Imagine putting in the countless hours of work it takes and catching all the breaks you’d need to make it to the top level of a sport, and then to have it all taken away from you because of a few poor choices. That’s what the athletes on this list all experienced at some point during their careers.
Your mind probably goes right to cheating as the main reason why many athletes have been banned by the governing body in their sport, but as you’ll see, that’s a rare one. These men and women all reached the pinnacle of their sport before being banned — often for life.
Major League Baseball legend Pete Rose is probably the most famous example of a modern star in a team sport being given a lifetime ban. The game’s all-time leader in hits won three World Series with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies and would unquestionably have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he was eligible for inclusion. In 1989, Rose was banned by MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti after an investigation found that he bet on baseball games he was involved in while managing the Reds. Rose denied the allegations for decades before finally coming clean in a 2004 book and unsuccessfully campaigning for reinstatement.
Long before Pete Rose was the poster child for unethical baseball behavior, the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal was MLB’s ugliest scandal. The White Sox of that season were loaded with talent and used it to win the American League pennant and play in the World Series, in which they were heavily favored. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was the team’s best player and a surefire Hall of Famer until it was discovered that the squad took money from criminals to deliberately lose the series. Jackson was one of eight White Sox players banned by MLB for life because of their involvement in the fix.
Eddie “Knuckles” Cicotte was a pioneer of the knuckleball who was also likely headed for Cooperstown if he hadn’t been involved with the “Black Sox” scandal. Cicotte was the team’s best starting pitcher and cost the White Sox two of the three games he started during the 1919 World Series, which was a best-of-nine series at that point. Like Joe Jackson and seven other teammates, Cicotte was given a lifetime ban for his role in throwing the championship.
There may be no more infamous figure on this list than Tonya Harding. Her fall from grace and the subsequent end of her competitive figure skating career came after the most shocking incident in that sport’s history. During the buildup to the 1994 Winter Olympics, Harding was one of America’s best skaters, with Nancy Kerrigan being her chief rival. When Kerrigan was brutally attacked at an ice arena by a man that turned out to be Harding’s ex-husband, a criminal investigation led the United States Figure Skating Association to permanently ban her from competition for her involvement.
Nobody likes a cheater, and when it turned out that Lance Armstrong, the most successful athlete in cycling history and an inspiration to millions of people around the world, was doping, his career went up in flames. After he’d won seven consecutive Tour de France titles — the most prestigious championship in cycling — a 2012 investigation found Armstrong to be the leader of a complex doping program that went on for years. He was stripped of all his Tour de France titles and given a lifetime ban from competitive cycling.
After being drafted in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks in 1986, Roy Tarpley had a strong start to his NBA career, being named to the All-Rookie Team and the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. However, Tarpley battled addiction and would be arrested at least twice for driving while intoxicated from 1989-1991, as well as violating the league’s drug-abuse policy, leading to several suspensions. In 1991, he was given a rare lifetime ban from the NBA for violating the league’s drug policy for a third time. He eventually had a great career as a pro player in Europe but would never suit up in the NBA again.
Hal Chase was known as arguably the best first baseman of his era, from 1900-1920 but would have his legacy ruined by scandalous behavior. The 1916 National League batting champion while playing with the Cincinnati Reds, he was unofficially banned by MLB for having allegedly bet on games in which he was involved and thrown others. Chase was widely known as a crooked figure in the game, and, in the wake of the “Black Sox” scandal, he was one of the guys the league removed from play, even though he didn’t play on that notorious team.
Russia has seen the legacies of many of its great Olympians spoiled in recent years because of an elaborate doping program that spanned many sports. Among those athletes implicated in the cheating scandal were members of the country’s women’s hockey team, including star Yekaterina Smolentseva. A four-time Olympian, Smolentseva was the team’s captain and leading points scorer at the 2014 Winter Olympics. However, her involvement in that tournament was scrubbed, and she, along with five teammates, was banned for life by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
NBA guard Tyreke Evans is a rare member of this list who may still be able to salvage his career, despite being banished. While playing for the Indiana Pacers in 2019, Evans was found to be in violation of the league’s anti-drug policy, which got him banned for two years. He will be eligible to apply for reinstatement in 2021, when he’s 32 years old, but many of the players that faced that stiff punishment from the NBA never played on its courts again.
As you’ve already seen, fixing games is arguably the worst thing any athlete can do. That’s what got Dennis Alas, a captain for the El Salvadoran national soccer team, banned for life from competitive soccer. Alas appeared in 81 career international matches for his country before being banned by FIFA in 2013. Thirteen of his teammates were also given lifetime bans after a match-fixing scheme involving the El Salvador squad was uncovered.
Hansie Cronje was basically the Pete Rose of South African cricket. He’s widely regarded as one of the best players ever and remains popular with cricket fans in South Africa despite being banned for life from his sport. In 2000, Cronje was given that harsh punishment after admitting that he took money from bookies during his playing career. Perhaps even worse was that he admitted to offering teammates money for them to play poorly in matches. Just two years after the ban, Cronje was killed in a plane crash, but theories remain that he was the victim of a murder plot.
In 2008, spectators watching Ángel Matos compete in tae kwon do at the Beijing Olympics saw something they’ll likely never forget. The Cuban athlete had won a gold medal in the event at the 2000 Olympics and was fighting in a bronze medal match at the 2008 games when he was disqualified for taking too much time for an injury. Angered by the decision, Matos kicked the referee in the face. He was subsequently banned for life by the World Taekwondo Federation and the International Olympic Committee for the violent outburst.
Tennis isn’t a sport that’s seen many bans, but this Italian player is on the list. Potito Starace was once ranked in the world’s top 30 men’s singles players and reached the semifinals in doubles at the 2012 French Open, but he was given a harsh 10-year ban in 2018. An investigation found that Starace and his former doubles partner were involved in a scheme to fix matches at a 2011 tournament. Starace had earned nearly $4 million in tennis winnings before the ban, according to the ATP Tour.
Hockey has long been a game that embraces violence as part of its strategy, but Marty McSorley took it too far. He spent nearly 20 years in the NHL as an enforcer, playing alongside Wayne Gretzky in Montreal and Los Angeles. McSorley got in trouble in 1993 for using an illegal stick during the Stanley Cup Finals, but his worst incident would come in 2000. During a game, McSorley swung his stick and hit an opponent in the head, causing a severe concussion. For the vicious move, McSorley was eventually charged with assault and unofficially banned from the NHL — he was suspended for the rest of that season and would never be given a job in the league again.
Of the eight Chicago White Sox who were banned from baseball because of the 1919 World Series scandal, Buck Weaver’s legacy is arguably the cleanest. The switch-hitting third baseman’s complicity in the scheme to throw the championship has always been in question, given his on-field performance. During the World Series, Weaver got 11 hits and batted .324, which are hardly the stats of someone trying to lose. Regardless of his numbers, Weaver was given a lifetime ban and his several attempts at reinstatement were unsuccessful.
The NFL doesn’t have a history of banning players, but Frank Filchock is one of the few. According to the New York Post, the former New York Giants quarterback is one of just three players to ever be given that punishment by the league. The two-time Pro Bowler was barred by the NFL in 1947 for taking bribes and conspiring to throw the 1946 NFL Championship Game. Filchock ended up having a successful career in the Canadian Football League after his ban from the NFL.
In 2012, Choi Sung-Kuk was a rising star of South Korean soccer, but his career was given a red card. That year, the K-League and FIFA gave Choi lifetime bans for his role in a match-fixing program. An investigation found that he and other players had taken bribes in return for controlling the outcomes of matches they were involved in. Choi had represented his country in 26 international matches from 2002-2011.
In the early 1990s, Richard Dumas was a hot prospect for the Phoenix Suns, but his career was just a series of stops and starts. After being drafted in 1991, Dumas was suspended for the entire 1991-92 season for violating the league’s drug-abuse policy, pushing back his rookie season a full year. He eventually missed another entire season after another violation and some time in rehab, but his second comeback wouldn’t last. Dumas was eventually banned for life from the league for continued violations.
The policy of three drug-abuse violations and you’re out isn’t only used by the NBA, as the world’s biggest stock car racing league has also implemented it. In 2006, Shane Hmiel found that out the hard way when NASCAR banned him for life for failing a third drug test since 2003. He ended up driving for other auto racing leagues until a devastating crash left him paralyzed in 2010. But Hmiel’s story took an inspirational turn in 2013, when he drove a specially modified race car despite being unable to use his legs.
At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Lyudmyla Blonska earned a silver medal in the heptathlon in what would be the highlight of her career. The Ukrainian, who is pictured on the left here, would be stripped of that medal and her ability to compete in future events soon afterward, however. Blonska was banned for life by the Ukrainian Athletics Federation when she tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. She had previously served a two-year ban in 2003 for a similar violation.
NBC Sports once wrote that Guillermo Ramírez was well known among soccer fans for his “excellent hair.” Unfortunately, he’s now also known for being banned from the beautiful game. The Guatemalan midfielder was once captain of his national team, appearing in more than 100 matches for them, and helped the Los Angeles Galaxy win an MLS Cup in 2005. But a few years later, his career would be over. Ramírez was at the center of a match-fixing scandal in Guatemala that got him banned there before FIFA barred him from international competition in 2012.
There was a time when O.J. Mayo was expected to be the NBA’s next marquee star. After brilliant careers in high school and college, Mayo was drafted third overall in 2008, but he’d end up barred from the league just eight years later. Along with testing positive for a banned steroid, Mayo violated the NBA’s anti-drug policy and was hit with a two-year ban in 2016. It wasn’t a lifetime ban but, given that he has yet to play in another game since then, it might as well have been.
Defenseman Slava Voynov helped the Los Angeles Kings win two Stanley Cups before his NHL career came to an unceremonious end. He joined the team in 2011 but would have his contract terminated in 2015 after he attacked his wife. Voynov was essentially banned by the NHL after being arrested, and he was returned to his native Russia rather than face deportation. He’s eligible for reinstatement in 2020 but the league hasn’t indicated an interest in his return.
During his career on the cricket pitch, Mohammad Azharuddin was considered a hero in his native India, but his playing career ended in scandal. After a career that had been going strong since the 1980s, Azharuddin was banned from cricket in 2000 when he was implicated in a match-fixing scandal. However, unlike many figures on this list, Azharuddin has been somewhat exonerated and has become involved in his sport again. In 2012, an Indian court declared his ban illegal and he was elected as president of a cricket controlling board in 2019.
Infielder Heinie Zimmerman was known as a difficult guy to get along with in the locker room but a great player on the field during his MLB career. He won the Triple Crown in the National League in 1912 while playing with the Chicago Cubs and helped the team win back-to-back World Series. Those achievements and a career batting average of .295 could’ve landed him in the Hall of Fame, but instead he was banned from the game.
Zimmerman was known to approach teammates offering them extra money to perform poorly in certain games, a tactic he admitted in the wake of the “Black Sox” scandal, which he had nothing to do with, but the admission left him blacklisted, which turned into a lifetime ban.
At the 1986 NBA Draft, the Golden State Warriors felt they couldn’t pass up Chris Washburn (on the left) with the third overall pick, thanks to his nearly 7-foot frame and obvious on-court gifts. The pick ended up being a bad bet, however, as Washburn, seen on the left in this photo, would play in only 72 games before his NBA career was over. Like other NBA players on this list, Washburn battled substance abuse, missed playing time to go to rehab, relapsed and was ultimately banned by the league in 1989 for multiple instances of drug use.
In a bit of good news, Washburn’s son, Julian Washburn, currently plays in the NBA’s G League.
The same match-fixing scandal that ended Dennis Alas’ soccer career brought an end to Alfredo Pacheco’s as well. Pacheco, seen on the right in this photo, was a stalwart of El Salvadoran soccer, holding the country’s record for international match appearances. In 2013, he was implicated with several teammates in the scandal that got him banned for life. Pacheco’s troubles didn’t end there, unfortunately, as he was killed in a 2015 shooting at the age of 33.
Yet another soccer player who had their career derailed by corruption was Austria’s Dominique Taboga. The defender, seen on the left in this photo, had more than 200 game appearances at soccer’s top level before he was banned in 2013. Taboga was involved in a match-fixing scheme in Austria where he tried to convince several teammates to throw matches during the 2012 season. Taboga claimed his involvement stemmed from being blackmailed.
In the world of Greco-Roman wrestling, Amir Aliakbari was once considered one of the best. He won multiple world championships from 2009-2013 but was eventually barred from the sport for doping. In 2013, Aliakbari got a second mark on his record for using steroids, which led wrestling’s international governing body to ban him for life and strip him of a heavyweight title he earned that year. He eventually switched to mixed martial arts and signed a contract to fight with UFC but never had a bout before he was kicked out.
“Handsome” Harry Howell was one of the earliest baseball players to be banned by MLB. His harsh punishment came in 1910, while he was pitching for the St. Louis Browns. He was found to be manipulating games at the end of that season, with the intention of helping Nap Lajoie, an opposing player, win the batting title over Ty Cobb. Howell reportedly offered the official scorekeeper a new wardrobe in return for changing an error to a hit, which was the move that got him banned.