police throughout the country, many of them related to assaults allegedly committed by Marshall.

His problems did not stop there, and he had several more arrests or incidents through 2012, including allegedly punching a woman that year. Since then, Marshall has largely stayed free from arrests, and he was never convicted of any domestic violence charges. He was one of the world's highest-paid athletes in 2014, making more than $17 million that year alone.

Ron LeFlore

Of all the unlikely stories of major leaguers, former Detroit Tigers' outfielder Ron LeFlore might have the most unique, and redeeming, of them all. LeFlore made his debut in the major leagues in 1974 at the age of 26, but it was his life of crime before he found baseball that earned him his spot on our list.

LeFlore grew up on the rough streets of East Detroit in the 1950s-1960s, and by the time he was in his early 20s he had already turned to a life of crime. This included using heroin and committing armed robbery, and it was the latter that landed him a five-to-15-year prison sentence in 1970 when he was just 21. LeFlore had robbed a local store and put the owner at gunpoint, though he does not appear to have fired any shots or injured anybody.

While incarcerated, LeFlore started playing for the prison's baseball team, who played against college teams. LeFlore played exceptionally well, earning the eye of Tigers' manager Billy Martin in 1973, and by the summer he was out of prison and in the minor leagues.

The newspapers torched him for his past discretions upon his debut, but he proved them all wrong by winding up an All-Star two years later in 1976. In 1978, a film was made about his story, "One in a Million," and he is a Detroit-area sports hero today.

William James Gates Brown

William James "Gates" Brown's path to the big leagues was far from traditional. Gates was born in 1939 and grew up in an impoverished area of inner-city Ohio. These were the days before the Civil Rights Act had even been passed, and Black residents faced incredible discrimination and impediments to upward social mobility.

Brown was one of many kids in the area who succumbed to a life of crime, and by the time he was 18 years old he was already in state prison. Brown had been caught breaking and entering and served time from 1958–1959.

While incarcerated, Brown played ball for the prison's baseball team, which soon drew the attention of MLB scouts. He ended up signing with the Detroit Tigers, and he became one of the first Black players in history to don the Old English D. During his time in the minor leagues, Brown was subjected to brutal racism, especially from Southern crowds, and he was still legally on probation in Ohio for his first year.

When Brown finally did make it to the majors in 1963, he announced his presence in a big way, hitting a home run the first time he stepped to the plate. He was a member of the Tigers' 1968 World Series team and became one of the most prolific pinch-hitters in MLB history. Always a Tiger, Brown had immense goodwill from the city until his 2013 death.