The world of professional sports in America has left behind a history of heroes and tale-inspiring athletes who are synonymous with our way of life. Babe Ruth hitting home runs on the baseball diamond, Michael Jordan making a championship clinching shot in a seven game NBA series, or the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey team beating the Russians on their path to the gold medal in 1980 are only some of the moments that are part of our lore. Heroism on the playing field is balanced however with the controversies that some athletes either brought to the game or were a part of their lives. Here are the stories of six of the most controversial in all of sports.
Top 6 Most Controversial Sports Figures:
- Barry Bonds
- Muhammad Ali
- Hope Solo
- Aaron Hernandez
- Pete Rose
- Donald Sterling
Barry Lamar Bonds was born on July 24, 1962 in Riverside, California. Bonds would have a career that resulted in the most home runs hit by a major league player, surpassing Henry Aaron’s mark of 755. Bond’s also holds the MLB single season record for home runs at 73, set in 2001. His career was tainted with the allegation that he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the result of which led to his miraculous performance on the field. Linked to the infamous BALCO case that brought down several MLB players, Bonds chose retirement. He has launched a recent comeback as hitting coach for the Miami Marlins during the 2016 MLB season.
- Hit 762 home runs during a 22-year career
- Holds the single season record of 73 home runs
- Indicted for perjury and obstruction charges in 2007 related to performance enhancement drugs
“I am the Greatest” is the famous quote attributed to boxing’s true champion Muhammad Ali. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, KY on January 17, 1942, Ali rose to become the greatest heavyweight boxer in pro boxing. He rose to prominence by winning a gold medal in boxing at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics. A surprising defeat of reigning heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964 started Ali’s nearly 20-year rule as boxing’s greatest. Controversy followed the champ who in 1967 was convicted of draft dodging over his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. He was sentenced to a 10-year prison term and banned from boxing for three years. He would come back to win a total of 56 career fights, three championship comebacks and live to age 74 until succumbing to Parkinson’s disease on June 3, 2016.
- Won an Olympic Gold Medal at age 18 during the 1960 Rome Games
- Won the heavyweight boxing championship title in upset fashion over defending champion Sonny Liston in 1964
- Was convicted of draft dodging in 1967, sentenced to 10 years in jail and forced to abdicate his boxing title until 1970
Hope Solo, born July 30, 1981, was a member of the women’s Olympic soccer teams that won gold medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics. She is considered the best goaltender in women’s soccer in the world. Her intimidating style as a goaltender stops opposing strikers in their tracks before they attempted to score on her or Team USA. This intimidating style has unfortunately also been the cause of several controversial moments in her life. Solo has been arrested on numerous occasions for domestic and spousal abuse and recently was suspended by the women’s professional soccer league (NWSL) for six months following comments made after a loss in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
- Goaltender for U.S. Women’s Soccer National team
- Won Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012
- Has been arrested several times for domestic violence and is currently under 6-month NWSL suspension
Aaron Hernandez was a former NFL tight end with the New England Patriots for 3 seasons and member of the BCS champion University of Florida football team in 2009. Hernandez, who was an All-American in college and drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots in 2010 (along with current starting TE Rob Gronkowski). In three years Hernandez caught 175 passes, averaging 11.2 yards a catch and formed one of the most dangerous TE duos with Gronkowski the league hadn’t seen in a long time. Hernandez’s career was cut short when on June 26, 2013 he was arrested by police at his North Attleboro, MA home on a charge of first-degree murder of his friend Odin Lloyd. Awaiting trial, if found guilty Hernandez will spend the rest of his life as a resident of the Souza-Baranowski prison in Shirley, MA.
- Played for the 2009 BCS National Champion University of Florida Gators as a TE
- Drafted by the New England Patriots where he caught 175 passes in 3 years
- Awaiting trial for murder, which may result in a life prison sentence
Pete Rose was born on April 14, 1941. He became the greatest baseball hitter of all time during a 23-year career as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and Montreal Expos. His 4,256 hits eclipsed a record held by Ty Cobb for more than 50 years. Rose’s accomplishments, however, have not gotten him into baseball’s hall of fame. Implicated in a betting scheme by former baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti, Rose accepted a permanent ban from the game in August of 1989, making him ineligible for future hall consideration. Additionally, in 1990 Rose spent five months in prison at the federal correctional facility located in Marion, IL for federal income tax evasion.
- MLB’s career hits leader at 4,256
- A member of the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and Montreal Expos
- Banned for life from baseball for involvement in an illegal betting scheme
Donald Sterling (born Tokowitz on April 26, 1934) is the former owner of the league’s Los Angeles Clippers franchise. A series of racist and disparaging comments about black players and others made by Sterling, which was captured on tape by a former lover resulted in a $2.5 million fine and lifetime ban from the NBA. The ban forced Sterling to relinquish ownership of the Clippers. Sterling is also the subject of several investigations regarding unfair and discriminatory housing practices he engaged in through his primary business as a real estate investor and owner of rental properties in and throughout Los Angeles.
- Purchased of the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Clippers in 1981 for $13 million
- Involved in incidents of discriminatory housing practices resulting in settlements
- Received a lifetime ban from the NBA in 2014 and relinquished ownership of the Clippers based on racist comments captured on tape by a former lover
Sports figures are more than just entertainers; throughout American history, they are also political movers and shakers. Some of the nation’s best athletes played vital roles in the advancement of human rights, while others became notorious for questionable behaviors or possibly illegal activities. The sports figures here are just some of those who’ve left their marks for better or for worse.