Growing up, many people dream of making it as a professional athlete. It is seen as a quick path to wealth and a comfortable life after retirement. But athletes face issues like anyone else, including substance abuse and financial struggles.
Often, these issues can spiral into dangerous and destructive behavior. Many players have no experience handling large amounts of money before signing their first pro contract, and this can get them into trouble. Others, no matter how gifted they are, can’t handle the instant fame and wealth of being a high draft pick and turn to drugs and alcohol, which can rob them of their potential. These are the biggest draft busts in the history of sports.
24/7 Tempo reviewed past news stories to determine a list of famous athletes who ended up in prison.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Dozens of athletes across the four major U.S. sports leagues have been arrested and convicted of just about every criminal charge imaginable. Some players were included because their crimes were just so bizarre or heinous that they grabbed headlines. Others were spectacular athletes in the prime of their careers who lost it all because of their off-field activity. Many of these players may have cost themselves a Hall of Fame induction.
Like many convicts, some players who receive extended prison sentences don’t actually serve the entire sentence. Some get out earlier because of good behavior, or they are released into a halfway house, or they are released but remain on parole.
Many of the athletes on this list are football players. It seems that NFL players are often in the news for legal infractions, whether minor or very serious. This may simply be because there are more than 50 players on a given NFL roster — a much higher total than any other sport. But others have theorized that the sport itself is causing some of these issues.
Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez was convicted of murder and took his own life in prison at age 27. Boston University researchers found he had a severe form of CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition associated with repeated head trauma that is often found in football players. CTE can affect the parts of the brain associated with impulse control, emotions, and fear. This may mean the condition is at least partially to blame in some cases of violent behavior in some athletes. (These are famous football players known to have had CTE.)
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