Fans all over the world watch their favorite sports for the sheer excitement they experience when they watch their favorite sportsperson scores from an amazing volley, makes a great save, lands a knock-out punch or makes a comeback victory. But there is a world outside sports, and ultimately, all sportsmen are humans, and they too may end up as criminals.
Here’s a list of high-profile players with criminal records:
5. Allen Iverson (Basketball)
Unlike most sportsmen with a criminal background, Allen Iverson was convicted of crime before he turned professional. Iverson and his friends were involved in a fight with a group of white men, after racial comments were made by the group. Iverson is also alleged to have hit a woman with a chair during the fight – a charge which he denied. Only Iverson and his three friends (all African-Americans) were arrested. Iverson was charged and convicted as an adult for 15 years – though he was only a minor at that time – and also in spite of lack of ample evidence, leading to allegations of racism being the reason for his conviction. After spending just 4 months in prison, he was pardoned by the Governor, and the conviction was later overturned in 1995. Iverson went on to become one of the best shooting guards in the history of the NBA, and top-scored for 4 seasons between 1999 to 2005. His scoring record of 29.7 points per game is the second-best in NBA playoffs history.
4. Boris Becker (Tennis)
A relatively unknown Boris Becker made his presence known in grand style in 1985 at the All England Club in Wimbledon by becoming the youngest, and also the first unseeded player to win the Wimbledon title. Becker was named the ATP Player of the Year in 1989 after winning 2 Grand Slams, and helped West Germany defend the Davis Cup successfully. He reached a career peak of World #1 in the rankings in 1991. He won 49 singles and 15 doubles titles in his career, including 6 Grand Slams, and earned a total prize money of $25 million in his career. He is also one of the greatest players to have never achieved a Career Grand Slam. His best showings in the French Open were semi-final appearances in 1987, 89 and 91. Things might have been different for him, had he not been caught up in a tax evasion scandal in 1993 (for which he was held guilty in 2002 – leading to a 2-year suspended sentence and $500,000 in fine). He retired in 1999, and is currently a commentator for BBC Sport, in addition to producing and marketing his own brand of tennis racquets.
3. Rubin Carter (Boxing)
Rubin Carter, perhaps best known as the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”, is a man who takes the term “criminal history” to a totally different level. He was first held for assault at the age of 14, and sent to juvenile prison, from where he escaped after 3 years. He was re-arrested within 2 years, and after being released, he was involved in a series of muggings, and again imprisoned for another 4 years. After release, he turned to boxing. In spite of an impressive record of 27 wins in 40 matches, including 19 knock-out wins (which earned him his nickname of “Hurricane”), he did not win any professional boxing titles, though he did win two European light-welterweight championships. He and his friend John Artis were held for a shoot-out in a bar in 1966, which resulted in 2 people being killed and 2 seriously injured, one of whom died a month later. They were convicted for the crime, and again convicted at the re-trial. Carted was freed in 1985, after his conviction was overturned by a District Court judge.
2. George Best (Football)
Nicknamed “El Beatle” for his looks, George Best was one of the greatest players ever to play football, and arguably the most charismatic player to wear the Red Devils’ jersey. Best was literally picked off the streets by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, at the age of 15 to represent the club. He played the best 10 years of his career in Manchester United from 1963 to 1972, forming the “United Trinity” – George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. He went on to win the First Division (Premier League) and European Cup (UEFA Champions League) with a Manchester United side that was still reeling under the aftermath of the 1958 Munich Air disaster. He also won the Ballon d’Or in 1968, when he was just 22 years of age. He was so exceptional that Pele described him as the “greatest player in the world”. One of the most memorable incidents in his career is of him scoring an incredible six goals in an FA cup tie, in a match that marked his return from a six week long ban. But towards the end, his game declined due to alcoholism, and he left the club in 1972. He returned again the next season, before quitting the team for good in 1974, and continued his downhill slide at various other clubs. Alcoholism was at the core of all major problems in his life, and in 1984, he was sentenced for 3 months for assaulting a police officer after being caught driving when drunk. He passed away in 2005, due to liver complications he suffered as a result of a transplant done in 2002.
1. O J Simpson (American Football)
Orenthal ”Juice” Simpson had a highly decorated career in Athletics and American Football. He holds the world record in 4×110 yard relay, set by his team in 1967, and also won the Heisman trophy the next year by a record margin of 1750 points, before joining the NFL. He was the first and one of only 6 players to “rush” for 2000 or more yards in a season, and holds the record of 143.1 yards per game in a season. He is also rated the #40 player of all time by the NFL. In 1994, he was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. The arrest and the subsequent trial were much talked about, and took up prime-time spots and live coverage in all major news channels in USA, and is considered the most publicised criminal trial in the history of the country. He was acquitted of the murders in October 1995, but the trial and verdict had split the country along racial lines. In 2007, he was arrested and sentenced for 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping.
Those that missed out:
Mike Tyson (Boxing):
This is a man who needs no introduction. A man who ruled the boxing ring for the most part of his career, Mike Tyson is probably best known for biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear during a match. He was convicted of rape in 1992 for six years, but was released after just 3 years, before he began his legendary rivalry with Holyfield.
Marion Jones (Athletics):
Winner of 5 medals, including 3 Golds at the 2000 Olympics, Jones was stripped of the medals following a doping scandal in 2007. She was convicted of perjury – lying under oath – in 2008, and was sentenced to 6 months in prison.
Salman Butt (Cricket):
The former captain of Pakistan Test team, Salman Butt has multiple centuries in both the longer and shorter format of the game. He was held for spot-fixing in 2010, and sentenced to 30-month imprisonment and handed a 10-year ban in 2011, along with Mohammad Amir (3 months imprisonment, 5 year ban) and Mohammad Asif (1 year imprisonment, 7 year ban).
Note: The list was prepared based on the publicity the cases received, and/or the effect it had on the person’s career.