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From Debauchery To Federal Crimes: Outrageous Tales Of Bad Behavior From History's Greatest Athletes

Updated June 14, 2019 14.8k votes 3.5k voters 263.2k views15 items

List RulesVote up the most outrageous tales of athletic bad behavior.

Professional athletes are placed on literal and figurative pedestals as heroes of pop culture. Their faces are plastered across news sites, sports pages, and gossip magazines, even when an athlete prefers to stay out of the limelight. Because of this overexposure, sports consumers may feel as though they truly know their favorite basketball, baseball, or football players – after all, their lives are on constantly on display and on-demand. When a celebrity athlete commits a crime, suffers a mental break, or displays some other type of unexpected behavior, fans may feel shocked or even betrayed – the rich and famous are suddenly not as immune to human error as the public once thought. 

Thanks to their fame, any instances of unusual or criminal behavior on the part of a celebrity athlete will undoubtedly be covered by countless media outlets. This coverage, whether positive or negative, will undeniably have an impact on the athlete's reputation and career, sometimes permanently. Historically, there have been plenty of athletes who have gained unwanted – or at least unexpected – attention for their behavior, and while many emerge to continue their careers unscathed, others are surely haunted by the effects of their actions indefinitely. Some notable cases of celebrity athlete debauchery are listed below in a taste of how fame can turn into misfortune. 

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    Sally McNeil Shot Her Second Husband

    Video: YouTube

    Bodybuilder Sally McNeil had a volatile relationship with her first husband, Anthony Lowden. The pair split in1986 after four years of marriage when McNeil reportedly pulled a revolver on Lowden and dropped a 70-pound weight onto his car from a balcony.

    Her second marriage to fellow bodybuilder Ray McNeil was equally dysfunctional, involving incidents such as Sally attacking a woman with whom she believed her husband was cheating. After seven years of marriage, the Mcneils' relationship reached a climax when Ray began choking Sally during a fight, after which she shot him twice. 

    Though Ray was conscious when the police arrived, he passed several hours after the incident. In 1995, Sally McNeil was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. McNeil maintained that she was acting in self-defense.

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    • Figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were two of the biggest names in the 1994 Winter Olympics. Drama and speculation erupted, however, when Kerrigan, slated to win the Norway competition, was struck in the knee with a police baton, wounding her and limiting her skating mobility. Fingers immediately pointed towards Harding, the underdog of the competition and Kerrigan's most-publicized competitor. Later investigations revealed that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had hired a hit man, Shane Stant, to attack Kerrigan.

      Despite her injury, Kerrigan won silver in the Lillehammer competition. Shane Stant, as well as his driver, Derrick Smith, and Shawn Eckhardt, Harding's occasional bodyguard, were indicted, each receiving 18-month terms. Gillooly received two years. 

      While popular misconception often casts Harding herself as Kerrigan's attacker, no evidence exists that Harding was directly involved. She did, however, receive three years' probation for conspiring to hinder the prosecution.

      • Age: 49
      • Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, USA
      • Gender: Female
      • Alternative Name: Tonya Harding
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    • NHL player Steve Durbano was infamous for his hot temper and violent tendencies on the ice, even earning him the nickname "Mental Case." After he left hockey in the late 1970s, Durbano made visits to Bolivia and Peru where he set up ties with drug dealers and often brought drugs back to his native Canada.

      Speculation posits that in 1983, he attempted to take over $500,000 of cocaine into the country and served more than two years of a seven-year sentence in prison as a result. Similarly, theories persist that in 1995, he was once again arrested, in this instance for trying to recruit an undercover police officer into a prostitution ring, though neither of the latter two incidents can be corroborated.

      • Age: Dec. at 51 (1951-2002)
      • Birthplace: Toronto, Canada
      • Gender: Male
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    • During the 2016 Rio Olympics, US swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed that he and several other US athletes were robbed at gunpoint while walking around Rio:

      "We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over...they pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground – they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn't do anything wrong, so – I'm not getting down on the ground. And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, 'Get down,' and I put my hands up, I was like 'whatever.' He took our money, he took my wallet—he left my cell phone, he left my credentials."

      The robbery was later called into question due to inconsistencies, though Lochte continued to claim that his story was true.

      When a video revealed that Lochte and the other athletes broke down a door at a gas station and fought with the attendant, the story fell apart. Lochte, already back in the US, was charged with filing a false police report while the other athletes were fined and ordered to leave the country. Brazilian authorities threw out the charges against Lochte.

      • Age: 36
      • Birthplace: Rochester, New York, United States of America
      • Gender: Male
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