Athletes Who Went From Beloved To America’s Most Hated Overnight
For their undeniable talent and charisma, athletes are some of our most adored public figures. But when they fall short of expectations by breaking laws, doing steroids, and otherwise acting out of character they can quickly go from beloved to hated – just as these 14 have.
Credit: Hugh Dillon/WENN
At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, track star Marion Jones brought home a record-breaking five medals, making her the fastest woman in the world. But all of that came into question in 2007 when she admitted to federal investigators that she had previously taken steroids. For the offense, Jones was stripped of her medals and records, banned from attending the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and sentenced to six months in prison (she had also been found guilty of check fraud).
During his seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James was regarded as a hometown hero. But upon becoming a free agent in 2010 and making the controversial decision to join the Miami Heat, many people changed their minds about the Akron, Ohio native. Not only did they view the change-up as a betrayal, they also began renouncing him for his arrogance and piss-poor attitude.
For over two decades, Lance Armstrong was the face of American cycling – and of American excellence in athletics in general. He won major competitions, obtained big name sponsors, beat stage 3 testicular cancer, and revolutionized the sport. But after years of doping allegations and increasingly more hostile and evasive responses, Armstrong finally came clean and admitted to using performance enhancing drugs at certain points in his career. He was then stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, banned from cycling for life, and abandoned by each and every one of his many sponsors – losing a reported $75 million in one day.
In 1973, OJ Simpson was named NFL Player of the Year for his record-breaking 2,000-yard rush, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame twelve years later. But despite his impressive athletic accomplishments, his reputation took a nosedive when he was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend in 1994 – and it never recovered. Though he was acquitted of all criminal charges, he never seemed able to shake the negativity that had plagued him throughout the trial, and remains one of the “most hated” celebrities in America.
Michael Vick went from adored to despised after police investigations revealed his participation in illegal dog fighting activities. For the crime, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison, suspended from the NFL, and stripped of his many lucrative endorsement deals. With no pro-football salary and no sponsorship checks, Vick’s worsening financial situation was magnified, forcing him to declare bankruptcy.
In February 2013, track and field star Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria, South Africa home. The unfortunate news came just six months after his awe inspiring Olympic performance, during which he became the first double-leg amputee to ever compete in the games.
Everyone knows that golf would not be what it is today without Tiger Woods. Still, in 2009 when all the scandalous details of his multiple infidelities came to light, many of Tiger’s fans were quick to turn on him. He then lost sponsors, money, his wife and the purity of his reputation.
But though he may never again regain his sparkling clean image, he has been able to turn things around… somewhat, winning The Players Championship earlier this year and announcing his romantic involvement with pro-skier Lindsey Vonn.
Pre-1994, Tonya Harding was a highly respected figure skating champion with a number of big wins under her belt. But after being implicated in the infamous knee-capping of her competitor Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s status as admired athlete was no more. She was banned from skating events and shunned from the sport, as few skaters and promoters wanted to work with her.
Her reputation continued spiraling downward after the release of her sex tape and subsequent foray into professional boxing.
For nearly two decades, Jose Canseco reigned as one of the best baseball players on the field. So in 2005 when he not only admitted to using steroids, but also outed a number of other high-profile baseball stars like Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi, more than a few people were upset. His descent was then hastened in 2008 when his financial struggles were revealed and he was arrested for attempting to smuggle fertility drugs (for himself) into the US from Mexico.
Despite a history of somewhat erratic behavior, Darryl Strawberry was adored by his many fans. Between 1984 and 1991 alone, he hit a record number of home runs, leading his teams to championship victories time and time again. He fell from grace around 1995 when he tested positive for coke and was suspended from the MLB for 60 days. From there, his personal struggles only intensified. He was arrested multiple times, suspended from the MLB another two times, and diagnosed with cancer.
Before his 2003 sexual assault accusation, Kobe Bryant was lauded for his meteoric rise to fame and undeniable basketball skills. Though he was ultimately acquitted, his reputation still took a huge hit (remember, he was forced to admit to cheating). He spent the next few years making a comeback – and though we’re pretty much all over the rape accusation now – his arrogance and (alleged) continued infidelities have not made him that much more likeable in the public eye.
Barry Bonds is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players in history – and for good reason. He’s a 14-time All Star and 8-time Gold Glove winner, he’s been awarded seven MVP awards, and he holds a number of significant Major League Baseball records. But in 2007 when he was busted for (allegedly) lying to a grand jury regarding his steroid use, his accomplishments were quickly diminished – and in January of this year when he became eligible for entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame, he was denied.
Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson was a gold medal favorite during his impressive track and field career – until 1988, when his urine tested positive for steroids. In response, the sports community quickly shunned him and banned him from competing. A fellow Canadian competitor even hung a sheet from his Olympic Village apartment saying “from hero to zero in 9.79” (Johnson’s world record 100m time).
Former MLB player and manager Pete Rose’s longstanding reputation in baseball was destroyed in 1989 when his serious gambling issues were brought to light. Though he tried to deny it at first – for 15 years – he ultimately admitted his crimes in 2004, which included betting serious money on and possibly against his own team, the Cincinnati Reds. Further, in 1990 he was sentenced to five months in prison for tax evasion.