The Worst Suspensions in Sports History

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Earlier this month, the NFL announced it was appealing the recommendation made by the NFL- and NFL Players Association-appointed disciplinary officer that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson be suspended for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Reports said the league believes Watson’s actions warrant a longer penalty, possibly an indefinite suspension.

The Watson case is the latest example of bad behavior in the sports world and the punishments that are meted out.

To determine the most suspended players in sports history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, as well as the Sports Reference family of sites and Spotrac to find players who missed more than one full season’s worth of games in their career through suspension. Players were ranked based on the number of seasons or season equivalents they were suspended by the league they played in throughout their careers. Indefinite or lifetime suspensions levied against players when they were inactive or retired were not considered.

Several of the most serious offenses committed by athletes do not appear on this list, as the resulting prison sentences overrode the need for a suspension. For instance, NFL wide receiver Rae Carruth spent nearly two decades in prison after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. The NFL suspended him indefinitely, though the suspension was mostly a formality, as the resulting sentence effectively ended his NFL career. 

Twenty-one of the players on the list were punished for violating their respective leagues’ substance abuse policy. Others were penalized for using performance-enhancing drugs or for personal conduct/domestic abuse. Many of the players were sanctioned for the same infraction more than once. Quite a few of these athletes were all-stars in their respective sports before their careers went awry. (These are 33 athletes with famously bad tempers.)

Some of the suspended athletes such as football players R. Jay Soward, Ricky Williams, and  Randy Gregory, and basketball player Richard Dumas used alcohol or other substances to deal with the pressure and anxiety of performing at a high level.  

No list would be complete with including the two most infamous gambling/game-fixing episodes in American sports history – both resulting not just in suspensions, but in lifetime bans for entire teams. They are among the scandals that rocked the sports world.

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