#7 Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali was the GOAT loooong before it was a trending hashtag on Twitter. I’d argue that he is not only the greatest boxer of all time, but the greatest athlete of all time. Ali won a gold medal in boxing during the 1960 Olympics. He was only 18-years-old. When I was 18, I was passed out in a field clutching an empty can of Four Loko. Ali went on to win 56 out of the 61 fights he participated in during his professional boxing career. 37 of those wins came by way of knockout.
His suspension from professional boxing is one of the best examples of the massive impact sports can have on society. In 1967, Muhammad Ali was issued a federal draft notice and publicly refused induction into the U.S. military. Let’s back track a little. Before he was “Muhammad Ali,” he was Cassius Clay. His change of name signified his adoption of the Nation of Islam religion. The overall premise of killing in the name of warfare went against his religious beliefs. Participating as a soldier during the Vietnam War directly violated this. So, Ali took a stand. As a result, he was stripped of all his titles and banned from the sport of boxing for three years. Ali’s unwavering dedication to a larger cause broadened the conversation of both religious and racial rights. He is cited in many history books as one of the most influential figures in the fight for equal rights.
#6 Ron Artest
Metta World Peace ain’t always been so peaceful. Back in 2004 when he was Ron Artest, the Pacers all-star guard got into quite the brew-ha-ha (really on the fence with that term). It all started when Artest aggressively blocked a layup by Detroit Pistons center, Ben Wallace. Wallace walked up to Artest and proceeded to shove him like Artest was some guy at the bar who made him spill his drink. The situation was deescalated by other players and coaches. Artest retreated and laid down on a table while he collected himself. He then put a radio broadcaster’s headset on and conducted a mock interview with himself. Love that about him. For some reason, this really pissed Wallace off. He threw his towel, that had collected almost an entire game’s-worth of sweat, at Artest. Then, the excrement hit the proverbial fan.
A fan in the stands threw his drink at Artest. Artest ran into the stands and grabbed the wrong guy at first. Before he could rearrange the face of the falsely identified drink-thrower, radio broadcaster Mark Boyle held him back. Then ANOTHER Pistons fan threw a drink at Artest. This caused his teammate, Stephen Jackson, to have a “Oh hell naw” moment. Jackson stormed the stands and punched the drink-throwing Pistons fan in the face. Then, at some point, a Pistons player landed a b***h shot to the back of Artest’s head, which somehow gave everyone in the stadium the go ahead to to revert back to Viking times. It basically turned into reenactment of a cafeteria movie scene where one kid throws a meatball then another kid (usually a husky little s**t) stands up on his chair and yells, “FOOD FIGHT.” Fans were throwing food and drinks left and right. Two Pistons fans rushed the court and headed towards Artest who then punched one of them in the face. I could go into so much more detail of who punched who. But, Chuck Person, Pacers assistant coach, described it perfectly when he said the whole thing felt like being “trapped in a gladiator-type scene where the fans were the lions and we were just trying to escape with our lives.” This legendary brawl became known as “Malice in The Palace.”
Nine players received suspensions by the NBA because of what happened that night. What really puts my panties in a wad though is that the player who received the harshest punishment was Ron Artest. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season. He had to sit out of 86 games, 73 regular season and 13 playoff. This whole situation ultimately cost him $4,995,000 loss from his salary that year. Look, I get it, punching a fan doesn’t make you super popular. But he only threw one punch after he was repeatedly harassed. Ben Wallace, on the other hand, threw multiple punches without provocation and he only had to sit out 6 games. I side with World Peace.
#5 Mike Tyson
Apparently, I was a biter when I was a toddler. I mainly went for the fingers, but I never tried the ears. Then again, I never was headbutted by former heavy-weight champion, Evander Holyfield. During the second round of the 1997 re-match heavy-weight fight between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, Holyfield sliced Tyson’s brow open by way of headbutt. Tyson, being the level-headed guy that he is, retaliated in the beginning of the third round by biting Holyfield’s ear. He received a warning. Then, with ten seconds left in the round, he bites Holyfield’s ear AGAIN. With the tip of Holyfield’s ear laying somewhere on the mat, Tyson was disqualified.
Yes, Tyson successfully ripped off the top chunk of Holyfield’s ear. It actually went missing for a while until a security guard found it. It went missing again by the time someone brought it to the hospital. Fun fact: one of Holyfield’s sons was actually in the grade below me in high school. Once at a football game, I heard booming coming from behind me in the bleachers. It was Evander Holyfield. Naturally, my eyes went straight to his ear. So, I can say from personal experience, that the plastic surgeon did a solid job even without the original chunk of his ear.
When asked about why he decided to bite Holyfield’s ear, Tyson responded by saying, “He [Holyfield] kept coming up and charging into me.” Yeah, Mike…that’s called boxing. Tyson eventually issued a public apology to Holyfield. But, that wasn’t enough to save him from the fact that he bit off a part of someone’s body. He lost his boxing license and was fined $3 million. Maybe he should’ve also sent an Edible Arrangements.
#4 Gregg Williams
Writer’s Note: Please read the following in the voice of Dateline’s narrator, Keith Morrison…Incentive to injure? In the NFL? No. It couldn’t be. But it was. The year was 2009. The New Orleans Saints had one of their best seasons in franchise history, which included a victory in Super Bowl XLIV. The team was riding high until it was revealed just how low they had stooped. I am, of course, referring to Bountygate.
Gregg Williams, then the Saints’ defensive coordinator, was at the forefront of a very unique defensive strategy. He along with other Saints coaches and players pooled their money together into a pot that was used to pay players for injuring members of the opposing teams. Saints players could earn anywhere from $100 to $2,000 based on how severely they injured another player. I mean, I’d punch Baker Mayfield in the face for free, but that’s just my duty as a fan. At one point, the Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma put up $10,000 for a player to injure Brett Favre enough to take him out of the NFC Championship game. Upon reviewing that 2009 championship game, it looked like two Saints defensive linemen, Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele, decided to go “halfsies” on the bounty when they aggressively double-teamed Favre and knocked him square onto the turf.
From there, an investigation into the New Orleans Saints team began. The investigation was blown wide open when a filmmaker, Sean Pamphilon, released the audio from a video he recorded of Gregg Williams speech before the 2012 game against the San Francisco 49ers. WARNING: The following video contains an absurd amount of profanity.
Williams was one of about thirty players and coaches proven to be involved in Bountygate. But it became more and more clear that he was arguably the biggest brain behind the operations. When he finally had to come clean, Williams responded to the scandal by saying that what he did “was nothing that hasn’t been done before.” Yeah, Gregg. The Italian mob was putting hits out on people long before you decided to go all Sopranos on the NFL. Williams ended up being suspended indefinitely then allowed to be reinstated in 2012. He went on to coach for the St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, and Cleveland Browns. He can also be found on Craigslist under the name “Problem Solver.”
#3 Tom Brady
I’ll go ahead and say it—I don’t like Tom Brady. The guy seems perfectly pleasant, but I still just want to yell in his face for some reason. Maybe it’s because he’s so good looking, so talented, and was created in a science lab. So, I wasn’t too upset when it became publicly known that he was wrapped up in a scandal. The last time I felt that level of schadenfreude (noun: a feeling of pleasure at the bad things that happen to other people) was when I found out my high school bully was now working fulltime for an essential oils pyramid scheme.
Let me refresh y’all’s memories of what happened. During the 2015 Patriots vs. Colts game, a ball that was in play by the Patriots was taken off the field and randomly inspected. Apparently this is something that happens all the time during games. I won’t go into the numbers, but the ball’s inflation levels were below the sanctioned amount. So, the NFL open an investigation into the Patriots organization. They start to find some stuff. Both Brady and Bill Belichick publicly state that they had zero knowledge of any ball deflation going on. Then, texts messages between the Patriots equipment assistant, John Jastremski, and locker room attendant, Jim McNally, surfaced. Here’s one of the more damning exchanges:
Jastremski: I have a big needle for u this week
McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks….or its a rugby sunday
McNally: F— tom
Jastremski: Maybe u will have some nice size 11s in ur locker
McNally: Tom must really be working your balls hard this week
My personal favorite part is when McNally says, “F— tom.” These text conversations ended up being the nail in Brady’s coffin. But Brady continued to defend himself even after this evidence was made public. I really think he was put in a corner and had only two options: own up to both lying and cheating or cross your fingers that all NFL fans are gullible enough to believe him. He got a little bit of both.
Ultimately, his strategy didn’t work. On May 11, 2015, the NFL announced that they were banning Brady without pay for four games. Thus began what we now know as #deflategate. Brady was so pissed off he was reportedly seen angrily binge-eating kale chips. What happened from there was a very unsexy process of appeals and paperwork. At one point, his ban was overturned. Then it went back to a court of appeals. During this trial, new evidence that Brady destroyed his phone after he caught wind of the investigation was brought up by the prosecution. The defenses response? Brady destroys his phones all the time. He does it to protect his privacy. Yeah, and I smash bottles of wine because I want to hide the fact that I drank them all myself. The court didn’t buy it and reinstated his ban. The next step was to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Imagine being on the Supreme Court and having to take time away from tax reform legislation in order to debate the deflation of Brady’s balls. Thankfully, Brady had the decency to call a quits before it got to this point.
#2 Tonya Harding
I once had someone tell me that I remind them of Tonya Harding. I asked why, and they said, “You just seem like you’d beat the s**t out of someone.” Kind of rude, but, to be fair, I was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Don’t f*****g talk to me.” I don’t think that was an accurate comparison, because, technically, Harding didn’t beat the s**t out of Nancy Kerrigan—some guy did.
This is a story is ultimately about a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. But it all began with one of the most epic rivalries in sports history. Harding and Kerrigan actually started out as friends at the beginning of their amateur figure skating careers. They’d room together during competitions, and Harding claims that she and Kerrigan actually used to smoke the devil’s lettuce together every now and then. Harding was demonized though in the figure skating world. If there could ever be a “badass” in the dignified sport of figure skating, she was it. She was a backwoods, blue collar girl competing in a world of women who came from families with pure-bred golden retrievers and summer homes. As undeniably good as she was, her stigma as a girl whose demeanor did not fit into the figure skater mold often costed her points. Nancy Kerrigan, on the other hand, was that girl who is annoyingly perfect, and she and Harding were always toggling back and forth between first and second.
Back to the guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. The first guy was Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, who was a massive jabroni. He asked his friend, Shawn Eckardt, who was equally as jabroni-ish, if he knew a guy who could help Harding’s chances of getting on the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Team by “taking out” Nancy Kerrigan. Turns out, Eckardt knew not one, but two guys. He hired Derrick Smith and Shane Stant on Gillooly’s behalf to injure Kerrigan. After a failed attempted hit in Massachusetts, Stant and Smith followed Kerrigan to Detroit where both she and Harding were getting ready to compete in the Olympic trials. While Kerrigan was walking back from the rink, Stant casually walked up to her, struck her kneecap with a baton, and walked off. Kerrigan was severely injured and unable to compete for the spot on the Olympic team. Harding won the championship and a subsequent spot on the 1994 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating team.
A month later, Stant’s accomplice/getaway driver, Smith confessed to the FBI. Three days after that, Stant also confessed. Following the confessions, Gillooly was charged with conspiracy to assault Kerrigan, and he implicated Harding in the scheme. Harding adamantly denied any involvement then ended up saying that she did have some knowledge that an attack on Kerrigan was being planned. The U.S. Olympics Committee attempted to remove Harding from the team, but they were blocked by a lawsuit filed by Harding. Kerrigan went on to earn a silver medal in that year’s Olympics, and Harding cried to the judges about a broken shoelace.
Two months after competing in the Olympics, Harding pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to hinder prosecution.” I have no idea what that means. She was banned for life from the United States Figure Skating Association and slapped with a $160,000 fine. To this day, she maintains that she was not directly involved in the hit. But, It’s been ultimately decided among general society that she was.
Part of me gets where Harding was coming from. We all have or once had that person in our lives who seemed to always out do us even though they don’t necessarily deserve to. Mine was Caroline. She started a rumor that I had sex with a horse and won homecoming queen in the same year. I didn’t bash her kneecap though. Instead, I spent hours in therapy undoing the web of self-hatred she tangled inside my mind. Harding definitely took things way too far—I’m not denying that. But, I admire her scrappiness. I think we all have a little Tonya in us. I may have an unhealthy amount though.
#1 Michael Vick
As a big advocate for the pit bull breed (not in the trendy way; I have actually worked with pit bull advocacy organizations and own a pit mix) and a native Atlantan/subsequent Falcons fan, this one is painful to reflect on. Michael Vick joined the Falcons as the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft. Vick was arguably one of the best athletes to ever play for the team. This guy basically transformed the overall idea of the role of a quarterback with his rushing abilities. Then, in 2007, it all came crashing down.
After being tipped off about a possible dog fighting ring, police raided Vick’s Virginia property. They found multiple neglected pit bulls and evidence of dog fighting. From there, a complicated story unfolded. Here’s how it goes. In 2002, Vick along with three of his long-time friends, Quanis Phillips, Tony Taylor, and Purnell Peace, established a dog fighting ring called “Bad Newz Kennels” which was headquartered on a property that Vick purchased in Virginia. After police raided that property in 2007, Vick, Phillips, Taylor, and Peace were charged with conspiring to engage in competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting an illegal enterprise across state lines. All four pleaded not guilty. About a month later, Phillips, Taylor, and Peace decided to plead guilty and implicate Vick in the crimes. Vick eventually signs a plea agreement stating that he was involved in establishing a dog fighting ring and killing dogs. He insists though that he never bet on the fights, he only funded them. After signing the plea, NFL head commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely from the organization.
Vick became America’s enemy no. 1 and the poster child for anti-dog-fighting campaigns. Vick claimed and still claims though that his role in the criminal enterprise was overexaggerated. He has stated multiple times that his three friends/accomplices put his ass on the line to save their own. Part of me believes him, but part of me is still skeptical. But, I’m not Nancy Grace, so I’m not going to start flinging theories against the wall just to see what sticks. I DO think that Michael Vick is genuinely sorry for and regrets his involvement in dog fighting. However, I don’t think that we will ever know the full truth behind this story.