The Most Spectacular Flame-Outs in Sports

America's major league athletes are expected to be super-healthy, fabulously fit role-models. Unfortunately, they don't always end up that way.

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Mike Tyson
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When you’ve served time for rape, been arrested for domestic violence, bitten someone’s ear off, and covered a quarter of your face with some sort of a tribal tattoo, people don’t tend to think of you as happy or well-adjusted. So it’s not like the world went into a state of shock when MIKE TYSON was pulled over in January 2007 and busted for doing coke in the car and being under the influence of “a depressant, stimulant and cannabis.” But there were no Sugar Tits-like tirades from the former heavyweight champion of the world. Instead, he immediately confessed that he was an addict and, by February, had checked into the now-defunct Wonderland rehab in Los Angeles. Since then, he’s been the unlikely poster-boy for recovery— taking a seat on Oprah’s couch to talk about his struggles with fame, worrying that his fellow rehabbers would hate him for all the wrong he’s done, and hosting a benign bird show.

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Michael Phelps
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Poor old MICHAEL PHELPS. He was the darling of the press before pictures circulated in January 2009, showing him puffing on a big ole bong. In his defense, the guy was practically a kid and it doesn’t sound like he had too much time off in his childhood. As he himself put it: “I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me.” That probably explains his D.U.I. at age 19 too... But come on, all those kids he “let down”? They’re probably relieved he screws up, just like regular people do. Phelps has obviously grown up now: despite rumors of performance-enhancing substances, he’s passed all of his drug tests and is an advocate of Project Believe, part of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

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Lawrence Taylor
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Pro-Football Hall-of-Famer—and sometime Dancing With The Stars contestant—LAWRENCE TAYLOR hasn’t had an easy time off the field. The former New York Giants linebacker came out as an addict in 2003, admitting to 60 Minutes, “I saw coke as the only bright spot in my future,” and detailing a lurid life of endless coke-and-sex parties, when he would call up to six prostitutes a day. L.T. was one of the first players suspended in 1988, after the N.F.L. started implementing its drug enforcement policies—and it seemed to go downhill from there. However, he was reportedly clean for 11 years before being arrested in November 2009, for leaving the scene of a traffic accident in Miami. This was followed by a charge of the third-degree rape of a 16-year-old prostitute in May 2010.

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Josh Hamilton
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Major League Baseball All-Star outfielder for the Texas Rangers, staunch Christian and former crack addict JOSH HAMILTON likes nothing more than a titty bar when he relapses. "He went through cocaine, smoking crack and $100,000," his wife Katie Hamilton said in 2005, after her husband went out to the drug store just after the birth of their first child and disappeared for six weeks. Poor ole Hamilton battled hard against his demons, relapsed a few times, and now keeps in check with thrice-weekly drug tests and lots of team support. He credits God and his grandma for his recovery.

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Tony La Russa
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TONY LA RUSSA, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, apparently took a little nap in his Ford S.U.V. back in 2007. Unfortunately, he was in the middle of an intersection at the time. It didn’t take long for the cops to find him slumped over the wheel, the car in drive and his foot (luckily) jammed against the brake. The Cardinals and their fans remained supportive of La Russa, who was charged with a D.U.I. after scoring .093, and he’s kept his nose clean since.

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Damon Evans
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If you’re going get a D.U.I., lose your job and have your license suspended, what better way to go out than with a panty-less former student in your car? Okay, it sounded like a good idea at the time for DAMON EVANS, the University of Georgia’s former athletics director, but apparently he had second thoughts when he tried to coax the police into making the incident disappear, based on his position at the university.

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Joba Chamberlain
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He’s only 25, but Yankee pitcher JOBA CHAMBERLAIN has already racked up a D.U.I. conviction and a whole pile of personal problems, thanks in part to his meth-addicted, drug peddling mom, who was busted just a few months after her son. There have been recent concerns about his increasing weight, but who can begrudge the dude some comfort food after the last few years he’s had?

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George Best
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Legendary Manchester United soccer forward and famed boozer George Best caused a furor in 2002, when he hopped to the front of Britain’s NHS waiting list to receive a liver transplant —and was then seen out drinking on several occasions afterwards. “In 1969, I gave up women and alcohol and it was the worst 20 minutes of my life,” Best once said. His inability to quit the drinking that had destroyed his own liver caused all kinds of debate over whether alcoholics should receive transplants. “Drink is the only opponent I’ve been unable to beat,” Best wrote sadly in his memoir Blessed, before dying in 2005 of alcohol-related complications.

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Michael Irvin
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Troubled MICHAEL IRVIN, a former Dallas Cowboy, has a long history of felony charges. His most notable followed a 2005 arrest, when the cops showed up at his apartment to arrest a woman for selling heroin—and stumbled across the Hall of Famer with a hooker and a pile of drugs. He shows no signs of slowing down: following an accusation of sexual assault, a civil suit was filed against him in 2010, which was eventually settled out of court.

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John Daly
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Apparently JOHN DALY has even bigger problems than his alcoholism and weight issues: he loves Hooters. After passing out in a flowerbed covered in his own urine, John proved Chris Rock’s theory that no one goes to Hooters for wings. At the British Open in 2010, Daly said he’s no longer drinking alcohol—but not before leaving his legacy (a John Daly is an Arnold Palmer laced with vodka).

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Pedro Guerrero
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Former first baseman for St Louis Cardinals PEDRO GUERRERO seemed to be doing pretty well—until he retired from baseball and was arrested in 1999 for trying to buy 33 pounds of cocaine from an undercover cop. The best part? His lawyers argued that Pedro was too darn stupid to realize he was doing a drug deal—and he was acquitted!

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Diego Maradona
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Argentinean DIEGO MARADONA is one of sport’s most controversial and newsworthy figures, both on and off the soccer pitch. Whether he’s claiming a dodgy hand-goal was actually “la mano de dios,” failing a drug test for cocaine, or testing positive at the ’94 World Cup for the performance-enhancing drug ephedrine, Maradona leaves a litter of bad publicity in his wake and has health problems beyond his issues with drugs. As Martin Amis put it, “Inside every fat man, they say, there is a thin man trying to get out. In the case of Maradona, it seems, there is an even fatter man trying to get in.”

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Steve Howe
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Over a 17-year career, former Dodger and Yankees relief pitcher Steve Howe was suspended seven times for his chronic substance abuse problem. In his ’89 autobiography, Between the Lines: One Athlete’s Struggle to Escape the Nightmare of Addiction, he claimed to have found hope in Christianity. But when he died in 2006, after his pick up truck overturned, toxicology reports found that he had methamphetamine in his system.
 

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Todd Marinovich
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Esquire magazine hit the nail on the head when they called Todd Marinovich “The Man Who Never Was”. Drafted ahead of Brett Favre, Maranovich was groomed to be a great quarterback. Instead, he traded in his career for life as a junkie, using heroin, methamphetamine, crack and cocaine. He made it to fourth place in E.S.P.N.’s list of Biggest Sports Flops, and his name has become synonymous with highly-vaunted football players who turn out to be disappointments.

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Dwight Gooden
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On May 31st, 2006, after countless D.U.I.’s and failed drug tests for cocaine, Major League baseball pitcher DWIGHT GOODEN said poignantly, in an interview from his prison cell: "I'd rather get shot than come back here. If I don't get the message this time, I never will." Famous last words. On March 24, 2010, Gooden was arrested and charged with eight counts, including D.W.I. with a child passenger. It seems Dwight never will get the message.

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Len Bias
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First round pick in the 1986 N.B.A. draft LEN BIAS has to be one of the saddest stories in the history of the game. Twenty-two year-old Bias died two days after getting picked—of cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose. He’s generally considered a martyr of sorts—one of the greatest players never to get the opportunity to play. “He was our guy,” said Red Auerbach, the Celtics team president. “He was going to be a perennial All-Star. He had it all. He could shoot, he could run, he could rebound and he could defend. He was big. And he loved the game and played with passion.” The loss of Len Bias “sent shockwaves through every player, but it went deeper than that,” said Kenny Smith. “It shocked everyone of that era—even those who didn’t know anything about basketball. Everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard Len died because it was such a wake-up call to so many people. One, because of his physical stature, two, because of his ability, and three, because it hadn’t really hit most people yet that drugs really kill you. Not only in the long term, after years of abuse, but right now. You can be here today and gone today if you use the stuff.”