Sports

The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History 

Ranker Sports
Originally by
Updated January 27, 2020 14.6k votes 1.6k voters 32.3k views 62 items

List Rules Athletes in any sport that have been embroiled in controversy - domestic disputes, sex scandals, cheating accusations, anything really

Sports stars are one part celebrity, one part athlete. Like so many celebrities, some sports stars are prone to scandal. These sports stars are were involved some of the biggest controversies of all time, and many remain controversial figures to this day despite being retired.

O.J Simpson is perhaps the biggest controversial athlete of all time, for "not killing his ex-wife" in 1994. Remember when one of the best NBA players of all time, LeBron James, took his talents to South Beach? That was definitely a case of a sports star who caused controversy. And then, of course, there's Anna Kournikova, who has caused controversy simply for being beautiful.

Which athletes do you think are the most controversial of all time? What is your definition of controversy? Is it off-the-field antics like the domestic drama surrounding Tiger Woods, or is it on-the-court antics like John McEnroe's famous profane meltdowns?

Which is worse, steroids or biting off someone's ear? The choice is yours! Vote up the stars who've caused the most controversy and if we missed any scandalous athletes, add them to the controversial sport stars list!
list ordered by
1
O. J. Simpson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
2
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
3
Lance Armstrong is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
4
Aaron Hernandez is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
ConnorRichardson added Age: 30

Teams: New England Patriots, Florida Gators football

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#1,414 of 1,536 The Best Football Players Ever #30 of 57 The Best College Football Tight Ends of All Time

5
Michael Vick is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 39

Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Virginia Tech Hokies football

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#1,953 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #144 of 1,536 The Best Football Players Ever #8 of 120 The Greatest College Football Quarterbacks of All Time

6
Tonya Harding is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
7
Dennis Rodman is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 58

Teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, + more

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8
Barry Bonds is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 55

Teams: San Francisco Giants, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Pirates

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9
Caitlyn Jenner is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
10
Tiger Woods is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
11
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
12
Pete Rose is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 78

Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos

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#1,010 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #42 of 599 The Greatest Baseball Players Of All Timelisted on Longest Hitting Streaks in Baseball

13
Ray Rice is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
ConnorRichardson added Age: 32

Teams: Baltimore Ravens, Rutgers Scarlet Knights football

14
Alex Rodriguez is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
15
Ray Lewis is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
ConnorRichardson added Age: 44

Teams: Baltimore Ravens

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#1,109 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #9 of 348 People Who Should Be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame #12 of 1,536 The Best Football Players Ever

16
Johnny Manziel is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
17
Colin Kaepernick is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 32

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Nevada Wolf Pack football

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18
Jose Canseco is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
RobLein added Age: 55

Teams: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, + more

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#71 of 523 The Best Baseball Players NOT in the Hall of Fame #500 of 599 The Greatest Baseball Players Of All Time

19
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
20
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
21
Mark McGwire is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 56

Teams: St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, Oakland Athletics

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#9 of 523 The Best Baseball Players NOT in the Hall of Fame #120 of 707 The Best Hitters in Baseball Historylisted on Athletes You Didn't Know Were Conservative

22
Terrell Owens is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
Age: 46

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, + more

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23
Kobe Bryant is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
ConnorRichardson added Dec. at 41 (1978-2020)

Teams: Los Angeles Lakers

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24
Ben Johnson is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
25
Luis Suárez is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History
james-bourne added Age: 32

Teams: FC Barcelona, Liverpool F.C., AFC Ajax, Uruguay national football team, Club Nacional de Football, + more