30 Surprising Athlete Bans That Destroyed Careers Forever

The numerous documented cases of pitifully wasted talent

Over the course of sports history, there have been many instances of professional athletes with all of the skills and love on the their respective fields, but none of it off the field. That is because of choices they made, whether it be to accept a bribe to throw a championship game, or to take performance enhancing drugs to elevate their game, or to not be able to shake a cocaine addiction, or even to break a rival opponent’s leg in an unthinkable lack of sportsmanship. Here’s a list of everything NOT to do if and when you become a professional athlete, if you want to avoid being banned for the rest of your life.

  1. Pete Rose (baseball)

Pete Rose is often spoken of as the greatest hitter in major league baseball history. Unfortunately for him, he will never fully be recognized for his achievements because he has been banned from baseball (in 1989) for his role in betting on games while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds.

In 2004, Rose finally admitted to doing so. He will continue to haunt the streets leading into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame for many years to come.


  1. Lance Armstrong (cycling)

There was perhaps no bigger, more revered, and more successful American athlete in the early 2000’s than Lance Armstrong. He won the hearts of his fellow Americans after successfully beating cancer and going on to win seven Tour de Frances.

However, doping allegations followed him for quite some time, and they finally caught up to him in 2012. He was banned from cycling for the rest of his life, after an investigation concluded that he had been doping for the entirety of his career.


  1. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (baseball)

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson is a name still referenced today as one in baseball lore, despite not having played for close to 100 years. The former Chicago White Sox slugger was considered the best in his day, dominating the 1910’s in many hitting categories.

However, he and a few other teammates were found to have accepted a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series in what is now referred to as the Black Sox Scandal. The commissioner at the time, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned Jackson and his fellow cheaters from the game of baseball for life.


  1. Tonya Harding (figure skating)

In the early to mid 1990’s, the pinnacle of women’s figure skating was occupied by Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Many believed Kerrigan to be the better competitor, and this troubled Harding.

In one of the most shocking turn of events in Olympic history, Kerrigan conspicuously broke her leg, and it was rumored to be of Harding’s doing. The rumors were later confirmed – Harding and her ex-husband had hired a man to do the dirty work. Harding was banned from figure skating for life in 1994.


  1. Connie Hawkins (basketball)

Point shaving was all the craze in college basketball in the 1950’s. For Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins, it became far too real. He was given a life ban from basketball, though he had no confirmed connection to gamblers or suspicious foul play. Not only that, but he was not even playing ball during the time was allegedly cheating – his freshman year in college.

Hawkins fought the man and ultimately won his right back to play basketball. After successfully suing the NBA for mistreatment, he found a place with the Phoenix Suns and was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.


  1. Michael Vick (football)

The Virginia Tech phenomenon and Atlanta Falcons slinger, Michael Vick was touted as the best dual threat quarterback ever to step foot on an NFL turf. He lit up opposing defenses, until a strange and ghastly story broke in 2007 that broke many peoples’ perception of him forever.

Sources had it that Vick was running a dogfighting ring, which landed him 21 months in prison and an indefinite ban from football. After serving his time and rehabilitating himself, Vick’s ban was lifted and he was given the opportunity to play in the NFL again with the Philadelphia Eagles. He would play another seven seasons, but never to the same form as his Atlanta days and never again held with the high regard that many had held him in before 2007.


  1. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays (baseball)

If you are talking baseball legends, the names Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays are certainly in your vocabulary. They are considered two of the best center fielders ever to play the great American game.

Oddly enough, after their careers were long gone in 1983, both Mantle and Mays accepted employment as greeters in the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Commissioner of baseball at the time Bowie Kuhn banned them both from baseball because of their proximity to gambling. Peter Ueberroth, the successor to the throne, would later reinstate Mantle and Mays in 1985.


  1. Marion Jones (track and field)

Marion Jones was an American hero at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. In that campaign, she amassed three gold medals and two bronze medals.

But after a performance enhancing drugs scandal broke, Jones had to relinquish all five of those medals. Jones was named as an athlete involved in the BALCO scandal involving star athletes from various sports that were found to be taking performance enhancing drugs. Not only was she stripped of her medals that year, but she was also banned from competing in track and field for the rest of her life.


  1. Art Schlichter (football)

Art Schlichter was a quarterback for the Baltimore (and Indianapolis) Colts and was expected to be their quarterback of the future when drafted in 1982. But those expectations would never materialize, due to his four-decade long bout with a gambling addiction.

In 1983, Schlichter was said to be over $700,000 in debt. He fled to the government for protection, but the NFL took notice and suspended him indefinitely. The ban was lifted a year later with the expectation that the gambling was behind him, but the Colts had to cut him in 1985 after finding him gambling again. He is currently serving a 10-year stint in federal prison for stealing thousands of dollars to fund his gambling habits.


  1. Billy Coutu (hockey)

Billy Coutu stands in a class of his own for professional hockey players. But before we get to that, we must preface his story by noting that he was a hard-nosed fighter on the ice. Coutu would throw his fists up against his opponents and sometimes even his own teammates.

But in 1927, he took the fighting urges too far and socked a couple of referees in the Stanley Cup Finals. He was promptly ushered a lifetime ban by the NHL, and though he was later permitted to partake in minor league play, Coutu is the only player in the NHL who has ever been officially banned for life.


  1. Ben Johnson (track and field)

The fastest man in the world throughout the 1980’s was definitely Ben Johnson. The sprinter had it all going for him at the Olympics, breaking the world record in the 100-meter dash and in 1988 winning a gold medal while smashing his own record in the process.

However, in a matter of two days, his world came crashing down around him. Johnson tested positive for steroids, and did not gain much sympathy for the old “everybody is doing it” cry. Johnson would be stripped of all his records and medals, and was banned from track and field competition for life.


  1. Eddie Cicotte (baseball)

Another member of the Black Sox Scandal in the early 20th century, Eddie Cicotte was a dominant pitcher and was about to cash in big time. In 1919, Cicotte was chasing a feat of 30 wins that would have guaranteed him double his salary, but he only made it to 29 because then owner Charles Comiskey, cheap as he was, demanded Cicotte be benched the rest of the season so he would not have to cough up the cash.

Unfair as that was for Cicotte, he turned around and did something equally as unfair. The pitcher was one of the White Sox who took a bribe to help throw the World Series. Cicotte turned an unfair situation for himself into an unfair situation for baseball fans everywhere.


  1. Roy Tarpley (basketball)

The NBA in the 1980’s was a microcosm of America at that time – a cocaine riddled, lively party scene. No NBA player was more at the forefront of the cocaine image in the sport than Roy Tarpley.

Tarpley was awarded the Sixth Man of the Year in 1988. But after testing positive for cocaine for the third time in 1994, Tarpley (a member of the Dallas Mavericks at the time) was banned from the league. Court orders had him free of all drug or alcoholic substances as part of an aftercare program. But when Tarpley was set to be reinstated into the league in 1995, he was caught drinking alcohol and officially banned for life.


  1. Dexter Manley (football)

In a similar way to Tarpley, Dexter Manley was an above average athlete who suffered from cocaine addiction that wound up costing him his career.

The defensive stud was a key cog in the machine for the Washington Redskins defense in the 1980’s, but could not lay off the cocaine and promptly failed his third drug test in 1989. This unfortunate circumstance cost him a lifetime ban from the NFL. Manley appealed and was reinstated in 1991, but squandered this opportunity when he failed yet another drug test. This time, he was out of the league for good.


  1. Jenrry Mejia (baseball)

It seems incredibly odd that for all of the baseball players who have confessed or have been accused of taking steroids, Jenrry Mejia is the first and only player to date who has ever been banned for life under the MLB’s steroids suspension policy. Lucky for guys like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire, the league did not have a policy for steroids in those days to the likes of the one that exists today.

In early 2016, Mejia tested positive for performance enhancing drugs for the third time in two years. As per league policy, this warrants him a lifetime ban from the game. Mejia has the right to appeal for reinstatement after the 2018 season, but who knows if the player once regarded as a dominant closer for the New York Mets will ever come back in full form.


  1. Justin Gatlin (track and field)

American hero Justin Gatlin has shown the world that he can out race anybody in a 100-meter dash. A former gold-medal winner for the US, he recently took home silver in last year’s Rio Olympics.

But if we rewind over ten years ago, Gatlin was a rising star in track and field before he tested positive for testosterone, which landed him a ban from the sport for four years. Gatlin would later return to the sport in 2010 and continue to have success, but not without suspicion, because he is always one of the older guys in the race. Is he performance enhancing again? You be the judge.


  1. Jack Molinas (basketball)

Point shaving in college basketball has historically been almost as synonymous as steroids in baseball. There have been many documented (and likely, undocumented) cases of point shaving in collegiate basketball, especially in the 1950’s.

Jack Molinas is a name many remember as at the center of the controversy. In 1954 while playing professional basketball with the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, he was dealt with the consequences of point shaving from the 1951 collegiate season and was handed a ban for life. The story gets even worse for Molinas, as he was reportedly gunned down in a drive-by shooting in what was likely a mob hit over unsettled debts in the 1970’s.


  1. Marty McSorley (hockey)

Marty McSorley was perhaps the instigator of the dirtiest play in NHL history. Known for being the gritty tough guy for the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers in the 1980’s, McSorley enjoyed a long career up to 2000.

But in that final season, McSorley made the most bone-headed play of all when he lifted his stick into the side of the head of opposing player Donald Brashear, causing the latter to fall to the ice and scarily thrust his head into the ice, undoubtedly leading to a graphic concussion. McSorley was charged and found guilty of the assault in the altercation, and was suspended for the rest of the season. He would never return to the sport, and though he was never officially banned from the game, it might as well have been considered one; he probably would not have been welcomed back into hockey with open arms.


  1. Roger Brown (basketball)

In a similar story to Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown was a basketball player banned from the NBA for suspicion of being associated with gamblers. In an ironic twist of events, one of the shady people he was accused of dealing with was Jack Molinas. Though Brown was never accused of point shaving, he was handed a life ban from the NBA and went on to have an illustrious career in the American Basketball Association.

The NBA ultimately allowed Brown back in to the league, but at that time Brown was past his prime and too aged to be able to compete at a high level. In 2013, he was voted into the Hall of Fame, nearly 20 years after he had passed away.


  1. Tim Montgomery (track and field)

Like Marion Jones, another sprinter by the name of Tim Montgomery had all of his accomplishments stripped from him after being caught cheating. The gold-medal runner was given a ban for life from track and field competition and was another central name listed in the infamous BALCO scandal.

Montgomery never actually tested positive for steroid use, but the information disclosed in the BALCO uncovering were substantial enough to earn him a lifetime ban and put a stop to his competitive career. Years later, in 2008, Montgomery finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.


  1. Michael Ray Richardson (basketball)

If it were not for the cocaine addiction that fueled many suspensions and bans from basketball in the 1980’s, Michael Ray Richardson would be remembered today as one of the best players ever to grace an NBA hardwood and would certainly be one of the best individuals ever to dawn a New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets uniform.

The lockdown, surefire shooting guard had it all going for him until cocaine took over. In 1986, he was banned from basketball after failing his third drug test. Richardson would be given a second chance in 1988 after being reinstated, but would go on to blow it in 1991 because of, you guessed it, another positive cocaine test.


  1. Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes (football)

There have not been many documented cases of players or coaches accepting bribes to throw a championship game. The 1946 NFL championship game is one of the only instances that is remembered to this day.

Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes were accused and later admitted under oath to taking bribes to fix the game. Hapes would never set foot on an NFL field professionally again after receiving his ban, but Filchock had his ban lifted after a long successful stint in the Canadian football league. Even so, his second chance in the NFL lasted only briefly, as he was aging quickly and chose to retire.


  1. Buck Weaver (baseball)

Known as the eighth man involved in the Black Sox Scandal, Buck Weaver vehemently denied ever taking money to throw the 1919 World Series. His refusal to admit guilt was even backed by both the charged gamblers and his own teammates (much unlike “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte). Weaver even had an excellent series, which helped his case.

However, the case against him was that he was aware of the plot to thrown the series. Despite allegedly not participating in the plot, and denying his participation for the rest of his life, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis saw it fit to reign down on anybody associated with the disgraceful act, and shoved a lifetime ban into Weaver’s lap. Weaver would never play professional baseball again for the rest of his life.


  1. Chris Washburn (basketball)

Chris Washburn was easily one of the biggest NBA draft busts of the 1980’s and perhaps one of the biggest busts of all-time. Drafted third overall by the Golden State Warriors in 1986, Washburn was expected to come in and immediately produce at a high level. Instead, he did nothing short of stink up the bed.

Washburn’s abysmal play was overshadowed by his cocaine addiction, which eventually earned him a lifetime ban from the league only two years into his career. The NBA did not look too kindly on substance abuse, and Washburn got to experience that first-hand.


  1. Fred Lorz (track and field)

It may come as a bit of a relief to you that the next track and field star on our list did not engage in performance enhancing drugs (at least, to anyone’s knowledge). Fred Lorz cheated in an entirely new and creative way.

In the 1904 Olympic marathon in St. Louis, Lorz appeared to have won the race by a landslide. Only after a brief investigation was it uncovered that Lorz actually hopped into a car and drove the majority of the race, finishing well ahead of the rest of the competitors. The move landed Lorz a lifetime ban, which was lifted less than a year later.


  1. Stanley Wilson (football)

Cincinnati Bengals running back Stanley Wilson had a problem with cocaine. He had already been suspended for both the 1985 and 1987 seasons. In 1988, the night before his team was set to play in the Super Bowl, he was discovered using cocaine in his hotel room by a team coach.

 Since this was his third infraction, Wilson was ultimately banned for life from football. In 1999, he was found guilty of stealing $130,000 and sentenced to 22 years in prison.


  1. Hal Chase (baseball)

Hal Chase faced allegations of cheating as a baseball player as early as 1910. But midway through the 1918 season, while playing for the Chicago White Sox, the reports really started coming to fruition.

Chase was rumored to have paid pitcher Jimmy Ring $50 to throw a game against the Giants. Later that season, the president of the National League received a copy of a $500 check from an anonymous individual that Chase received from a gambler for throwing a game. A Chicago grand jury indicted Chase for his role in the Black Sox Scandal as a middleman between the players and the gamblers, and he was cast from the professional game for good.


  1. Alex Groza (basketball)

The story of Alex Groza is one of sad unmet potential. Groza was the figurehead of the National Championship-winning University of Kentucky basketball teams in 1948 and 1949. He then entered the NBA and found initial stardom.

But after two full seasons of All-NBA professional ball with the Indianapolis Olympians, Groza was named as a key component of the 1948-1949 point shaving scandal. As a result, then NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff handed the star player a life time ban. His career came to an abrupt and screeching halt after just two seasons.


  1. Steve Howe (baseball)

Though drug addiction (specifically cocaine) in the 1980’s was most associated with the NBA and the NFL, some players in the MLB also fell victim to it. One such baseball player was Steve Howe, an All-Star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees over his career.

To make a long story short, Howe was suspended a whopping seven times for drug use over his 17-year campaign. In 1992 (approximately midway through his career), Howe was given a ban for life for cocaine and alcohol abuse. Lucky for him, though, he was reinstated just a year later.


  1. John Drew (basketball)

John Drew is a marquee example of an NBA player who fell victim to drug abuse in the 1980’s, but was able to overcome it and achieve moderate success. The Atlanta Hawks All-Star checked himself into rehab in 1983, and was so successful after a return to the league that he earned himself the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 1984 for what looked like a promising defeat of his addiction.

But things were not entirely as they appeared. Drew slipped into a relapse in 1985, and was ultimately banned from the NBA the following year. In a sad ending to an otherwise inspiring story, Drew was the first player ever banned for life under the NBA’s substance abuse policy.

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