People of all ages and backgrounds look up to athletes as people who applied themselves to a goal and managed to turn their obsessions with being the best into a money-making machine. But that obsession with winning, or belief that being the best makes you untouchable, can get major sports stars into trouble. There are disgraced athletes in almost every sport, from football to track and field, and most of their stories have the same sad trajectory of a local kid making good and then getting in over their heads.
But some of the athletes who lost endorsements went above and beyond what actually has to be done to become a disgrace and went down in history as some of the craziest athletes to ever embroil themselves in sports controversies. But what happens to athletes who were banned from their sport? Do they get a day job? Or is there hope of competing again?
In the sports world, it’s really hard to lose an endorsement. Some athletes who’ve made a second career out of misbehaving have managed to hold onto their endorsement money without so much as Coca-Cola or Nike batting an eye. That means the sports figures who lost endorsements had to go above and beyond the pale to anger someone in their PR company. Of all the athletes who lost all their money, the number one cause of a corporate smackdown is drugs, but as you’ll soon find out there are plenty of interesting ways to bring disgrace to the world of sports.
The Fall: Mark McGwire is known for two things: setting the MLB record for single-season home runs with 70 homers in 1998, and following that up by publicly admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs for the majority of his career in 2010.
What Happened After That: Despite being in the middle of a league-wide doping scandal, McGwire never fully owned up to his drug intake. Even when he admitted to using steroids, he insisted that they were for healthy reasons rather than to increase his home run ability. No matter what the reason, there's always going to be an asterisk next to his home run record.
The Fall: Throughout the '80s and early '90s, Mike Tyson was a monster in the ring with an unprecedented career that led to him being considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world after knocking out IBF Champion Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in 1988. But in 1991 Tyson was convicted of raping an 18-year-old girl in his hotel room and was sentenced to six years in prison and forced to register as a sex offender.
What Happened After That: The mid-'90s were filled with controversy for Tyson. After he was paroled from prison Tyson returned to boxing, and even though he was performing like usual, the audience wasn't as excited to see him work anymore. After a disastrous fight with Evander Holyfield where Tyson bit off his opponent's ear, his boxing license was revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in a unanimous vote.
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The Fall: Michael Vick was an all-star, rookie-of-the-year quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons who had already played in two Pro Bowls when he was busted for running a dog fighting ring with three other guys in 2007. Vick was brought up on charges that included RICO violations (basically, running a criminal organization) and dog fighting.
What Happened After That: After being found guilty, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and forced to pay back $19.97 million to the Atlanta Falcons. Aside from that insane loss of money, Vick lost Nike's endorsement, and a public relations CEO noted that it would be unlikely for Vick to ever receive a major endorsement again. But his conviction didn't end his career; in fact, when he was released in 2009, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has continued to play pro football ever since.
The Fall: After a 16-year professional tennis career that spawned multiple grand slam victories and grossed millions of dollars in prize money, this Russian tennis star admitted to failing a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. She said that the drug, meldonium, had been prescribed by a family doctor for "several health issues." She also said she had been taking it for several years and was unaware that it had recently been banned by the International Tennis Federation.
What Happened After That: There was a huge negative reaction to Sharapova in the tennis world, with veteran players like John McEnroe refusing to support her. Nike and Tag Heuer cut ties with the player while Porsche suspended a planned ad campaign.