Sports Stars Who Got Straight Up Fired

Hollywood can be a cutthroat business and if people aren't entertained, actors may be looking at the exit door. Other times, actors were kicked off a project for bad blood with their co-stars. In another world of entertainment, sports, the reasons may be different but the end result is the same — being fired. Each major sports league had their share of people who were given the boot after scandals. Like when baseball's worst owner, Marge Schott, was canned for racist language. Another sketchy owner, Donald Sterling, was banned from the NBA for the same reason. In the NHL, the former head of the player's union was shown the door for spying on players. Like the other leagues, the NFL features a rotating cast of coaches because if the team doesn't perform well, the coach may quickly find themselves in hot water. For example, Mike Zimmer, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, was fired in 2022 after his team failed to make the playoffs two years in a row. It didn't matter that Zimmer led the Vikings for eight seasons because just like that, he was out, per ESPN.

Even some of the greatest athletes of all time weren't immune from being fired at some point in their lives. Whether due to bad business skills, questionable activities outside of competing, or just losing their athletic ability, many of the biggest names in sports felt the sting of losing a job. These are the sports stars who got straight up fired.

Michael Vick nearly lost it all

In his prime, Michael Vick was one of the most exhilarating quarterbacks ever. After becoming a college star at Virginia Tech, Vick joined the NFL and showed a new aspect to the quarterback position never seen before. As a dual-threat quarterback, that is, able to either pass the ball or run, Vick caused havoc for defenses with his quick speed. This put him on the list alongside Randall Cunningham and Cam Newton as one of the greatest rushing QBs ever, according to the NFL. As of 2022, he is still the only quarterback ever in the NFL to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, per Sports Illustrated.

All those impressive numbers came even with a relatively short career. Even more, Vick could have possibly never played football again after a massive scandal. In 2007, the football player pleaded guilty to operating an illegal dog fighting ring at one of his properties in Virginia. For the crime, courts sentenced Vick to nearly two years in jail, History recapped. Vick was quickly dropped by his team, the Atlanta Falcons, and was banned from the NFL in addition to losing corporate endorsements like Nike. Fortunately for Vick, he found his way back to the field and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also re-signed with Nike, who said in a statement, "​​We do not condone those actions, but we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field," per ESPN.

John Daly's unprofessional ways cost him dearly

In pro golf, a sport often associated with old men with silver hair, John Daly stuck out like a rebel. With a bleach blond mullet and a love of smoking, Daly became somewhat of a bad boy on tour. He claimed to smoke between two and three packs of cigarettes a day. With this, Daly estimated smoking 18,000 cigarettes each year. "I started smoking when I was 19," Daly revealed in an interview. "Smoked for almost 29 years," he added, while also explaining that he had no desire to stop. For beverages, Daly said he drank about 515 gallons of Diet Coke a year because he would consume about 12 to 20 Diet Cokes a day. He was especially fond of soda outside of the can and went to McDonald's three to four times every day. "To me, they always had the best fountain drink," he said about the fast food chain. "I hate water," he added, attempting to explain his reasoning.

But Daly enjoyed harder drinks, too. In fact, his drinking became too much for some sponsors to handle. Callaway Golf, one of the major brands in pro golf, dropped Daly for violating his sponsorship contract. "Regrettably, we cannot continue to have John as a company representative when he is not prepared to take the future steps that we feel are necessary to deal with the alcohol and gambling problems facing him," the company's chairman said in a statement, via ESPN.

Lance Armstrong fell hard from the top

In the mid-'90s, Lance Armstrong was beginning to become a star cyclist for the United States after winning events and competing in the 1996 Olympics. Sadly, that same year, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Vowing to return to racing, he made an incredible comeback and won the 1999 Tour de France — the biggest competition in cycling. "I hope it sends out a fantastic message to all survivors around the world," Armstrong said after his victory, via ESPN. He won the Tour de France again in 2000, and would go on to win it for the next five years. His 2005 victory cemented him as the winningest Tour de France cyclist ever.

As it turned out, the performances were indeed too good to be true. Some suspected Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs while racing in the prestigious event. Though the racer denied all allegations, he was eventually caught after teammates claimed Armstrong doped. In 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency concluded Armstrong cheated and as a result, officials stripped him of all his Tour de France medals. The man who was once an inspiration for millions became a disgrace. Nike dropped Armstrong and his Livestrong foundation, famous for its yellow rubber wristbands, per AP. "Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," the company said in a statement.

Oscar Pistorius went from hero to villain

In what was once a heartwarming story, Oscar Pistorius overcame incredible odds to become an Olympic athlete. Both his legs were amputated when he was only 11 months old after being born without fibulas. After making the decision to operate, his mother wrote a letter to him that said, "The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last. The real loser is the person who sits on the side. The person who does not even try to compete," via the International Paralympic Committee. After switching from rugby to track, Pistorius made his Paralympic Games debut at the 2004 games in Athens, Greece, winning gold in the Men's 200 meter T44 race. Pistorius then competed at the games four years later in Beijing. In 2012, Pistorius became one of the rare athletes to compete in both the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games at the competitions in London. He was also the first ever Paralympian to compete in an Olympic track and field event.

Off the track, Time named Pistorius one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World twice. That ended, however, in 2013, when the runner went on trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend. His major sponsors, Nike, Oakley, and Thierry Mugler fragrance, all dropped the Olympic runner as a result, The Washington Post reported. In the end, the court found Pistorius guilty of murder and sentenced him to 15 years.

Bob Knight was too passionate for his own good

Sports are known for bringing out the passion in players, fans, and others associated with the games. Bob Knight, who was a basketball coach for an incredible 47 years, was especially known for being vocal on the sidelines. The longtime coach of Indiana University's men's basketball team, Knight led the Hoosiers from 1971 to 2000, before ending his career as the head coach for Texas Tech in 2008, per ESPN. He also won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games after leading the USA Men's Basketball team, including a young Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, to victory. Along the way, Knight didn't hide his temper and became as well known for winning as he was for screaming at his players, other coaches, or really anyone. He was also fiery during practice and was once caught on video choking one of his players, Neil Reed. 

Eventually, Indiana University put pressure on the coach to cool it and gave him a zero tolerance ultimatum. This didn't last long, however. As the story allegedly goes, per Sports Illustrated, a university freshman named Kent Harvey passed the coach on campus and said, "What's up, Knight?" Furious by the perceived lack of respect, Knight reportedly grabbed Kent and said, "Son, my name isn't Knight for you. It's Mr. Knight or Coach Knight." This was the last straw for the Hoosiers, who promptly fired Knight from the program in 2000, despite his championships at the school.

Vince Young declined after college

In 2005, Vince Young competed for the Heisman Trophy — the yearly award gifted to the best player in college football — against running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart. Bush walked away with the honor, but Young would later get his revenge when his team went up against the USC Trojans, featuring Bush and Leinhart, in the national championship. Trailing late in the game, Young lined up behind center on 4th down with 5 yards to go. The play started and "my instincts just took over" as Young ran for the corner of the end zone, he recalled to ESPN. Young scored and the Texas Longhorns won, 41 to 38. With his tremendous abilities, Young was the third pick in the 2006 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans, per Bleacher Report. While his potential was through the roof, he didn't fare so well in the pro league. He eventually went to the Buffalo Bills, before they released him and he didn't play in the 2012 season. Then, after playing in all the 2013 preseason games as backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, the team released him, per ESPN. Young next went to the Cleveland Browns, who also released the former star in 2014, the NFL reported. He would never play another NFL game.

Later, Young filed for bankruptcy, but went back to work for the University of Texas. Unfortunately, his alumni status couldn't prevent him from being fired "for Poor Performance," Sports Illustrated reported.

Larry Johnson made local fans furious

The Kansas City Chiefs had high hopes for their team after drafting running back Larry Johnson in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. Quickly, Johnson showed that his activities off the field could be a nuisance to the team. He was arrested twice for assaulting different women. Despite the charges, Johnson continued to play well and showed that he was a star on the field, racking up 3,539 yards on the ground between the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Once again, Johnson found himself in hot water for his activities away from the team. His bad behavior was "a switch I couldn't shut off," he admitted to The Washington Post

Johnson proceeded to post gay slurs directed at fans on Twitter and criticized the Chiefs' head coach, which caused the team to suspend him for two weeks. During his suspension, many fans united to see that Johnson would never again put on a Chiefs uniform. At the time, he was only 74 yards shy of becoming the all-time leading rusher for the team. A petition signed by over 32,000 people was enough for the Chiefs, and the team decided to no longer deal with the running back. Johnson was released in 2009, The New York Times reported. Later in life, Johnson said he was diagnosed with type-1 bipolar disorder, according to The Washington Post. Even in 2020, Johnson was still making news for his reprehensible language, posting anti-Semitic comments on Twitter, Insider reported.

Landon Donovan didn't see his exit coming

2010 was a riveting year for United States soccer fans, as the U.S. Men's National Team went to South Africa to compete in that year's World Cup. In their last game of the group stage, the U.S. was tied 0-0 against Algeria for the entire game. As the seconds ticked down in stoppage time, the American side stormed down the field and one of the team's leaders, Landon Donovan, took a deflection off the goal keeper and drilled the game winner in the back of the net, as seen in this FIFA video. Ultimately, the men's team lost to Ghana in the round of 16, Bleacher Report recapped. Donovan scored the U.S. team's only goal on a penalty kick. After the exit from the tournament, fans eagerly awaited to see how the team would perform at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, shocking news surfaced that Donovan would not be playing because coach Juergen Klinsmann cut him from the roster.

"I respect the decision but I just feel in my heart that I deserve to be there and that's the pill that's hardest to swallow," Donovan told the Los Angeles Times. Clearly bitter from the decision, Donovan went on record saying he wouldn't mind seeing the U.S. team underperform without him. "I'll be completely honest, watching them play Azerbaijan, inside, part of me was thinking, I hope the game doesn't go very well today," he admitted to the Los Angeles Times.

Kurt Warner bounced back from disappointment

A young Kurt Warner was hopeful to join the Green Bay Packers as a quarterback. The only problem, he was competing against the legendary Brett Favre. Warner was an undrafted rookie, so he tried to join the team during training camp. Instead, Favre, Mark Brunell, and Ty Detmer landed on the roster, and coach Mike Holmgren kicked Warner to the curb. Holmgren recalled that summer about Warner, "I really didn't know him very well ... Good looking guy. Big, physical guy," he told Sports Illustrated. According to the coach, one time he asked Warner to go in, but the player refused and said he wasn't ready. Holmgren noted the moment and ultimately cut him. Not only could Warner not find another team to play on, but he almost gave up playing football forever. He then went to bag groceries in Cedar Falls, Iowa at a Hy-Vee supermarket. Eventually, he found a home in the Arena Football League for the Iowa Barnstormers.

Continuing his string of bad luck, Warner missed a tryout with the Chicago Bears because he was recovering from a spider bite that he got on his honeymoon, per Sports Illustrated. Warner finally earned his spot in the NFL as the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. The former shelf stocker twice won the league's MVP award and led his team to an incredible Super Bowl XXXIV victory in 2000. In 2017, Warner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Coaches didn't believe in Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas wasn't initially appreciated for his football skills. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Unitas in the ninth round in 1955 to see if he could make it in the NFL. "Most of the time they acted like I wasn't there," Unitas once said about joining the team, via ESPN. He didn't play in any preseason games and, instead of joining the league, the Steelers' coach Walt Kiesling almost ruined his career. He kept Unitas on the team's roster for the entire tryout session before cutting the quarterback prior to the regular season. The timing was terrible because it meant Unitas couldn't play for another team. Even worse, coach Kiesling allegedly decided to cut Unitas earlier in the preseason, per Steeler Nation

Unitas then picked up various jobs to support his wife and kid. He worked in the Pittsburgh steel mills and played semi-professional football with the Bloomfield Rams, earning $6 a game, per ESPN. This caught the attention of the Baltimore Colts, who signed Unitas as a backup quarterback. After the starting QB was injured, Unitas got his chance and made the most of it. "Johnny U" was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 for his incredible 18-year career. "There's no difference I can see in retiring from pro football, or quitting a job at the Pennsy Railroad. I did something I wanted to do and went as far as I could go," Unitas said about his unique career.

Peyton Manning was abandoned by his former team

In the aughts and 2010s, one of the greatest rivalries in sports was between two star NFL quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Both future hall of famers often found themselves in championship games against one another, the NFL recapped. Manning was drafted as the first overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft. With the team, he won the Most Valuable Player award four times and led the Colts to a Super Bowl XLI win in 2007. Injuries caught up with Manning and he required multiple neck surgeries. As a result, he missed the entire 2011 season with the Colts. Instead of welcoming Manning back with open arms, the team released their quarterback of 14 seasons, per ESPN. He left in tears.

Manning showed that he still had all the skills to be an elite athlete when he signed with the Denver Broncos and led the team to win the 2016 Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers. Following the victory, the 40-year-old retired from the NFL, Sportskeeda recapped. Manning was then inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021. Even more special, he accepted the award alongside his teammate, Edgerrin James, who had his ceremony delayed from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. "The fact that it's here in Indianapolis, and the fact that Edgerrin and I get to kind of receive it together makes it really cool," Manning said about the ceremony, via the Colts.

Michael Jordan didn't do well outside of basketball

Even as arguably the greatest player ever in the NBA, Michael Jordan's legendary status didn't help him keep a job. In 1998, he retired from basketball after an illustrious career with the Chicago Bulls. Then in 2000, Jordan joined the Washington Wizards franchise as a part owner and as the president of basketball operations, per The New York Times.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Jordan decided to dust off his sneakers and play again. "There is no better way of teaching young players than to be on the court with them as a fellow player, not just in practice, but in NBA games," Jordan said about his return to the court, via Sports Illustrated. After two seasons as a player again, he decided to retire for good. Though his days on the court were over, he wanted to stay with the Wizards and hop back into his previous management role. "It was well understood that when I finished playing, I would return as president of basketball operations and this was definitely my desire and intention," Jordan said, via The New York Times. The former player added, "Today, without any prior discussion with me, ownership informed me that it had unilaterally decided to change our mutual long-term understanding." Understandably, Jordan was livid at the decision by the franchise's executive team. "I am shocked by this decision, and by the callous refusal to offer me any justification for it," he concluded.

Johnny Manziel's off-field antics led to his downfall

Johnny Manziel didn't exactly fit the stereotypical mold of a star college quarterback. Considered small for his under-six-foot height, Manziel excelled at Texas A&M, Sports Illustrated recapped. In 2012, he became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy — an award given to the most outstanding player in college football. In perhaps his finest performance of the season, Manziel tore up the top ranked Alabama team on route to a victory, as seen in video highlights. After returning to the Aggies as a sophomore, Manziel once again was nominated for the Heisman Trophy. Next up was the NFL for Manziel, who received his chance from the Cleveland Browns. However, he only lasted two seasons because of numerous issues, like when he was charged for assault and struggled to stay sober. Even his dad was worried, calling Manziel a "druggie," per ESPN. The Cleveland Browns dropped the QB, who was then suspended for four games by the NFL. He never played in the league again.

Manziel joined the Fan Controlled Football League in 2021. For his second season with that league, former NFL star Terrell Owens joined him on the Zappers, Reuters reported. The indoor league held in Atlanta blends video games and real life in a 7-on-7 format that allows fans to choose the plays. Prior to his second season, Manziel was spotted in Miami on the beach and at a club with his reported girlfriend, Kenzie Werner, per TMZ.

Rick Pitino's tenure quickly ended

Rick Pitino earned his reputation as one of the best coaches in basketball as the leader of multiple teams. He spent some time in the NBA as a coach for the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, though his biggest successes came in the college game as the head coach for the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Pitino became the first coach ever to win the NCAA championship twice, but with different teams. In 2014, he was enshrined into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Despite a glittery resume, this legendary college basketball coach couldn't avoid controversy. As the head coach for Louisville, a scandal broke out involving his assistant coach, Andre McGee, who threw campus parties for the players from 2010 to 2014 and paid for strippers to attend. Pitino denied any involvement or knowledge of the schemes by McGee. However, one of the escorts who was allegedly hired, Katina Powell, came forward with her side of the story, ESPN reported. Though she had no evidence, Powell told ESPN that she found it hard to believe that Pitino had no idea about the parties over four years, via ABC. Pitino emerged unscathed, but a few years later, allegations surfaced that Louisville illegally paid recruits to come play for the basketball team. The university promptly parted ways with its longtime coach. "Looking back on it now, I deserved to be fired by Louisville," Pitino told WFAN Radio, via ESPN.

Pete Rose hurt his legacy

One of the fiercest batters ever in the MLB, Pete Rose earned his title as the hit king during his impressive career. In 1985, he landed his 4,192nd career hit, surpassing the previous MLB mark held by Ty Cobb. Rose later retired with 4,256 total hits, still the most ever as of 2022, per Statista. Clearly, Rose would have entered the Hall of Fame, however, he was involved in a scandal that may have forever jeopardized his chances. After retiring, he became the manager for his former team, the Cincinnati Reds. At the time, Rose was a well-known gambler and he allegedly bet on baseball games. A. Bartlett Giamatti, the MLB commissioner at the time, launched an investigation into the matter. Rose initially denied the allegations, though he accepted Giamatti's settlement, which included a lifetime ban from the MLB. More than preventing Rose from having a job with the league, the ban also meant he could never be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Years later, he confessed to betting, but explained it was only ever for his own Reds team to win, History recapped.

Though Rose was officially left out of the league, he at least stayed close to the game as a postseason reporter for Fox Sports. Unfortunately, Rose couldn't even keep this job. After reports surfaced that he was involved in a sexual relationship with an underage girl back in the '70s, Fox Sports fired the former player, per The Hollywood Reporter.