Elite athletes get banned all the time, usually for shooting Miracle-Gro into their veins, and mostly in sports like track and field and cycling. But occasionally, athletes also get banned in sports that people actually care about (relax, just a joke, bike Nazis -– well, kind of) and it is these degenerates to whom this list is dedicated. Some found themselves tossed from their sport because they couldn’t resist the candied lure of sweet lady cocaine, while others simply got mixed up with some shady characters. And while most of these athletes were banned for life, a few had their sentences commuted and managed to sneak back into the league. And one player on this list was just an obvious victim of hysteria and prejudice. But whatever their differences, they all have one thing in common: at some point in the career, the dudes in charge told them to get the hell out.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
9 Billy Coutu
Billy Coutu was a defenseman who played for a decade in the early days on the NHL. He even won a Stanley Cup. But no one cares about any of that because Billy Coutu is known in hockey circles for one thing and one thing only: for being the only player in NHL history to be banned for life for fighting. Indeed. Even though professional hockey has seen players beat each other with sticks, put each other in the hospital and routinely throw down like wobbly, drunken prize fighters -– hell, even the goalies fight sometimes –- Billy Coutu took things a little too far when in the 1927 Stanley Cup Finals, apparently on orders from his head coach, Art Ross, he started a bench clearing brawl by beating the crap out of the referee and then tackling another referee who presumably came over to break things up. If this happened today, they’d probably put the guy in a Hannibal Lecter mask and have him publicly horsewhipped on Sportscenter.
8 Roy Tarpley
In the mid to late ‘80s, it seemed like everyone in the NBA was getting suspended for drugs. A few of these players ended up getting banned for life, but one of the biggest coked out fish the NBA fried was Tarpley, a dominating power forward who could have gone down as one of the all-time greats if he could have only kept his nose clean –- literally. Tarpley’s career was a frustrating mixture of flashes of brilliance on the court and drug addled nonsense off the court. Suspended multiple times by the league because he loved the drugs and the drugs loved him, Tarpley seemed like he got his act together in the mid-‘90s before getting busted for getting drunk, which was apparently enough for the NBA to throw up their hands and tell the dude to permanently get lost.
7 Dexter Manley
Dexter Manley is most famous for being a dominating defensive end for those great Redskins teams of the 1980’s. He’s also infamous for having spent his entire career as a functional illiterate. But Manley is also remembered because while he eventually conquered illiteracy, he couldn’t quite conquer the coke straw in time to save his career. Initially banned in 1989 after testing positive for cocaine, which was the third time he’d been popped by the drug police, he was reinstated in 1990, only to be immediately placed on waivers by the Redskins. Manley then bounced around for a couple of years with the Cardinals and Buccaneers before failing a drug test for the fourth time, after which the NFL exiled him to Canada where he ended his career in the CFL. Oh well, at least he learned to read.
6 Alex Groza
During the 1950’s, the basketball world was consumed by hysteria surrounding point shaving. A lot of players and unsavory characters ended up getting booted out of basketball during this time but none more prominent than Alex Groza, a star at the University of Kentucky where he was a two time All-American who led the Wildcats to back to back National Championships in 1948 and 1949. Groza then went on to star in the NBA with the now defunct Indianapolis Olympians where he was an All-Pro both of his years in the league. Groza’s career then came to an abrupt end when it came to light that he had been involved in fixing games while at Kentucky with some of his teammates. The NBA immediately told him to get lost and Groza disappeared into infamy and then obscurity. He eventually resurfaced as a coach and GM in the ABA before that league went under and he was forced to slink back into the shadows. Alex Groza could have been one of the all-time greats, a basketball trailblazer remembered with contemporaries like George Mikan and Bob Cousy. Instead, he’s remembered as maybe the best player to get banned for life from the NBA. Oh well.
5 Micheal Ray Richardson
Micheal Ray Richardson was, along with Tarpley, one of the most notable casualties of the NBA’s descent into cocaine hell. A supremely gifted player, Richardson was capable of virtually anything on the basketball court. One of the league’s premier defenders, Richardson led the league in steals three times. He was also one of the best passers in the world, matched perhaps by only Magic Johnson during his prime. But Micheal Ray was also one of the most prolific cokeheads in the world, leading the league in nose bleeds three times and in teeth grinding a record six times (all unofficial records). Finally, in 1986, the league banned Richardson after he violated the NBA’s drug policy for the third time. The ban was eventually lifted in 1988 but Richardson never played in the NBA again, instead taking his talents –I’m guessing aboard a barge filled with cocaine -– to Europe. Richardson eventually failed two more tests in 1991 -– for cocaine, what else? -– but that didn’t stop him from playing out much of the ‘90s for various European clubs. Eventually Micheal Ray reemerged in the states as the head coach of the Albany Patroons in the CBA. But since he is Micheal Ray Richardson he was eventually suspended by that league too, this time not for drugs but for telling an Albany newspaper that Jews “were crafty (because) they are hated worldwide.” Who knows why he said it? Maybe he had been cheated out of some of his sweet, sweet coke by a Rabbi. I don’t know. Or maybe Micheal Ray Richardson just can’t help being a world class f*ck up, and for that, we salute him.
4 Steve Howe
Steve Howe blazed onto the baseball scene in 1980 as a hard throwing lefty reliever, winning the Rookie of the Year award. He then went on to save the clinching game of the 1981 World Series for the Dodgers and made the All-Star team in 1982. And then shit got completely out of hand. Howe checked into rehab in 1983 because he had become a cokehead and a drunk and eventually ended up missing the entire 1984 season after relapsing. But that was just the start of Howe’s sad journey of self-destruction and chaos. Over the course of his 17 year career, Howe was suspended seven times -– yes, seven -– for being an inveterate degenerate. In 1992, MLB finally had enough and told him he was out of second chances (or sixth or seventh or…), banning him for life, but Howe managed to wriggle his way back into their good graces, joining the New York Yankees, where he had a couple of decent seasons pitching out of the bullpen before fading out of the league. Howe’s career was marked by the absurd number of chances he was given to turn it around. He was even used as a punchline in a Naked Gun movie, in which Leslie Nielsen’s character told Anna Nicole Smith “This is your last chance. And I’m not talking about one of those Major League Baseball Steve Howe kind of chances.” And finally, things ended for Howe pretty much the way you’d expect. He was killed in a car accident in 2006 and his autopsy showed that he had meth in his system. From Rookie of the Year to Leslie Nielsen punchline to methed-out oblivion. That’s Steve Howe’s legacy.
3 Connie Hawkins
Connie Hawkins’ tale is one of sad prejudice and utter hysteria. A promising freshman at Iowa, Hawkins was caught up in a point shaving scandal, implicated even though there wasn’t a shred of evidence indicating that he even knew about it. His name was never mentioned by his supposed co-conspirators, and even more bizarrely, since he was only a freshman –- and freshmen at that time weren’t eligible to play –- he wasn’t even on the court to do anything even if he wanted to. You might as well have implicated the fans in the front row or the cheerleaders. But Hawkins was young and black and an easy target for the witch hunters obsessed with the hysteria surrounding gambling in sports at the time, and so he was tossed out of school and eventually blackballed by every other college and by the NBA. With nowhere to turn, Hawkins -– who was a playground legend in New York City -– joined the Harlem Globetrotters, where he spent his prime doing dumb tricks in meaningless games.
Still banned by the NBA, Hawkins joined the ABA when it formed in 1968, immediately becoming one of the league’s premier players. While he was showing everyone what they had been missing all that time, Hawkins was also busy suing the NBA, who eventually settled with Hawkins for $1.3 million and immediately lifted his ban. His nightmarish odyssey finally at an end, Hawkins joined the NBA and the Phoenix Suns where he quickly established himself as an All-Star. Unfortunately, Hawkins’ career was quickly derailed by knee problems, which combined with his previous decade long exile, meant that his career was all too brief and that fans everywhere were robbed of his sublime talents. Connie Hawkins was eventually elected to the basketball Hall of Fame, but had he not been forced to spend his prime wandering the globe in minor leagues thanks to a ridiculous ban based on nothing but unfounded hysteria, Hawkins would probably be remembered as one of the game’s all-time greats, instead of as just a tragic footnote.
2 Pete Rose
Maybe nobody on this list is better known for his lifetime ban than Pete Rose. Baseball’s all-time hits leader, Rose was famous for his aggressive balls out style of play. I mean, he once ruined a dude’s career when he bashed into him at home plate in an All-Star game. Pete Rose went all out. But he was also kind of a degenerate and the dude liked to gamble. Hey, no big deal. Who doesn’t? I would bet that half the people reading this – and hell, let’s face it, the person writing this too –- are kind of degenerates. But unfortunately for Pete Rose, his particular degeneracy involved betting on baseball, which is probably the biggest no-no there is in the sports world. Anytime a player bets on his own sport, people absolutely freak out and start howling like banshees about the integrity of the game.
But here’s the thing: Rose bet on his own team while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. So, really, it’s not like the dude was throwing games or anything. If anything, it just made him bust his ass harder to win. Still, baseball’s head honchos, led by commissioner Bart Giamatti, were sufficiently outraged and told Rose to get to steppin’. (I believe those were Giamatti’s exact words, but I can’t be entirely sure.) Rose has since been banned for life from baseball. He’s ineligible for the Hall of Fame and his legacy as baseball’s hit king has been obliterated by the controversy surrounding this ban. He’ll always be “Charlie Hustle” but he’ll also always be that dude on the outside looking in and that’s why he’s on this list.
1 “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson is probably the most famous example of an athlete banned for life from his sport. A member of the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” team, Jackson, along with seven of his teammates, was implicated in a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Jackson was one of the best players in baseball’s early days, on a par with legends like Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, which is why his involvement in the scandal was such a bombshell – and why he is remembered for it far more than any of his other cheating teammates.
How much Jackson knew or didn’t know is still up for debate, but what is known is that Jackson twice refused the money offered to him to throw the Series before a teammate tossed $5,000 into his hotel room, which was twice Jackson’s salary. He also hit .375 in the World Series that year and drove in six runs, so… who knows? Further complicating matters was an apparently fictional report in a newspaper at the time which asserted that Jackson testified in court that he purposely muffed certain plays in the field in order to throw the games, a story which has been used by Jackson’s detractors as the centerpiece of their argument that he was guilty. But the thing is, is that no such quote actually appears in the stenographic court record.
And that’s the fuel which has powered the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson story all these years: the bewildering mix of fact and fiction. It seems like nobody then or now truly knows what the hell Joe Jackson did or didn’t do in that World Series. Nobody knows for sure what he even knew. The White Sox’s team attorney plied him with whiskey before his testimony and got the illiterate Jackson to sign an immunity waiver. Years later, the other seven members of the scandal admitted that Jackson was never even present during the meetings they had about throwing the Series. And yet, Jackson remains, even in death, banned for life from baseball. He can’t be elected to the Hall of Fame and all he is now is a sort of sad ghost, relegated to legend, living on only in movies like Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams. Maybe he was guilty and maybe he wasn’t. It’s almost irrelevant at this point because “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s name will always be synonymous with scandal and tragedy and that’s why he’s number one on this list.
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