Messi is arguably the greatest soccer player of his generation. The diminutive forward represented Barcelona for most of his career before a shock move to PSG in 2021. His skills are sublime and his goalscoring record speaks for itself. Meanwhile, he has a squeaky-clean reputation as a family man. In many ways, he’s the opposite of his rival Cristiano Ronaldo. But like all megastars, Messi has a dark side (via Bleacher Report).
Throughout his Barcelona career, he wanted his teammates to know he was the top dog. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o left because of Messi’s dominance. Meanwhile, Neymar also quit because he knew Messi was the top dog. The Argentinian star knew his power at the club. He even used it to bring down Barcelona’s board of directors. Nobody messes with Messi.
The recently retired Brees was a top NFL quarterback. He started his NFL career in San Diego. But he became an icon in New Orleans. He secured legend status with a Super Bowl win and broke a host of NFL records. Many people talk about Brees’s charity work in the Big Easy after Hurricane Katrina. He carefully maintained a squeaky-clean image but not everything was positive.
Some of his business dealings are shady, to say the least. He was involved in a couple of eyebrow-raising gentrification projects in New Orleans. One involved a three-story yoga studio (via Nola.com) that resulted in public outcry. Meanwhile, he became the face of AdvoCare. After an investigation, FDA ruled it to be a pyramid scheme (via The Athletic). Brees was a great player and his heart appears to be in the right place. But his work off the field is a mixed bag.
“The Great One” is an NHL and Canadian legend. His skill on the ice was mesmerizing as he broke record after record. Furthermore, he combined his hockey prowess with a squeaky-clean image to maintain a spotless personal brand. Gretzky helped bring the sport into the mainstream in California. He also won multiple awards for his sportsmanship. It seems like he was the perfect athlete but he also carried a dark story.
Operation Slapshot was an investigation into an illegal gambling ring in the United States. New Jersey troopers investigated Gretzky’s wife Janet Jones as part of the string (via Bleacher Report). Meanwhile, Coyotes’ coach Rick Tocchet pled guilty to conspiracy. Gretzky’s wife dragged his name into the mud. This made his life uncomfortable for a period. It just goes to show that even the biggest stars face major troubles.
Son is an icon in his home country of South Korea. He became one of the most exciting attacking players in the Premier League. The forward won plaudits for his skill, graft, and positive attitude. His energy and trademark grin made him a likable figure. Meanwhile, he refuses to even date women. This is because he wants to maintain a squeaky-clean image. He is devoted only to soccer.
However, Son has a dark side. The Korean sometimes loses control and lashes out at his opponents. In 2019, he showed a lot of petulance as he broke Andre Gomes’s leg. He also kicked Antonio Rudiger in the chest. In another, he elbowed Jefferson Lerma. Many managers protest that their star isn’t “that type of player.” But Son proved that he can be when things don’t go his way (via Fansided).
Cormier is a self-described company man. He also considered himself the antithesis of Jon Jones. The pair loathed each other but Jones always had the edge when they fought. However, Cormier became a two-weight champion before Jones to further stoke their rivalry. Jones was always a problematic individual. On the other hand, D.C. coached children’s wrestling and appeared to be squeaky-clean.
However, Cormier wasn’t afraid to break the rules when it suited him. A clear example came during a weigh-in at UFC 210 when he pressed his body weight on the towel in front of him. This cheating enabled him to make weight for his bout (via MMA Fighting). Another moment occurred in 2021 when he urged fighters to pick title fights over big money bouts. Instantly, critics accused him of being a UFC shill because he works for the company.
The entire Manning dynasty is as clean-cut as could be. Peyton represents his family perfectly. The former Colts quarterback was a Super Bowl winner and avoided scandal throughout his NFL career. He espoused Christian values and was always smiling face in front of the media. But there was one dark episode in his past that rose to light again in 2016. A lawsuit cited his name in connection to Title IX violations at the University of Tennessee.
In 2009, a trainer named Dr. Jamie Nauthright accused Manning of placing his bare genitals on her face during a physical examination (via N.Y. Daily News). However, Manning denied this and claimed he was mooning a teammate. In the end, Nauthright successfully sued Manning for defamation. But the school released her after 10 years of service. Meanwhile, a court placed a gag order on both parties.
Ronaldo is one of soccer’s most marketable athletes. The Portuguese superstar has won almost everything possible in his sport. His incredible success also led to mesmerizing wealth. He became the face of major brands like Nike and Unilever. He created a clean-cut image that emphasized his hard work. However, Ronaldo has some dark stories he would prefer the media to forget.
First, a Spanish court sentenced him to two years in prison. This came after he avoided paying almost $20 million in tax. They suspended the punishment but hit him with a massive fine. Then there was a rape case after a woman accused him of assaulting her in 2009. It became a civil case after a Las Vegas judge ruled that the evidence wasn’t clear enough to charge him (via CNN).
Bryant became one of the faces of the NBA after his rise to glory with the Lakers. After Shaquille O’Neal departed for Miami, Bryant took over Los Angeles. Fans remembered him with heavy hearts after his tragic death in 2020. Amazingly, he carried a squeaky-clean image into retirement. That’s because of a shocking moment in his history. His rape case was notorious but he rebounded successfully.
A 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of raping her in a hotel room in 2004. The case went to court and attracted a lot of media attention (via ABC). In the end, Bryant apologized for his actions. But he admitted to having relations with the woman. Finally, she refused to testify and settled in a civil court. Bryant’s critics considered seeing him as a rapist but it didn’t hold him back.
Brady is the most successful NFL star ever. The seven-time Super Bowl winner is an American icon. Somehow he balances his sports career alongside a squeaky-clean image. Brady doesn’t even appear in many endorsements because it doesn’t interest him. Some people even think he has a boring personality. But Brady has a darker side than some fans expect. Overall, he will do anything to win.
The former Patriots quarterback played a central role in the DeflateGate scandal. As a result, Commissioner Rob Manfred threw the book at him. Of course, Brady made a mockery of this by bouncing back and winning the MVP award. Meanwhile, he isn’t afraid to make power plays. Bill Belichick discovered this the hard way. Brady insisted on bringing his alternative medicine guru on team flights (via Boston Magazine).
James is one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. The NBA’s biggest star maintains a squeaky-clean image. But sometimes even his dark side breaks through. A clear example occurred in 2021 when his Lakers played the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were ahead before James elbowed Isaiah Smith in the face. Smith reacted furiously with blood dripping down his face. Furthermore, replays revealed James knew what he was doing.
However, the NBA hit their cash cow with just a one-game suspension for the hit. Meanwhile, they suspended Smith for two games because of his reaction. James escaped lightly because he was almost the instigator of a brawl. Nobody disagreed with Smith’s ban. But many people felt like James should have received the same. In the end, the “King” received special treatment (via CBS Sports).