They may be admired by millions in many cases, but sports stars aren’t always the brightest people. Many of them achieve great things on the field but mess up badly in real life. All it takes is one terrible decision and they’ve changed their lives forever. It could be drinking and driving or taking steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. These are situations that they could have avoided.
Let’s look at 25 incidents where athletes changed their lives with one dumb choice. From Henry Ruggs’ DUI to Tiger Woods’ decision to cheat on his supermodel wife, there are wild stories on this list. Some are strange and hilarious but others are tragic. Check it out below via Bleacher Report.
25. T.J. Dillashaw
Dillashaw was on course to be the greatest bantamweight fighter in UFC history. The UFC champion fought and defeated the best-of-the-best in an entertaining style. Then, he made the stupid decision to fight Henry Cejudo by dropping down a weight class and taking on his rival at flyweight. However, Dillashaw couldn’t handle the cut and took EPO to increase his chances.
Then he failed a drug test and changed the course of his career. USADA suspended him for two years after he violated their anti-doping policy. It also changed fan perception of the fighter because many of them believed his entire career was in question. Furthermore, his former teammate and rival, Cody Garbrandt, claimed that Dillashaw always cheated (via The Athletic). But this was the first time he had been caught.
Lochte’s lies were responsible for one of the most cringe-worthy episodes in Olympic history. He was a key member of the U.S. swim team at the Rio Olympics. He claimed that gangsters robbed him and his teammates at gunpoint outside of a Brazilian gas station (via USA Today). But then the truth emerged and it wasn’t flattering to Lochte and his colleagues. It changed the public’s perception of him.
Police arrested the men after they urinated outside of the gas station’s toilet and vandalized the place. They all lost major endorsements because of their actions. Furthermore, they paid $10,000 for charity donations to get their passports back from the officers. It all went downhill for Lochte after that point after USADA suspended him for illegal use of an I.V.
Rice is unfortunately one of the most disgusting humans on this list. Many of the athletes here made idiotic mistakes but they weren’t quintessentially bad people. However, Rice changed his life for the worse because of his foul actions. He infamously punched his girlfriend unconscious before dragging her body out of an elevator. But Rice didn’t realize cameras were recording his every move (via Baltimore Sun).
Next, there was a shambolic NFL investigation. Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that he didn’t see the videos and only handed him a two-game suspension. However, the Ravens released him and he never played football again. No team wanted to touch him after his disgusting behavior. Rice tried to sue for wrongful dismissal and eventually settled with the Ravens.
McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowler and a consistent presence for the Eagles. But the quarterback never won a Super Bowl for his franchise. After his retirement, he left fans divided about his abilities. He also made some questionable choices that changed his post-football life forever. McNabb became an analyst and broadcaster with FOX Sports. Everything was going well until he committed a DUI.
FOX fired him after he received a 90-day jail sentence, with the majority to be served at home. It was a major blow to his budding career on network television. ESPN gave him a second chance but they fired him too after a sexual harassment scandal (via Philadelphia Inquirer). McNabb was his own worst enemy on and off the field. But the TV networks were correct to fire him both times.
It’s possible that Evra just stopped caring toward the end of his career. After a phenomenal career with Manchester United and Juventus, the Frenchman moved to Marseille. He didn’t stay in his native country for long after he karate-kicked a fan. The team was warming up before the game when a Marseille fan continuously annoyed Evra. Finally, the fullback snapped and kicked him in the head.
It was a dynamic feat of athleticism but it was also an assault. UEFA and Marseille suspended him from action before the latter tore up his contract (via The Guardian). That wasn’t the end of his time in soccer because he made a handful of appearances for West Ham before hanging up his boots. However, it was an unfortunate end to a glittering career. In the end, a moment of madness changed his life.
Rose is one of the greatest players in MLB history but he’ll possibly never make the Hall of Fame. That is, unless Cooperstown makes a dramatic U-turn and changes their mind about his status. Rose was a phenom for the Cincinnati Reds and also enjoyed a reasonable spell as their head coach. But his reputation and status in the sport changed forever after his gambling scandal.
MLB has a zero-tolerance stance toward gambling and punished Rose for betting on his team. Rose claimed that he never bet against his team and appealed the decision but MLB refused to budge. He earned a permanent ban from baseball and the Hall of Fame. It didn’t stop Rose from being a vocal presence in the baseball world. He even started his podcast about gambling picks in 2021 (via Yahoo Sports).
Paralympic athletes usually don’t break into mainstream culture but Pistorius was an exception. The South African track athlete was a force of nature as he scooped up gold medals. However, he stunned the world when the news broke that he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He claimed that he thought there was an intruder in the bathroom and he accidentally killed her.
It looked like he escaped without a murder charge but the South African Supreme Court overturned the original verdict and sent him down (via CNN). Things became even worse when they extended his jail term to 15 years. However, this still didn’t bring back Steenkamp. Her family lost her forever and it was all because of Pistorius’s moment of barbarism. He changed his life and so many other people’s.
Drug scandals are rare in soccer so when they do happen they receive a lot of attention. Mutu found this out the hard way when he played for Chelsea. The Romanian striker was also a party animal. He should have stuck to Bud Light but instead, he went straight for the hard stuff. No, we don’t mean vodka or tequila. Mutu enjoyed a dab of cocaine and this changed the course of his life.
He failed a drug test and Chelsea fired him. Mutu moved to Italy where he starred for Fiorentina. But then Chelsea sued him for almost $17 million (via Daily Star). It was a staggering amount of money and a clear message to other players. Later, in 2010, he failed a test for PEDs and faced another suspension. Mutu never learned his lesson but he didn’t escape without punishment.
Burress was an exciting and dynamic receiver for the Giants and the Steelers in the 2000s. He was a skilled athlete and even caught the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots. But that’s not what most people remember him for now. Unfortunately, Burress sealed his status as the butt of many jokes after he shot himself.
For some reason, he carried a loaded gun in his pocket while driving to a nightclub. The weapon slipped and went off, leaving him in agony. But there was worse to come. He had committed multiple felonies in the process of shooting himself. In the end, he served 20 months in prison before his early release (via Sportscasting). The New York Jets signed him but the gunshot changed him as a player.
Most people reading this won’t know Diaby-Fadiga. But the soccer player didn’t help himself. He rose to international infamy after stealing his teammate’s watch in the locker room. Diaby-Fadiga was 18 at the time so it’s safe to say that he was young and stupid. He stole from Kasper Dolberg, one of Nice’s biggest stars. Later, Diaby-Fadiga claimed that he was jealous of his teammate.
Nice released the idiotic player but Dolberg didn’t press charge. It was a terrible moment of madness because it changed the course of Diaby-Fadiga’s career. He was playing for a legitimate Ligue 1 team before he stained his reputation (via Sky Sports). The French athlete found himself playing in the second division after signing for Paris F.C. It was a waste of talent because he should have been developing with a bigger club.
Monzon was one of the greatest middleweight boxers ever. A superstar in his native Argentina, he captured the imaginations of his countrymen. But he was also an immensely flawed human. He confessed to hitting all of his girlfriends and had numerous complicated relationships. However, the most infamous occurred when he pushed his wife off a balcony.
The boxer claimed that it was an accident but the judge didn’t see it that way. This moment changed his life and he spent the rest of his life in prison until he died while on furlough (via L.A. Times). It was tragic because Monzon was a very talented boxer. He endured a tough childhood and fought at least 100 professional bouts. Furthermore, one of his wives even shot him in the leg.
It could have been much worse for Newton. He faced 20 years in prison for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Later, Newton revealed that he stood to make $78,000 per deal and that his competitive nature led him to the industry (via Chicago Tribune). In the end, he served just two-and-a-half years. Law enforcement pulled the former Cowboys star over in Louisiana and discovered over 200 lbs. of marijuana in the back.
They arrested the three-time Super Bowl champion and he went through a well-publicized trial. However, he claims that the incident changed his life for the better because he cleaned up his act. After his release, Newton expressed his remorse and became a public speaker. These days he speaks to children about his time as an NFL star and warns people to stay away from drugs.
Henry played for six years in the NFL. The running back didn’t have the most exceptional career in the world but had a single Pro Bowl appearance. After three seasons with the Bills, he went to Tennessee before finishing up with the Broncos. He received a suspension for violating the NFL drug policy but law enforcement ended his football career. Henry’s life changed after a drug-trafficking conviction.
The DEA picked him up for his role in a cocaine-trafficking ring. Henry financed the criminal enterprise as they moved the drug between Colorado and Montana (via ESPN). He received a three-year jail term for his actions and never played football again. The judge also advised him to participate in a 500-hour drug rehab program to lose a year of his sentence.
NASCAR carries a certain image that it struggles to shake off. Larson didn’t help matters in 2020 when he made a racist remark during an online race. His moment of stupidity changed the course of his career. His team fired him immediately because they couldn’t condone his language. The former Daytona winner was competing in iRacing when he dropped the slur.
NASCAR suspended him and his team GCR dropped him (via NBC Sports). It didn’t end his racing because he joined Hendrick Motorsport and went back to work. However, he tarnished his image with his choice of words. He also won multiple races in 2021 as he worked to rehabilitate his name. That’s easier said than done because Nascar is in an uncomfortable place.
The Wizards had one of the fieriest locker rooms in the NBA during the early 2000s. A lot of that was down to the dynamic between Arenas and Javaris Crittenton. Gambling is a popular pastime when basketball players travel. But sometimes it ends badly. Crittenton lost money in a card game to Javale McGee. Then, it erupted into a feud between Crittenton and Arenas. The latter threatened to burn him in his car and to bring the guns to shoot him.
Arenas did exactly that and brought a handgun to their locker room. It was unloaded but he didn’t count on Crittenton having his firearms with him (via CBS Sports). The pair had a Mexican standoff before the situation cooled down. However, the police and the NBA became involved. Arenas lost a year of his career after a suspension and spent time on probation. It also ended his Wizards career.
Jones was America’s darling before the Balco Scandal. She won three Olympic gold medals as well as a bunch of other accolades before she emerged as a cheat. If she didn’t take steroids she probably wouldn’t have won her titles. But she also wouldn’t be one of the sport’s most infamous individuals.
Jones went downhill after this shocking travesty. She had a short-lived WNBA career before retiring from basketball. Meanwhile, she faced financial woes and committed fraud. In the end, she served six months in prison because of her crimes (via Sportscasting). It was a shocking turn of affairs because she was one of the most spectacular athletes in the U.S. But her cheating changed her life.
Atkinson was a successful soccer manager with Manchester United and Aston Villa. After he left his coaching career behind, ‘Big Ron’ became a popular figure on TV. The Liverpool native told it as he saw it so fans enjoyed his commentary and analysis. But it all changed forever after he made an ill-fated racist comment about Chelsea star Marcel Desailly (via The Guardian).
He believed that the microphones were off but this wasn’t the case. They picked up his appalling language and ended his mainstream TV career. No network wanted to work with him because he was damaged goods. Atkinson also referred to Chinese women as their nation’s best contraceptive because they’re so ugly. In sum, he isn’t the most eloquent individual in the world.
Jones is one of the greatest UFC fighters ever but he invites controversy upon himself everywhere he goes. Sometimes he makes terrible decisions that impact his career as well as his life in general. One of the worst came when he chose to drink and drive. He was the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion and a growing star. But then he became a figure of infamy after he was involved in a hit-and-run.
The drunken athlete drove his vehicle into another car. To make matters worse, the driver was a pregnant woman (via N.Y. Post). Then, ‘Bones’ fled the scene in a cowardly fashion only to return and grab his cash and drug paraphernalia from the wrecked rental car. It was an appalling moment of judgment because it was so cowardly. People held this against him more than the actual DUI and crash offenses. Instead of checking on his victim, Jones tried to disappear.
Never has an athlete’s image changed as dramatically as Woods’. The most famous golfer on the planet was a clean-cut superstar. He enjoyed amazing success on the course as he won major after major. Meanwhile, he was also the face of brands like Nivea and Gilette. But it all came to a crashing halt when his cheating scandal emerged. After crashing his car outside of his home, his life hit a downward spiral.
Dozens of women, including porn stars, revealed that they had affairs with the megastar (via People). Then, his supermodel wife left him to cement his humiliation. Woods’ golf game went downhill and he entered rehab. He also suffered rotten luck with injuries over the next few years. It’s safe to say that this moment changed the course of his life forever. Woods rebounded in 2019 with a phenomenal Masters win.
Voynov’s NHL tenure ended dramatically after one of the most moronic decisions ever. He ruined his career and his family’s life in the United States because he couldn’t control his temper. The former L.A. Kings star joined the franchise in 2008. But he departed underneath a cloud seven years later after a horrendous domestic assault. Police charged him with the infraction after he slammed his wife into a flatscreen TV (via L.A. Times).
He also allegedly beat her and choked her. Police arrested him and hauled him before an ICE panel. In the end, Voynov decided to leave the U.S instead of going through a deportation trial. The Kings released him because it was difficult for Voynov to play games for them from Moscow. His cowardly actions changed his life and his family’s forever.
Orr was a tight end for the Washington Redskins throughout the 1980s. He won a pair of Super Bowl rings during his time with the franchise. After his retirement, Orr went off the radar. But he rose to public attention again after a series of investments went badly wrong. A judge sentenced Orr to 18 months in jail because he scammed multiple people including three of his former teammates.
He operated a shoe company called Questar Holdings but entered financial difficulties. Orr diverted money from an Atlanta businessman as well as multiple $50,000 investments from former players into his mortgage (via AP News). It was an appalling decision that ended badly for the retired NFL star. The business changed his life forever but not in a good way. His reputation was in tatters.
Reid isn’t necessarily a sports star in his own right but he was a valued member of his father Andy’s coaching staff. The Super Bowl-winning coach was on course to enjoy a successful career on the touchline. But then he changed the course of his life with one stupid decision. To rub salt into the Chiefs’ wounds, it came just a week before the Super Bowl against Tampa Bay.
The coach was driving at 82 mph in a 65 mph zone when he crashed into two vehicles (via KSN). However, the most horrific part was that Reid left a five-year-old girl with life-changing injuries. She suffered brain damage and will never fully recover. Reid was drinking and using Adderall at the time so it was entirely his fault. It’s a tragedy because a little girl’s future disappeared in a split second.
This wasn’t a split-second decision but it was an appalling one. Vick was one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and a superstar for the Atlanta Falcons. However, he left his franchise high-and-dry when he started a dog-fighting syndicate. A federal investigation uncovered the dastardly scheme and arrested Vick. The details were sickening and Vick went to jail for almost two years.
This changed the public’s perception of the four-time Pro Bowler. Before this, fans across the NFL held him in high regard because he revolutionized the quarterback position (via Bleacher Report). After he left prison, the Eagles handed him a contract. There was a mixed response because some people thought that he should never play in the public eye again. Others thought that he had served his punishment and it was time to move on.
McCormick isn’t the most famous professional athlete on this list but he has a haunting story. The goalkeeper made a horrific mistake that changed his life as well as multiple families’. The Plymouth star went to a wedding where he drank all night with just two hours of sleep. Then, he decided to drive home despite his horrible condition. His friends begged him to take a taxi but he laughed them off.
He smashed into another vehicle on the motorway at 100mph (via Plymouth Herald). McCormick killed two young brothers (aged seven and 10) and left their father with spinal injuries. Police rushed to the scene and arrested the soccer star. Finally, he served four years in jail before his early release. It wasn’t the end of his soccer career because he returned to the sport. But opposition fans continued to verbally abuse him for as long as he played.
Ruggs had the world at his feet. The Raiders star was enjoying a breakout season in his sophomore year when he changed his life forever. After emerging as one of the most important cogs in the Las Vegas offense, Ruggs ruined everything after he chose to drink and drive. Police arrested him after he smashed into another vehicle and killed the 23-year-old female driver (via The Guardian).
The wideout was driving at 156 mph before he rammed his Corvette into the back of her car. Meanwhile, his blood alcohol was twice the Nevada legal limit. Police revealed that Ruggs also had a loaded firearm in the vehicle. He faced a jail term of up to 26 years and the Raiders immediately released him. It was a horrifying waste of life both in terms of the woman who died and the young man who wasted his talent.