17 Sports Stars Who Are in Prison or Have Served Time

17 Sports Stars Who Are in Prison or Have Served Time

Whenever athletes take the field, thousands of fans scream their names and wait for them to make the next big play. Performing under pressure takes a special kind of person. Sadly, not all athletes follow the straight and narrow path. For some athletes, being paid millions of dollars leads to dangerous habits, like the use of drugs. Other problems like gambling can quickly arise for someone with newfound wealth. 

Michael Vick was one of the first quarterbacks in NFL history to have both a strong throwing ability and running ability. He was the leader of the Atlanta Falcons and he tried to win their first Super Bowl. However, in 2007, Vick was charged with running a dog fighting ring in Atlanta. Vick was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. He has since redeemed himself on and off the field following his release.

Something else football players deal with is CTE, which affects the brain. CTE is developed from repeated blows to the head, which is part of the game of football. Aaron Hernandez had CTE, and it likely influenced his bad decisions. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder. For more sports content, click here to read about 18 sports records that will probably never be broken. 

To compile this list of sports stars who are in prison or have served time, 24/7 Tempo consulted sports-centered websites. These include Sports Illustrated, NFL.com, and ESPN.

OJ Simpson

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OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder.

OJ Simpson was once dominating college and NFL fields during his playing days. His smile and personality made it easy for fans to cheer him on. However, Simpson’s life took a major turn when his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were murdered in 1994. Simpson was accused of committing the crimes, but he was found not guilty by a jury. That wasn’t the only time Simpson was involved with law enforcement. 

In September, 2007, Simpson went to the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and committed the armed robbery of stealing different sports memorabilia. For those crimes, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in jail. Some people believe the harsh sentence was a way to also punish Simpson for the murders that he was acquitted of. Simpson died in April, 2024 of cancer. Even though there are many people who thought Simpson would say something about the murders before his death, he never did. 

Aaron Hernandez

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Aaron Hernandez played for the New England Patriots.

The New England Patriots had one of the most dominant dynasties in sports for more than a decade. Aaron Hernandez was supposed to be part of that dynasty. Along with fellow Patriot Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez helped redefine the tight end position. His catching ability and athleticism are two reasons the Patriots played in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. The Patriots lost, but appeared to be heading towards more winning in the near future. 

However, in June, 2013, Hernandez was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd. That wasn’t the first time Hernandez had issues with the law. While in college, Hernandez was arrested for a bar fight and was a suspect in a double shooting. There were two other shootings that Hernandez was considered a person of interest in. For the murder of Lloyd, Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison. He committed suicide in his cell in April, 2017. 

Michael Vick

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Michael Vick played for the Philadelphia Eagles later in his career.

Few athletes have been as electric as Michael Vick on the field during their playing days. Vick was the number one overall pick for the Atlanta Falcons, where he would become one of the best players in the NFL. The combination of his passing and throwing abilities had never been seen by NFL teams before. The Falcons were getting themselves ready for deep playoff runs when Vick’s life caught up to him.

In 2007, it was revealed that Vick was running a dog fighting ring. Rather than fight the charges, Vick plead guilty and received a 21 month sentence in prison. After his release, Vick started to clean up his reputation in the public eye. He’s worked with numerous dog organizations and appears to have learned from the mistakes he made. 

Mike Danton

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Mike Danton used to be a hockey player.

Many professional athletes use agents to help them negotiate their contracts with teams and other brands for endorsements. Mike Danton hired David Frost to represent him. While representing Danton, Frost allegedly told Danton to distance himself from his family. Danton needed Frost’s permission to do almost anything, even speak to media members after games. By a certain point, Danton had enough. 

Feeling like he was stuck, Danton tried to hire a hitman to kill Frost. Danton didn’t know he was on the line with a law enforcement officer, which caused Danton to be arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. After getting released, Danton played professionally across multiple European leagues. Frost stopped representing players in 2005.

Plaxico Burress

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Plaxico Burress changed his image after going to prison.

Growing up, many kids dream of catching the game winning touchdown at the end of the Super Bowl. Plaxico Burress got to live out this dream with the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The New York Giants beat the undefeated (and heavily favored) New England Patriots 17-14 – thanks to Burress. That was the first time the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl during the Tom Brady era. 

Burress was on the fast-track to being an NFL legend because of his catch. However, a gun in Burress’s pocket went off and shot him in the leg on accident. Burress made a full recovery, but was charged with possession of a firearm. Burress didn’t have a license to carry the gun, either. As part of a plea deal, Burress was sentenced to two years in prison for his crimes. After his sentence ended, Burress continued playing in the NFL.  

Javaris Crittenton

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Javaris Crittenton was supposed to be a game changer in the NBA.

For some NBA players, they have to grow up quickly. Javaris Crittenton was like any other “one and done” player to go to the NBA from college. After spending one year at Georgia Tech, Crittenton was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. In order to fit in, Crittenton supposedly joined the Crips gang. While he only played one season for the Lakers, he still associated with the gang and did things for them.

In 2011, Crittenton shot and killed a 22-year-old woman. She wasn’t the original target, which helped Crittenton get his charge reduced to second-degree manslaughter. Crittenton plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault with a firearm. He was sentenced to 22 year in jail, but was released after serving 10 years. He was released in April 2023. 

Ryan Leaf

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Ryan Leaf has tried to change his image among NFL fans.

The NFL draft is where dreams for young athletes come true. In 1998, Peyton Manning was drafted number one. Looking back, that was a no-brainer. At the time, though, there was a debate if Ryan Leaf should be picked ahead of Manning. Leaf went second overall to the San Diego Chargers. Leaf never lived up to the hype of being a number two overall pick. Off the field, Leaf had plenty of issues he dealt with. 

In 2012, Leaf was arrested in Montana for drug possession and burglary. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. He also was sentenced to five years for violating his probation in Texas, but he served these sentences concurrently. After getting out of prison, Leaf tried hard to turn over a new stone. However, he was arrested again in 2020 for domestic violence. He was sentenced to probation for that charge. 

Mike Tyson

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Mike Tyson is known for his career as a boxer.

There was once a time where being the heavyweight champion of the world was the highest honor in sports. Mike Tyson held the honor numerous times. His combination of size and speed made him nearly impossible to beat. Even in 2024, Tyson doesn’t appear to have lost any speed. Like football, boxers are prone to getting CTE after countless hits to the head during their lives. CTE can impair judgement in people, which is likely what happened to Tyson.

In 1992, Tyson was convicted of raping an 18-year-old girl. He was sentenced to three years in prison. After that, Tyson was forced to register as a sex offender. He came back to boxing looking healthy and ready to change his image. He’s been in movies and countless shows since. 

Kellen Winslow Jr.

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Kellen Winslow Jr. committed numerous crimes.

Plenty of kids grow up wanting to be like their parents. For Kellen Winslow Jr., he wanted to grow up and play in the NFL, just like his father did. Kellen Winslow Sr. helped transform the tight end position during his Hall of Fame playing career, all of which were with the San Diego Chargers. Winslow Jr. had a nine-year playing career with numerous teams. He won the national championship in college and played in one Pro Bowl. 

Winslow Jr. is another NFL player who made terrible decisions that have landed him in jail. He was charged with numerous sex crimes, including assault of an unconscious teenager. For these crimes, Winslow Jr. was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was one of the first football players to use CTE as a defense for his reckless decisions. The problem with the defense is that CTE can only be detected once someone dies, so there’s no way to know for certain if CTE played a role in these crimes. 

Maurice Clarett

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Maurice Clarett played college football for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Some athletes feel that playing for a major college program like Ohio State creates more adrenaline than playing in the NFL. Playing in college means you’re representing fellow students and alumni who went to the same school. Few running backs leave their mark on college football like Maurice Clarett. During his time, Clarett became known for his explosive plays and leaving countless defenders in the dust. Clarett was drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos, but never appeared in a game. 

Clarett was charged with robbery and possession of a firearm. For these charges, Clarett was sentenced to seven years and a half years in prison. During that time, Clarett took classes to complete his degree in Gerontology. Clarett has worked long and hard to restore his reputation since being arrested. He’s talked extensively about mental health and the importance of expanding hospitals for people in need. 

Rae Carruth

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Rae Carruth was drafted by the Carolina Panthers.

Rae Carruth played college football at the University of Colorado. He was looking to help out any team that drafted him. The Carolina Panthers ended up being that team, as they took Carruth in the first round. Carruth played well enough to earn the first-team all-rookie title during his first year in the pros. Carruth appeared to be heading towards stardom in the NFL, before everything came falling down for him.

Carruth’s girlfriend was eight months pregnant in in 1999 when she was shot near Carruth’s home in Charlotte by a nightclub manager. Carruth was a known friend of the manager, which is how the two were tied together. Carruth fled Charlotte after his girlfriend died because of the injuries sustained in the shooting. The child was born, but now has numerous problems because of the lack of oxygen he received. Carruth was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the crime.

Art Schlichter

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Art Schlichter played quarterback for Ohio State.

Gambling in the United States has become incredibly popular over the last two decades. Many people find it enjoyable to put money down and see what happens, but some don’t have the self-control necessary to step into a casino. Art Schlichter played professional football for 10 years before his retirement. After concluding his playing days, Schlichter found himself on sports radio in Las Vegas. 

However, Schlichter was fired for stealing money from the station to support his gambling addiction. It didn’t stop there for Schlichter, though. He was arrested for fraud and filing a false tax return to fund his gambling habit. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for these crimes. He also tested positive for cocaine while under house arrest. Since being released, Schlichter has been arrested for other drug-related crimes in recent years. 

Mel Hall

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Mel Hall had a successful baseball career.

Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in professional sports. Mel Hall did that for 15 years with various teams in the MLB. For his career, Hall hit .276 with 134 home runs. It appeared like Hall had the rest of his life set up in front of him when he retired in 1996. That wasn’t the case, though. In 2007, Hall was arrested for the sexual assault of a woman in 1999. She claimed hall assaulted her while she was 17.

While prosecutors investigated that crime, another assault of a girl under the age of 14 was discovered. Hall was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 45 years in prison with a minimum sentence of 22 years. After these reports came out, some of his former teammates expressed concern that Hall was preying on younger women during his playing career and that these weren’t the only girls out there that he assaulted. 

Kevin Allen

Team of young American football players lining up in formation during an afternoon practice session
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Kevin Allen was an offensive lineman in the NFL.

Being a top 10 pick in the NFL is a difficult feat to accomplish. Every year, thousands of players from countless colleges around the United States try to impress scouts. Kevin Allen did enough to impress the Philadelphia Eagles and have them draft him in the first round as the ninth pick. However, the relationship between the player and team seemingly soured right away. Quickly into his first season with the Eagles, Allen was demoted to only playing on special teams. 

After one season with the Eagles, Allen was cut because of a failed drug test. Almost immediately after being cut, Allen was charged with rape. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail. After serving just 33 months, Allen was released from custody. Because of the failed drug test and rape charges against Allen, he was banned from the NFL for life. Countless experts call Allen one of the worst NFL players in history. 

Steve Durbano

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Steve Durbano (right) played for the St. Louis Blues.

Hockey takes an incredibly amount of balance and skill. Steve Durbano showcased both of these attributes during his professional career. During his playing time, Durbano was known for being a hard hitting defenseman who didn’t let anyone mess with him. After his career ended, Durbano found himself arrested at the Toronto International Airport.

Coming from Miami, Durbano was locked up for trying to smuggle around $71,000 worth of cocaine into the country. For the crime, Durbano was sentenced to seven years in prison. Stories came out that Durbano was a regular cocaine user during his playing career in the NHL. He died at 50 in Yellowknife, Canada. 

Ugueth Urbina

Baseball player, ball and athlete or pitcher hand in a competitive match or game on the sports field for training. Closeup, sportsman and person playing a sport or softball as exercise and fitness
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Ugueth Urbina was a closer in the MLB.

Being a closer in baseball means you’re tasked with getting the final three outs of the game before your team claims victory. Ugueth Urbina was a former relief pitcher who led the National League in saves in the 1999 season. He was a two time all-star and he helped the Florida Marlins win their second World Series title in 2003. After a 10-year career, Urbina was trying to get accustomed to a life that no longer involved professional baseball. 

In 2005, a month after his last appearance in the MLB, Urbina was arrested in his native Venezuela for attempted murder. He went after five farmers on his land with a machete and tried to cover them in gasoline. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful. For these crimes, Urbina was sentenced to 14 years in jail in Venezuela. He was released in 2012 after serving slightly more than half of his sentence. 

Darren Sharper

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Darren Sharper won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.

For 13 years, Darren Sharper was known for delivering punishing hits on the football field. He was consistently among the best safeties in the league, helping keep the opposing teams out of the end zone. His career was capped off by winning Super Bowl XLIV with the New Orleans Saints. That win helped the city continue to recover from the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought just a few years before. After retiring, Sharper was making a name for himself on NFL Network as one of the lead analysts. 

It all came to a screeching stop when it was revealed that Sharper was under investigation for different sex crimes and the distribution of drugs. NFL Network quickly fired Sharper as the charges began to mount in different states. When it was all said and done, Sharper was charged with rape and drug crimes in California, Nevada, Florida, and Louisiana. For these crimes, he was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2019. He will be registered as a sex offender when he’s released in 2028. For more sports content, click here to read about the most successful athletes from the 21st century.

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