Owen was one of the top young strikers in Europe during his time with Liverpool. He famously scored a mesmerizing goal against Argentina when he was 18. Then he moved to Real Madrid but it didn’t work out (via Sky Sports).
Liverpool adores its sporting heroes and fans hoped that he would return. But there was outrage when he joined their fierce rivals, Manchester United. This cost him his relationship with the club because fans no longer respected him.
It’s scandalous that they thought that they could get away with this. Spain competed in basketball at the 2000 Paralympics. They claimed that their team members had intellectual disabilities. But a whistleblower revealed the truth.
None of their players had any disabilities at all. The Spanish federation wanted their team to receive more sponsorships so they lied to the world. It became a massive scandal because this was a disgraceful thing to do (via InsideTheGames).
Baffert is one of the most successful trainers in American horse racing. His horse, Medina Spirit, won the Kentucky Derby in 2022 but then a controversy emerged. The horse tested positive for a banned substance and they received suspensions.
It wasn’t the first time that this happened to one of his animals either. Baffert began life as one of racing’s heroes but now he’s one of the biggest villains in the industry. He doesn’t seem to care what happens to his horses as long as he wins (via FOX News).
Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He entered America’s pantheon of sporting heroes when he won his first Super Bowl as a sixth-round selection.
But Brady discovered that success creates resentment. The Patriots and their QB incited this with several cheating incidents and by just being too good. They also had some freakish results like their Super Bowl win over the Falcons in 2017 (via Toronto Sun).
Beckham appeared to be a perfect fit for the Giants. He brought clear box office appeal with his skill and personality. This was ideal for one of the nation’s biggest and most lucrative franchises. But it all went downhill.
He was one of his team’s heroes but his attitude and diminishing returns turned fans against him. Eventually, he left for the Browns before moving to the Rams and winning a Super Bowl ring (via CBS Sports).
Liverpool loves their heroes but Suarez is one of the most polarizing in their recent history. He’s arguably their most talented player ever but opposing fans hated him. That’s because of multiple incidents of biting and even racism.
Suarez possessed an incredible technical ability and was very tenacious on the field. However, an incident of racial abuse involving Patrice Evra turned many neutrals against him. Many of them never looked at him the same way (via Sporting News).
Bryant was one of the greatest players of his generation. But he’s also a polarizing figure because of his sexual assault case. Eventually, he settled out of court but admitted regret for the situation. This turned many women away.
Sporting heroes shouldn’t treat people in an abusive way and it’s clear that Bryant crossed a line. It’s remarkable that he rehabilitated his image and retained his popularity. Nonetheless, he had a dark side that many people remember (via ABC).
We’ve mostly avoided putting teams on this list but it’s difficult to single out an individual here. The Astros won the World Series in 2017 and became heroes. But they brought their city into disrepute with a major sign-stealing scandal.
They cheated regularly through the year on their way to glory. In the end, MLB sanctioned their coach and G.M. but the players escaped without penalties. This was a shambles because the athletes led the cheating, not the coaches (via NPR).
Who better to include from baseball’s infamous Steroid Era than Bonds because he broke the home run record? When the dust settled, he was no longer one of baseball’s biggest heroes.
The Steroid Era is complex because it was one of the most exciting times in the sport. But the level of cheating was ludicrous. Meanwhile, Bonds may never make the Hall of Fame because everyone knows he took PEDs (via The Ringer).
Women and young girls want sporting heroes that they can relate to. It appeared that Jones was perfect because she won gold against the odds in the Olympics in 2000. But she became a key part of the BALCO scandal and lost her medals.
It was a shambles because she lied to a court in the process. In hindsight, fans shouldn’t have felt surprised because she resembled the She-Hulk on the track. Sadly, athletes continue to cheat because of the financial gains (via N.Y. Times).
Few people injected fear into the hearts of their opponents like “Iron Mike.” The heavyweight champion knocked out everybody that stood in his way before a shock loss to Buster Douglas. He became one of America’s sporting heroes.
Then, Tyson went to jail after a court found him guilty of rape. It’s impossible to support a convicted rapist so he lost many fans immediately. However, he returned to boxing after his release from prison and rehabilitated his image (via Chicago Tribune).
Many people believed that Neymar was a future world player of the year after his success for Brazil. The country has many soccer heroes and he became one of them. However, he lost the respect of everybody else when he joined PSG (via GiveMeSport).
It appeared as though he gave up on his legacy and wanted to make as much money as possible. Meanwhile, Neymar enjoyed partying and socializing more than playing soccer. It’s a shame because so much talent went to waste.
Vick redefined the quarterback role during his time with the Falcons. It appeared as though he was a future Hall of Famer. But then he served two years in jail after a federal investigation into a dogfighting ring. Vick was the ringleader.
It rocked the NFL because it was such a horrible crime. Furthermore, the details disgusted animal lovers across the world. Vick joined the Eagles after he left prison and still had some productive seasons. But he was never at the same level (via MARCA).
In recent years, Saudi Arabia made a massive push to host sports events. That’s because it wants to sports wash its image and change how people perceive the country. One of these events is their breakaway golf league (via The Guardian).
Several high-profile players attended including Norman who defended his participation. It would be reasonable if he admitted that the money was too good to turn down. But then he downplayed their killing of journalists and tarnished his own image.
Woods enjoyed phenomenal success in the 2000s before his sordid sex scandal. The golfer was one of the most clean-cut sports heroes but it instantly changed. After a drunken crash, dozens of women accused him of extramarital affairs.
This ruined Woods’ marriage and his career. He entered rehab and had several years in the wilderness because of injury. There was a time when he was clearly on track to be the greatest ever (via People).
The UFC doesn’t have many heroes in the clearest definition of the term. But Jones began his career in style as he became the youngest champion ever. It was an incredible achievement and he became a superstar.
But Jones is a disaster of a human being and this cost him dearly. His most notorious incident saw him crash into a pregnant woman’s vehicle. This hit-and-run incident caused the UFC to strip him of the title, and he is battling his demons to this day (via N.Y. Post).
Harding was once America’s golden girl. The figure skater became the first U.S. woman to pull off the triple-axle in competition. Meanwhile, her background made her a relatable figure to many people across the nation.
But one fateful moment ruined her career and changed the direction of her life. Her ex-husband hired a thug to attack her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. She descended into darkness and endured further legal problems (via Screenrant).
Rice became a villain in an instant. Video footage captured the Ravens star as he dragged his unconscious fiancee out of an elevator. It was horrendous and a high-profile domestic assault case began (via CNN).
Eventually, the NFL cleared him to play football again but he was damaged goods. Nobody wanted to associate with him because of his stained reputation. The fan backlash would be massive because fans hate abusers.
There was a time when Armstrong was one of the most inspirational sporting heroes on the planet. He won seven consecutive Tour De France titles at the turn of the century. Armstrong catapulted cycling into the spotlight. He also survived a bout with cancer.
But Armstrong ruined everything when news of his doping emerged. This occurred on a grand scale and World Cycling scrubbed his biggest wins from the record books. Meanwhile, Armstrong lost millions of dollars in endorsements (via Reuters).
Larson is one of NASCAR’s top drivers but also a controversial figure because of an odd incident. He was participating in an online racing game when he dropped a racial slur. Larson didn’t realize that his microphone was live.
He apologized for his words but the damage was done. First, his racing team fired him, and then NASCAR suspended him. However, he received a second chance and continues to perform well. But it was a bad look for the sport (via NBC).
Davis is a brilliant boxer, but he’s also a thug. The Baltimore native burst onto the scene as Floyd Mayweather’s protege. However, he tarnished his image with multiple legal issues. First, there was a public display of domestic violence (via TMZ).
Then his Lamborghini was involved in a hit and run in 2021. Meanwhile, “Tank” had several street fights and can’t stay out of trouble. Some sports stars are heroes but Davis simply isn’t a good role model.
One of France’s greatest-ever players, Zidane was a true superstar. He decided that the World Cup in 2006 would be his final tournament. They made it to the Final against Italy but it ended in tears for Zizou. This was a notorious moment.
He head-butted Marco Materazzi after the Italian insulted his sister. This moment cost his team dearly. Italy had an inferior squad but dragged France to the penalty shootout. Then they won the game as Zidane sat and watched (via NZHerald).
Watson was one of the few good things that the Texans had going for them. The quarterback was a star but things came to a head in 2021 when he demanded to leave. Then a sexual harassment scandal rocked the NFL.
22 masseuses accused of him touching them inappropriately. They also claimed that he forced them to perform sex acts on him. This didn’t stop the Browns from signing him but he is no longer one of the NFL’s heroes (via CNN).
Durant became one of the Thunders’ heroes after leading them to the NBA Finals. They hoped that he’d lead them to glory the following season against the Warriors. But then he crushed everybody’s dreams when he joined their conquerors (via The Ringer).
This was a bitter pill for fans to swallow because he joined the team that beat them. In the end, Durant won a pair of rings so he made the right decision for his career. But he also became one of the most hated players in basketball.
Terry captained Chelsea and the England national team. He was also one of the best defenders of his generation. But then the news broke that he had an affair with a teammate’s girlfriend. It was humiliating for everybody involved.
Things became worse for Terry after a racism scandal. He was unable to play for his country again because of the image. It was shameful but showed the type of person that Terry is (via Sky Sports).
Ruggs is one of the biggest wastes of talent in NFL history. The wide receiver had a tough rookie season but started to show his real potential in his second year. He established rapport with Derek Carr and became one of the team’s heroes.
Sadly, his downfall occurred in the blink of an eye after a fatal car crash. Ruggs drank too much and drove his vehicle into another car. He killed the driver instantly and ruined his own life in the process (via AL.com).
James was once one of Cleveland’s biggest heroes. But he rocked the NBA when he announced “The Decision.” Fans hoped that he’d bring an elusive first championship. Instead, he abandoned them for the Miami Heat and broke their hearts.
He won two rings with the Heat before he returned to the Cavaliers. But those titles had a hollow feel because he didn’t have the same connection to the team. Later, he helped Cleveland win a championship and redeemed his image (via SB Nation).
McGregor was arguably the UFC’s first mainstream superstar. The Irishman was a two-weight champion and had incredible charisma. But he went from hero to villain with his antics outside of the cage when punched an old man in a bar (via Daily Mail).
Meanwhile, he became involved in multiple unsavory legal issues. These included sexual assault allegations and multiple speeding offenses. A woman also accused him of impregnating her at a party in Liverpool.
Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski struck fear into the hearts of opposition teams. The Patriots duo were two of the best tight ends in the sport. However, Hernandez never achieved his full potential because he was a murderer.
On paper, Hernandez was a phenomenal athlete, who combined wideout speed with tight end strength. However, his struggles evolved into something much more toxic. He should have been one of the Pats’ biggest heroes (via Fansided).