These days, sports fans love nothing more than demonizing the biggest and brightest stars – either for being cheaters or shameless degenerates – while pretending that their beloved heroes of yesteryear were squeaky-clean versions of Ward Cleaver. The reality though is that a lot of them were just as bad – and sometimes – worse. In fact, some of them were so bad that if they played today they might even get banned from their sport. Here are eight of the worst.
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These days, Commissioner Roger Goodell is all too quick to slap a fine and a suspension on anyone whose hits are the least bit questionable. How in the hell would he have dealt with a dude like Jack Tatum, a man whose hits were so vicious that he was nicknamed The Assassin? The Assassin! Goodell would probably faint with shock if he had to deal with Tatum’s head-hunting. James Harrison gets labeled public enemy number one every time he gives a guy a headache. Tatum once hit a dude so hard he paralyzed him (above). Yes, that’s right, The Assassin assassinated the spinal cord of the Patriots' Darryl Stingley and then just walked away like nothing even happened. What’s more, he never even apologized to him. Now that shit’s ice cold. And it sure as hell wouldn’t fly in today’s flag-football version of the NFL.
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First of all, no one would even make it to 18 these days with a name like “Gaylord.” And if he did, he sure as hell wouldn’t last long as a big league pitcher doing the sorts of flagrantly illegal (at least in the baseball world) things that Perry did. Somehow, this dude got away with winning more than 300 games and being elected to the Hall of Fame even though everyone knew that he was doctoring baseballs. He did everything he could, from spitting on them to rubbing Vaseline on his balls (baseballs, folks, baseballs) in order to give them more life and make them harder to hit. And like I said, everyone knew it! It was just a big joke and Perry finally formally admitted it, but not until after he was elected to the Hall. Given today’s uptight climate about cheating could you even imagine a dude like this not only surviving, but thriving?
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Like Jack Tatum, Alzado was an Oakland Raider and if there was ever a collective team that wouldn’t survive without being banned today, it’s those old Raiders teams. And Alzado was just as crazy as the rest of them, gaining a reputation as a wild and violent berserker, fond of kicking ass and throwing helmets on the field. But what would have really gotten him in trouble was his almost religious like devotion to steroid use. Alzado said before his death from cancer in 1992 (which he claims was due to his steroid use) that he used steroids for his entire career and claimed that they turned him into a psychotic lunatic who beat the shit out of anyone who made him angry, both on and off the field. Somehow, I doubt he’d make it very far today before Roger Goodell dropped the hammer on him.
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Jose Canseco is basically the reason why no baseball player today can play well without being suspected of being a steroid cheat and that’s because Canseco took cheating to a whole new level. Before Canseco, baseball players had always cheated a little, but it was considered an open secret that people generally turned a blind eye to – a la Gaylord Perry – but Canseco pumped himself so full of steroids that soon everybody else started doing it too and there was no way anyone could ignore that shit. But Canseco managed to get out just before the crackdown came and he never got so much as a fine for his blatant 'roiding. He wouldn’t nearly be so lucky today. And besides, even if he did manage to evade baseball’s drug police, the existence of Twitter would no doubt get him in trouble since it has become abundantly clear that Canseco is completely friggin’ nuts and is not afraid to say the stupidest shit imaginable.
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In his autobiography Agassi admitted to being addicted to meth for just about his entire career. Two things – one, how in the hell did he manage to be an elite tennis player while on meth? I mean, if you think about it that’s just impressive and frankly it’s amazing that he managed to play tennis at all and didn’t just show up to tournaments weighing 110 pounds, dripping sweat and offering to blow the ball boys for money. And two, how did he manage to do all that without getting caught? Well, to be honest, he did get caught. Once. But he got out of it after claiming that a junkie friend of his slipped some meth in a drink and Agassi accidentally drank it, which let’s face it, sounds exactly like the kind of dumb lie a meth-head would come up with. But the tennis bigwigs actually believed him! Today, at least one of them would be a fan of Breaking Bad and Agassi would be out of luck. But hey, at least he wasn’t addicted to boredom like Pete Sampras.
Photo credit: Andre Agassi image by Anthony Correia/Shutterstock
Given how sensitive that the NCAA is these days about a coach acting the fool - just witness the downfall of Joe Paterno – there is almost no way that Bear Bryant could have survived today without getting the boot. The dude was basically an even more heinous version of Jon Voight’s asshole coach in Varsity Blues, right down to the blatant racism. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Bryant even recruited black athletes. Keep in mind that the University of Alabama was desegregated years before that. People will tell you that Bryant’s hands were tied by the administration and the Alabama culture and that he really wanted to recruit black players, but that’s a copout. After all, Bryant was the most popular – and powerful – man in the entire state of Alabama. If he said “Racism is bullshit and I’m going to play some black dudes so just calm down Cletus and get with the times,” then you best believe that the people of Alabama would’ve said, “Yes, sir!” and gotten on board. Sure, there might have been some grumbling, but there’s no way that Bryant wouldn’t have been able to do it if he really wanted to. But he didn’t and that kind of blatant racism would have no chance of flying today. He could have been a hero, but instead he was at best a coward. Commence comments from enraged Alabama rednecks in 3…2…1…
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Yes, Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron admitted that he used amphetamines – a performance enhancer – when he was a player. The thing is, so did just about everyone else back then, from Willie Mays to Mike Schmidt to, yes, the great sacred cow himself, Mickey Mantle. The reason I chose Aaron though is because it perfectly highlights the incredible hypocrisy of today’s steroid witch hunters who love nothing more than to point out that Hank Aaron set the career home run record clean while Barry Bonds deserves to rot in hell for cheating to break that record. Even Aaron himself has bitched and moaned about it. Yeah, whatever you say, Pinocchio. Now I’m not knocking the guy for what he did – after all, just about every player did it in his day. But hey, that defense sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? After all, it’s the same one trotted out by Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the rest of the blackballed players of this era. So if they all deserve to be banned and kept out of the Hall of Fame, then shouldn’t Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Hank Aaron?
Photo credit: Hank Aaron image by Helga Esteb/Shutterstock
Ty Cobb was an absolutely reprehensible human being. He fought everyone from opposing players to his own teammates to the fans, he intentionally tried to injure people, famously sharpening his spikes so he could friggin’ stab dudes every time he slid into a base, and oh yeah, he was so over-the-top racist and hateful that even the Klan probably thought he went a little too far. In short, the dude was a massive asshole and there is no way that he’d be allowed to play today. Hell, by the third week of his career they’d be wheeling him to the plate in one of those Hannibal Lecter masks. Then again, people would still probably like him more than Alex Rodriguez.
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