Sports Stars Who Ruined Their Careers In A Matter Of Seconds

Professional athletes at the top of their game enjoy millions of dollars in guaranteed money, the adoration of legions of fans, and the immortality of a name that will live on in record books throughout history. And yet, some of these sports stars throw it all away thanks to their terrible behavior and deplorable actions. These epic falls from grace go all the way to the upper echelons of their respective games, from one of golf's brightest stars, to a legendary Tour de France champion, to one of boxing's most fearsome champs of all time. 

Some have served jail time, some lost their lives, and many wreaked havoc on their teams and their sports. In the worst cases, these athletes outright destroyed the innocent lives of others. Were these awful circumstances avoidable, and were the consequences justified? 

You be the judge as we take a closer look at the gifted athletes who ruined their careers and their reputations in the blink of an eye.

No career survives a murder conviction

Aaron Hernandez's career certainly looked promising in 2010 when he skipped his senior year at Florida to enter the NFL draft, where he would be picked up by the New England Patriots. 

But about three years after being in the pro-league, controversy began to surround Hernandez's name. A friend of his, Alexander Bradley, was shot in the face and filed a lawsuit claiming the athlete targeted him after a tiff at a strip club. Months later, the body of Odin Lloyd, who was dating Hernandez's girlfriend's sister, was found in Massachusetts. Hernandez was arrested on murder charges and released from the Patriots hours later. In 2015, he went on trial for the murder of Lloyd and was convicted in the first-degree.

While serving a life sentence, Hernandez stood trial for and was later acquitted in the murder of two other men, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, both of whom were both killed in 2012 in their car at a red light. In a stunning twist, mere days after the verdict, news traveled that the star footballer had tragically committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell. He was only 27.

Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring sidelined his career

Vick was a star player for the Atlanta Falcons when his career went up in flames due to a horrific dog-fighting ring exposed in 2007.

In 2001, Vick and several buddies started a dog-fighting operation, later established as the "Bad Newz Kennels," in Virginia. By 2007, their operation under which they groomed pitbulls to fight, caught the attention of local and federal law enforcement officials. In April of that year, Vick's Virginia property was raided by police who not only discovered evidence of dog-fighting but also neglected animals. The men were charged with conspiracy to engage in dogfighting, acquiring animals with the purpose of fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.

The men initially pled not guilty but eventually changed their tunes. Vick, whose career in the NFL was suspended, issued a statement on his deplorable behavior. He apologized in part for "using bad judgement and making bad decisions." "I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to," he said. In December 2007, he was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and was forced to enter a drug treatment program. 

Vick was released from federal prison in May 2009. Although he was able to resume his NFL career by the summer, he no longer had the notoriety or the spark that made him a rising star in the league. He finished his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 and is officially retired.

Hope Solo's off-the-field antics are what took out her career

Hope Solo's fall from fantastic soccer star to troubled athlete began in 2012 when she tested positive for a banned substance, according to Us Weekly. She claimed to not know the medication she was on contained the illegal drug. 

Things only got worse from there. In 2014, things once again turned ugly for Solo after she was arrested for domestic violence when she got into a fight with her half sister and nephew, during which she was tackled to the ground and hissed to an officer, "You're such a b***h. You're scared of me because you know that if the handcuffs were off, I'd kick your a**." Then, in 2015, she was suspended by U.S. Soccer for her involvement in her husband Jerramy Stevens' DUI arrest.

Most recently in 2016, Solo was slapped with a six-month suspension by her soccer league for calling Team Sweden a "bunch of cowards" after America lost a match. According to TMZ, the U.S. Soccer president said, "[it's] unacceptable and do not meet the standards of conduct we require from our National Team players." Until she fixes her off-the field behavior, Solo's career will never recover. 

'Personal issues' became the nail in the coffin for Lamar Odom's career

Lamar Odom has a long and difficult history with drug usage and loss. Despite a stellar career in the NBA, things became a bit too difficult for him to handle in 2012; after 14 years in the league, Odom ended his run with the Dallas Mavericks. As the Mavericks president Donnie Nelson put it, "He's dealt with a lot of personal issues. At this point, we need to be able to count on some things." 

Things continued to spiral out of control when Odom was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the San Fernando Valley in August 2013, according to TMZ. His marriage to Khloé Kardashian wasn't doing any better either. His drug usage and inexplicable disappearances certainly strained their union and Kardashian soon filed for separation following the incident.

By the fall of 2013, Odom resurfaced in a rap video in which he rapped incoherent lyrics about drugs leaving many to believe he had returned to using, reports Page Six. In June of 2015, two of Odom's friends suddenly passed away — one from a drug overdose and the other from a mysterious flesh-eating infection. Odom's final and most brutal fall from grace came in October 2015 when he was found unconscious at a Nevada Brothel after a drug binge, reports E! News and Us Weekly. Doctors found several drugs in his system including cocaine. In all, Odom stayed in the hospital some three months and recently completed a month-long stint in rehab

Ray Rice's career evaporated after he brutally assaulted his fiancee

Ray Rice was relatively unknown in the NFL world until February 2014, when TMZ published footage of him dragging his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of an Atlantic City elevator after an altercation. The video showed Palmer's body limp and unconscious, according to TIME. As a result, the Baltimore Ravens player was indicted on third-degree aggravated assault. He faced five years behind bars for assaulting Palmer. 

In March that year, Rice received a blessing and narrowly escaped going to trial as he was accepted into a pre-trial intervention program. During that time, the NFL suspended Rice for a measly two games and fined the star athlete $58,000. By September, after the incident quieted down, Rice's name was tossed into headlines again. This time, new footage of the elevator incident surfaced showing Rice violently knocking Palmer unconscious. The video is hard to watch and again stirred up controversy. The Ravens eventually released him from the team, while the NFL suspended him indefinitely. (Rice beat the suspension on appeal.)

According to a 2017 Men's Fitness interview, Rice has been living quietly out of the spotlight. He told the magazine it's the only domestic violence incident to ever occur in his relationship. "Who doesn't have a disagreement with their significant other? If [my behavior over time] was that serious, my wife wouldn't be my wife. She would have left," he said. Rice called the experience "the worst 30 seconds of my life... I got publicly crucified, and I deserved it."

No one saw the downfall of Tiger Woods coming

Tiger Woods instantly became a disgraced figured after a nasty fight between he and his wife, Elin Nordegren, exposed the legendary golfer as a serial cheater.

After the fight hit the tabloids, many women (some say 120) came forward claiming they had sex with Woods. The incident caused him to step out of the spotlight and away from golf for months. Sponsors, including Gatorade and AT&T, dropped Woods as his name was soiled with scandal. In January of 2010, Woods entered rehab for sex addiction in Mississippi. And in February, Woods publicly admitted he cheated on his wife – letting down his family and fans. "Character and decency are what really count," Woods said in part. "Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all of those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry."

By August 2010, Woods and Nordegren had reached a divorce settlement. Although it's been seven years since the incident made headlines, Woods' golf career has steadily declined. Unfortunately, it reached a new low in late May 2017 when Florida cops booked him on DUI charges, according to the New York Post. Officers found Woods asleep behind the wheel and said he exhibited "slow and slurred speech" when he was woken up. Woods blamed the snafu on an "unexpected reaction" to prescription medicine. 

Doping and a lifetime of lies killed Lance Armstrong's career

One of sport's most decorated and celebrated athletes, Lance Armstrong, shocked when he was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles in October 2012. According to ABC News, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published a report with testimony from 11 of Armstrong's teammates stating he used illegal drugs. Armstrong wasn't alone in his doping antics either; he allegedly received helped from the team's coaches and doctors too. His fall from grace was only getting started at this point as sponsors like Nike dropped him from campaign ads. He continued to deny doping until a damning January 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Then, he summoned the courage to share the truth. "I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times," he said. "I know the truth. The truth isn't what was out there. The truth isn't what I said... I'm a flawed character, as I well know. All the fault and all the blame here falls on me." 

Armstrong claims he didn't think his actions were wrong at the time nor did he feel "bad" about it either. The damage was done and it left plenty of people disappointed including his Livestrong cancer charity. "Our success has never been based on one person, it's based on the patients and survivors we serve every day, who approach a cancer diagnosis with hope, courage and perseverance," the foundation said in a statement. Armstrong was also stripped of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

Mike Tyson still refutes his career-killing conviction

In early 1992, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was convicted of raping 18-year-old college student Desiree Washington. Tyson, who had grown up in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, got his life together under the tutelage of a boxing coach and earned wide recognition for his skills in the ring by becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history, was now heading to prison. 

In all, Tyson was sentenced to 10 years with four years suspended, according to The New York Times. Before the sentence was handed down, Tyson delivered a short statement: "I don't come here begging for mercy, ma'am. I can't see anything good coming from this. I'm here prepared to expect the worst. I've been crucified, humiliated worldwide." Tyson was just 25 years old at the time and he lost the respect and support of many. Since then, he's managed to regain some popularity but his career would never regain the steam it once had.

Fast forward to 2013 and Tyson revisited those dark days with The Daily Beast. "I didn't rape her," he opened up. "They wanted to convict me more than anything in the world. There's not a person in the history of that state that got convicted for rape that did less time than I did. They wanted to be known for the state that convicted me. If the hanging judge really believed I did that, they would have given me 60 years. But they gave me six, which got cut down to three."

Chad Ochocinco and Ray Rice have a lot in common

Chad Ochocinco was good looking, charming and a talented football star. He even competed on Dancing with the Stars proving he can be loved by all. But his image and career came crashing down after he was arrested for headbutting his then wife Evelyn Lozada in August 2012. As the story goes, per ABC News, the pair began arguing over a receipt for condoms. In a fit of rage, Ochocinco headbutted Lozada. She suffered a three-inch gash as a result. Ochocinco was charged with misdemeanor domestic battery and spent a total of one night in jail. The couple had only been married for about a month at the time. ESPN reported that, twenty-four hours after the incident, the Dolphins cut Ochocinco, and he hasn't played in the NFL since.

In September 2012, the ex-NFL star had earned the trust of the court and was not sentenced to any time in jail for his crime. In lieu of time behinds bars, Ochocinco was given 12 months probation and ordered to attend a batterers intervention program, reports TMZ. But by the spring of the following year, Ochocinco found himself in the slammer for being dismissed from a courtroom after slapping his lawyer on the butt. The star was in court for violating his probation when a judge found his behavior poor and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, reports US Weekly. He served just one week and was released after formally apologizing.

O.J. Simpson went from beloved sports icon to murder suspect

OJ Simpson was once a respected NFL star and commentator. His image and career as he knew it was forever changed by the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Goldman. According to Vulture's timeline of events, some five days after Brown Simpson and Goldman's bodies were found, Simpson took police on a long 50-mile chase. He refused to surrender on first-degree murder charges at the advice of lawyer friend Robert Shapiro. By January 1995, Simpson's infamous murder trial had begun. He enlisted the help of several big-shot lawyers including Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian. The trial took a long eight months to conclude. By the end, Simpson was found not guilty of both murders. In 1997, after a short civil trial, Simpson was found liable for the murders and was ordered to pay a whopping $33.5 million to both Brown Simpson and Goldman's families.

Since the trial, Simpson has led a rough life of crime with several run ins with the law. In September 2007, Simpson was arrested and charged with several counts of robbery with a deadly weapon, burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime after two memorabilia dealers said he robbed them. Simpson says he was retrieving items that were stolen from him. In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for his crimes. He was released in October 2017 after serving nine years of that sentence. 

Ryan Lochte threw it all away with a lie

Ryan Lochte's career as an Olympic swimmer went up in flames after he was caught red handed lying about being robbed in Rio, Brazil during the 2016 summer Olympics. According to Today, Lochte told everyone, including authorities, that he and his teammates were robbed at gunpoint on the way home from a party. But he soon changed his story making many question was it all made up? Soon the truth unfolded to reveal Lochte and his buddies were extremely intoxicated that night. They actually stumbled into a gas station and vandalized the bathroom. Security guards, with weapons, confronted the men about the matter.

The swimmer ultimately came clean in an interview with Matt Lauer. "They (the people of Rio) put on a great Games," he said. "They did everything. And my immature, intoxicated behavior tarnished that a little... It was immature. It was childish. I take full responsibility for everything." He also posted a lengthy apology to social media. But the aftermath didn't only include public shame and disgrace he brought to the American team, the U.S. Olympic Committee suspended him from swimming for 10 months. He also had stipends withheld, lost sponsorship deals and was banned from visiting the White House with his fellow Olympic teammates, according to the The Los Angeles Times

Tonya Harding's career ended with a lifetime ban

Tonya Harding's career as a figure skater was over after it was revealed her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and a handful of other men allegedly carried out an attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan, according to The Daily Mail. The men reportedly orchestrated an attack in which Kerrigan was clubbed in her knee just six weeks before for the 1994 Winter Olympics. 

Harding denied being informed about the planned attack. In the aftermath, the men were charged and Gillooly pled guilty. They were all sent to jail for their crimes except Harding. She eventually pled guilty to hindering the investigation and confessed to knowing the details of the plot. In total, she received three years probation and was ordered to complete 500 hours of community service as well as pay a $160,000 fine.

Kerrigan would recover and go on to win the silver at the games while Harding performed poorly. She blamed her failure on the aftermath of the incident. "You just get hit by everything all at once and you just want to crawl in a closet and say go away and leave me alone..." she told ESPN in a documentary about the 20th anniversary of the attack. "Every time I'd jump they would all flash, I would fall on my face and hurt myself a couple of times. It just started becoming really impossible just to even concentrate on anything."

 Harding was ultimately banned from competitive skating for life.

Rae Carruth's involvment in a horrific murder took him permanently off the field

After an improbable 1996 playoff run in only their second year as a franchise, the Carolina Panthers gave fans reason to be excited about the team's future. That excitement grew when the Panthers selected the University of Colorado's star wide receiver, Rae Carruth, during the 1997 NFL Draft. However, a mere two years later, the excitement turned to horror when he was arrested for his role in a murder-for-hire plot that resulted in the shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams.

Allegedly upset that Adams wouldn't comply with his abortion demands, Carruth, along with three hired accomplices, "laid a trap" for the 24-year-old real estate agent and mother-to-be and shot her four times while she sat in her car on the night of Nov. 16, 1999. Before her death a month later, Adams informed authorities that "Carruth blocked her car, then left the scene." Carruth was captured a month later when authorities found him hiding in the trunk of a car outside a Tennessee hotel. In 2001, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 18 to 24 years.

Adams' baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, was delivered by emergency Caesarean section and diagnosed with cerebral palsy and permanent brain damage. Chancellor turned 18 in 2017. "If I could change anything, I'd change the whole situation. His mother would still be here and I wouldn't be where I'm at," Carruth told WBTV in a 2018 interview from prison. 

Johnny Manziel: From Heisman-winner to has-been in record time

The good? A dual-threat quarterback for Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel earned the nickname "Johnny Football" for his sensational play on the field, making him the first freshman to win the coveted Heisman Trophy award as the best player in college football. The bad? He was arrested for disorderly conduct and giving a fake ID to police. He also overslept through multiple mandatory meetings at the Manning Passing Academy, allegedly because of hangovers. 

According to, Manziel possessed a "sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance" and had a reputation for partying too much. Even so, the Cleveland Browns were unable to pass up on the so-called "once-in-a-generation" talent and chose him in the 2014 NFL Draft. It was instant regret. 

After just his third preseason game, Manziel was fined $12,000 for "making an obscene gesture" at the Washington Redskins' bench. Following a stint in rehab following that season, Manziel was pulled over by police after an argument that "got out of hand" with his then-girlfriend. He was benched in November 2015 after social media posts showed him partying during the bye week then lying about it. A month later, he was spotted partying at Las Vegas' Planet Hollywood casino.

Needless to say, the Browns waived Johnny Football prior to the 2016 season after just two years and only 15 starts.

Oscar Pistorius' groundbreaking career ended in tragic violence

Oscar Pistorius' life story had the potential to be an inspiring Oscar-winning movie, but the South African sprinter and first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympics decided to turn his story into an episode of Law & Order instead. 

Roughly six months after he challenged preconceptions of Olympic glory at the 2012 Summer Games, Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, four times on Valentine's Day 2013. Steenkamp was in the bathroom with the door closed at the time. Pistorius claimed he mistook her for an intruder.

His seven-month trial initially ended with Pistorius sentenced to five years in prison for "culpable homicide." Prosecutors immediately appealed the verdict, calling the punishment "shockingly light." The South African Supreme Court of Appeals agreed and subsequently increased his sentence to 13 years and five months.

"I find it difficult on the evidence to accept that the respondent is genuinely remorseful," Supreme Court Justice Willie Seriti's decision stated. "The sentence of six years' imprisonment is shockingly lenient to a point where it has the effect of trivializing this serious offense."

Lawrence Phillips ruined every chance his career got

Nebraska's star running back, Lawrence Phillips, pleaded not guilty in 1995 to assaulting another student during an altercation at a blocked intersection, but the tragic consequences of college and NFL teams choosing talent over horrific off-field issues were just beginning.

Less than a year later, Phillips broke into a teammate's apartment, where he found his former girlfriend Kate McEwen, and subsequently "knocked her down and dragged her down three flights of stairs by her hair," reported the Los Angeles Times. He was arrested, suspended by the team, then reinstated just in time for the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, despite outcry from national media and school faculty. Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osbourne told the Chicago Tribune that he advised Phillips to turn pro since he was "always going to be a marked man (in Lincoln)."

Ignoring all the red flags, the St. Louis Ram selected Phillips with the 6th overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. He was released two years later after "exhibiting troubling behavior off the field." Phillips then signed with the Miami Dolphins, where he played two games before being cut after pleading no contest to misdemeanor battery. After a year off, he signed with the San Francisco 49ers, where his pass blocking was so terrible it played a role in ending Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young's career. 

After football? Phillips received 31 years in prison for "attacking his girlfriend and driving his car into three teens," reported Fox News. In 2016, Phillips was found dead in his cell of a suspected suicide after being charged with the first-degree murder death of his cellmate. The disgraced football star was 40 years old.

Ryan Leaf's career meltdown is an all-timer

"I'm looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl and a parade through downtown San Diego," Ryan Leaf said the day he was selected 2nd overall behind Peyton Manning by the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 NFL Draft. While one is now a five-time NFL MVP and retired legend, the other is considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

The regular season didn't even have a chance to begin before Leaf was fined $10,000 for not showing up on the final day of the mandatory NFL rookie orientation. It only got worse from there. On Sept. 21, 1998, a day after logging the worst statistical day of any quarterback in Charger's history, Leaf completely melted down on reporters and had to be restrained by teammates. 

During the next two seasons, he served a four-game suspension for an "obscenity-laced tirade" directed at Chargers personnel, had to be forcibly stopped by coaches from going after a heckling fan, and was rumored to fake a wrist injury so he could skip practice and play golf. After finishing the 2000 season 1-15, the Chargers cut him. After brief stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, Leaf was out of the NFL for good. 

In 2012, Leaf was arrested in Montana on felony burglary, misdemeanor theft and criminal possession of dangerous drugs charges and sentenced to 5 years in prison, reported CBS Sports. He was released in 2014

Antonio Brown's career went from bright to bust in an instant

Considered one of the best players at his position during his nine-year career, wide receiver Antonio Brown had an unprecedented run with the Pittsburgh Steelers, including five straight seasons with at least 100 receptions and 1,284 yards. Then ... he requested to be traded. The Oakland Raiders quickly pounced, trading for the seven-time Pro Bowler, and signing him to a massive three-year, $54 million deal before the 2019 season.

He didn't play a single down with the team. In Aug. 2019, Brown suffered severe frostbite on his feet after a cryotherapy session, forcing him to miss all but one training camp practice. That same month, Brown filed a grievance with the NFL to wear his old helmet that was denied. The very next month, Brown was fined nearly $54,000 for "unexcused" absences, and threatened to hit Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, who he allegedly called a "cracker" during a verbal altercation. The team released Brown on Sept. 7, 2019.

Brown quickly signed with the New England Patriots in a one-year deal "worth up to $15 million with a $9 million signing bonus," per PFT. Before his first game, TMZ reported that Brown was accused of rape by his former trainer. On Sept. 20, after appearing in just one game, the Patriots released Brown after intimidating text messages he allegedly sent to a second accuser came to light. At the time of this writing, Brown has yet to sign with another team.

The death of Kareem Hunt's career was caught on video

A third-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 NFL Draft, running back Kareem Hunt wasn't expected to contribute to the team in any meaningful way. However, after a season-ending knee injury to starter Spencer Ware, Hunt stepped in and became a breakout star. With a combined 1,782 yards and 11 touchdowns, Hunt made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and cemented himself as an essential piece of the Chiefs' future.

However 11 games into his sophomore season, Hunt was released after TMZ posted a video of the star running back allegedly assaulting a woman in a Cleveland hotel. The incident, in which no charges were filed, occurred before the season started. Meanwhile, the NFL launched an internal investigation into the incident, but did not release any video footage related to it. Upon review of the video released by TMZ — what the league described as "new information that was made public" — it announced the following (via ESPN): "Earlier this year, we were made aware of an incident involving running back Kareem Hunt. ... Kareem was not truthful in those discussions. The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately." 

Hunt apologized for his actions, saying that he "deeply [regretted] what [he] did," and that he "[hoped] to move on from this." He then signed with the Cleveland Browns, who immediately suspended him for the first eight games of the 2019 season "for violating the league's personal conduct policy." In Aug. 2019, Hunt underwent surgery for a sports hernia

Greg Hardy's MMA career makes a scary amount of sense

A highly touted prospect coming into the 2010 NFL Draft, defensive end Greg Hardy took a draft day tumble, landing with the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round. During his first four seasons, Hardy dominated, registering 33 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles, and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Before the 2014 season, the Panthers placed the franchise tag on their young star, giving him a nearly $12 million raise. 

However, before the season started, Hardy was arrested and charged with assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder (via SI). Although the charges were dropped after Holder refused to cooperate with police, then-Panthers' owner Jerry Richardson released Hardy anyway. His reasoning? "We do the right things," he explained (via ESPN). In 2015, the Dallas Cowboys then swooped in, signing Hardy to a one-year, $13 million deal in a highly criticized move. Despite having to be restrained during an on-field fight with special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, Hardy was labeled as "one of the real leaders on this team" by billionaire Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Hardy was in the middle of a decent season when Deadspin posted the graphic and chilling police photos of Holder's assault. After that, Hardy's performance flagged, he became "depressed," and he fell out of favor with his teammates, he later recalled to SI. The Cowboys did not re-sign him. On Nov. 4, 2017, Hardy made his amateur MMA debut in a 32-second defeat of Joe Hawkins.