Top 10 Controversial Athletes

Athletes can be considered controversial for a number of reasons: whether they love to trash talk, cheat at their sports, bit their opponents ears or get caught in a criminal investigation, fans and the media stay divided. Tennis great John McEnroe had a tendency to scream and trash rackets, while John Daly was anything but your typical golfer. Muhammad Ali liked to float like a butterfly and talk like a jerk, while cyclist Lance Armstrong tainted his legacy by allegedly doping to win his Tour de France titles. In honor of Ron Artest/Metta World Peace’s birthday on November 13th, WatchMojo.com is counting down our picks for the top 10 most controversial U.S. athletes.
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Top 10 Most Controversial Athletes


They made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 most controversial athletes.

#10 – John McEnroe, Tennis: Always Causing a Racket

Kicking off our list is the hot-blooded leftie who made tennis bad-ass. With 17 total Grand Slam titles, Johnny Mac had talent and then some, but he also had a wicked temper – and for a sport as squeaky clean as tennis, that was a total shock. McEnroe’s antics included yelling at umpires, smashing rackets, and even coining new catchphrases.

#9 – Dennis Rodman, Basketball: Dennis the Menace

Like McEnroe, Rodman excelled at his sport – in fact, the Worm was arguably one of the greatest all-time defenders and rebounders. But, he grew more eccentric as his career went on, and we’re not just talking about bright hair, tattoos and piercings. Relationships with Madonna and Carmen Electra didn’t make him all that weird, but cross-dressing and kicking a court-side cameraman certainly caused some raised eyebrows.

#8 – John Daly, Golf: Bar for the Course

Golf doesn’t necessarily require the same physicality as other sports, but in his heyday Long John took that to another level. Daly learned the hard way that drinking and golfing don’t mix. And did we mention the four wives and gambling? While today he has sobered up, he made no friends in 1994 when he claimed that most golfers were coke-heads, and that he was “one of the cleanest guys out there.”

#7 – Michael Vick, Football: Who Let the Dogs Out?

He was one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league, but he threw it all away because he loved to watch dogs fight. Vick was sent to jail in the prime of his career, while many other athletes are let off for their crimes. Upon his return, he became – sorry for the pun – an underdog to those who felt the man had paid for his misdeeds.

#6 – Lance Armstrong, Cycling: What a Dope

After battling cancer, he returned to his sport to become one of the greatest cyclists in history – that is, until doping allegations against him got him stripped of his awards and sponsorships. No one really defends him against those accusations, but the tireless work he did for cancer research and his “coming back despite the odds” story mean that public opinion about the Livestrong founder is mixed.

#5 – Pete Rose, Baseball: Wanna Bet?

Rose was one of the greatest hitters of all time, with a trademark Superman slide to boot. But his contributions to America’s pastime were tainted when he confessed to betting on baseball, and even his own team. He earned a lifetime ban for his trouble, but some fans think he deserves a spot in Cooperstown, since many men with terrible traits ended up there.

#4 – Mike Tyson, Boxing: Lend Him an Ear

Huge face tattoo? Check. Threatening statements? Double check. Pseudo-cannibalism? Check times infinity. Iron Mike was a killer in the ring, but his odd behavior and even odder interviews often overshadowed his skills, as Evander Holyfield would surely tell you. After his career, a different side to Tyson surfaced, one with a self-deprecating sense of humor and an almost Zen-like ability to reflect on his career as a pugilist.

#3 – Ron Artest, Basketball: Give Peace a Chance

Like the energizer bunny, this guy just keeps on going. One of the best defenders of his era, Artest became infamous during the “Malice in the Palace” brawl when he ran into the crowd to fight fans and received a record-long 86-game suspension. His abrasive personality and bad boy persona persisted, until he changed his name to Metta World Peace to promote, well, world peace. Too bad he then proceeded to nearly decapitate James Harden during a game.

#2 – Muhammad Ali, Boxing: Float Like a Butterfly, Talk Like a Jerk

Cassius Clay was a loudmouth, and he perfected the art of trash talking. He was also the Greatest and he coughed up some of the best soundbites ever to come out of an athlete’s mouth. But, it was his choice to join the Nation of Islam, and his subsequent refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, that were his most controversial and significant moments.

#1 – O.J. Simpson, Football: The Juice Goes Bad

Taking the top spot on our list is the Juice. Depending who you ask, O.J. is either a double murderer who walked away scot-free from the trial of the century, or a victim of America’s double standard against prominent African-Americans. Either way, he wasn’t a particularly controversial player: he even had a career as a spokesman, actor and commentator. But after he left the NFL, things went decidedly downhill.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these ten athletes were lightning rods for controversy, and generated mixed feelings from fans and the media. Who do you think we missed? For more top 10s about your favorite athletes, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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