by MARK GREY
10. Kobe Bryant - At the age of 19, Kobe Bryant’s future couldn’t be any brighter. Not only was he the youngest player in NBA history to start an All-Star game, he was well on his way to becoming the “face” of the NBA. Bryant was becoming one of the best players on the court and one of the most recognized players off it. By the age of 22, Bryant had multimillion dollar deals with Adidas, Sprite, McDonalds, Upper Deck, and Spalding. After just 6 years in the league, Bryant was already a three-time Champion with a good guy image. In the summer of 2003, the sports world was shocked to hear that the NBA’s poster boy had been arrested and charged with the rape of a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. Bryant’s image took a huge hit and sponsors began dropping him as fast as they could. Bryant was taunted by fans in every city he went to and was even the subject of protests. Unlike most of the players on this list, Bryant’s public fallout happened in the prime of his career and had no effect on his performance; allowing him to rebuild his image. Charges against Bryant were later dropped as the victim's story began to change, but the damage to Kobe’s image would take years to rebuild.
9. Dwight Gooden & Darryl Strawberry - In 1986, Doc & Strawberry were sitting on top of the world. Strawberry was the Rookie of the Year in ‘83, Gooden in ‘84, and by ‘86, the New York Mets were World Series champs. At the young age of 20, Gooden had put together one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history (24 wins, 268 strikeouts, 1.53 ERA) on his way to winning what many thought was the first of many Cy Young awards. Strawberry had established himself as one of the best power hitters in the game and the sky was the limit for the young duo. After exploding on the scene in the mid-80s, both players' careers and images hit rock bottom after injuries and excessive drug problems. They were both on their way to Cooperstown, and now find themselves as prime examples as why kids should “just say no.”
8. Marion Jones - At the 2000 summer games in Sydney, Australia Jones was the biggest name in all of women’s track and field, and one of the most loved females in all of sports. She earned the title as the fastest woman in the world, and became recognized by all. Jones was known for her million dollar smile and was reported to be making close to 80 thousand dollars a race to go along with millions in endorsements. As fast as Jones was on the track, her image came tumbling down even faster. After years of denying steroid use, Jones was forced to tell the truth and faced jail time. If the steroid scandal wasn’t enough to torpedo Jones’ image, the 6-month jail sentence for her role in a check fraud case proved to be the low point of Jones' career. Jones was stripped of all of her medals and will forever be linked to one of the biggest sports scandals (BALCO) in sports history.
7. Mike Tyson - At just 20 years old, Iron Mike was the heavyweight champion of the world. Tyson was not only the youngest heavyweight champ of all time; he was also the most feared man on the planet. Mike didn’t just beat his opponents; he destroyed them. There were video games and million dollar deals everywhere Tyson turned and the only question was whether he’d be regarded as the greatest boxer of all time. Just when it seemed like the toughest man alive couldn’t be beaten; he was. His image has never been the same since. After being knocked out by the unheard-of Buster Douglas in 1990, Tyson’s career seemed to spiral out of control. He was convicted of rape and served three years in prison. After prison, Tyson was beaten by a 34-year-old Evander Holyfield, and in a rematch, Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear off. Once regarded as the greatest fighter alive, Tyson had turned into nothing more than a side show. He found himself back in jail, and once out of jail found himself on the wrong end of a boxing clinic put on by Lenox Lewis. After making hundreds of millions of dollars, Tyson is in debt and boxing fans question if he was ever that good to begin with.
6. Sammy Sosa - In 1998, Slammin’ Sammy had the baseball world eating out of the palm of his hand. If Michael Jordan had the key to the city, Sosa had the spare. Thanks to Sammy’s fan-friendly personality, there wasn’t a person in America who didn’t love Sosa. His pregame sprints around the outfield and tape measure home runs made him a fan favorite. In 1998, he was named Sports Illustrated's “Sportsman of the Year” and in 1999 he was President Bill Clinton’s special invited guest at the State of the Union address. Sosa was so popular that fans were willing to look the other way when he was caught using a corked bat. While it seemed like Sosa was on his way to being remembered as one of the greatest hitters of all time, he is now more known as the guy who forgot how to speak English in front of Congress. Sosa and his record- breaking four 60 homerun seasons have become nothing more than a distant memory that baseball wants us to forget.
5. Mark McGwire - If you were looking for big names in sports in the late 90’s, they didn’t get any bigger than Mark McGwire. The only thing bigger than the shadow he cast over the batter's box was his star status. He was a great player on the field and a perfect gentleman and professional off of it. Americans have always had an appetite for power and McGwire kept feeding us. Big Mac seemed to hit the ball further and further with each at bat. All of America was cheering that magical night he hit 61. There were highways named in his honor as McGwire had quickly become one of the most loved figures in all of sports. On the same day Sosa forgot how to speak English, McGwire refused to answer questions about steroid use. McGwire eventually admitted to using steroids, but his image had already been destroyed. Now, Pete Rose has a better shot of getting into the Hall of Fame than Big Mac.
4. Roger Clemens - Long before Brett Favre was playing the “will I - won’t I” retire game, Clemens had fans and teams begging for him to come back. Clemens had become so dominant at the end of his career that he pretty much just named his price and teams paid it. With over 350 wins and 7 Cy Young’s under his belt, Clemens was in the discussion of greatest pitcher of all time. By the end of his career, Clemens was the biggest story in baseball and he wasn’t even playing. He had fans in Houston, Boston, and New York begging for him to come save their teams. When it seemed like the Rocket was the first person to take on Father Time and win, we soon found out why. Although Clemens still denies ever using steroids, he was named in the now-famous Mitchell report, and his own trainer has said Clemens was on steroids. After years of being the lead story on Sportscenter for his play, Clemens found himself on TV arguing about dirty needles.
3. Tiger Woods - Arguably the biggest name in all of sports, Tiger’s legacy was beyond sports. Woods had become a global Icon. Tiger first took over the golf world in his twenties and by the time he reached 30, he had taken over the sports world. There wasn’t a more marketable person in the country than Woods as he was loved by all races. He had established himself as the best golfer in the world and one of the most clutch performers in sports history. The rule has always been, “no one person is bigger than the sport.” Tiger was the exception. Tiger's image was as clean as it gets -- golfer by day and loving husband by night. After becoming the first athlete to be worth over a billion dollars, it seemed like Woods could do no wrong. After an odd single car accident at Woods' home, the once unbreakable image was shattered. Women started coming out of everywhere with more and more wild stories about Woods and his personal life. Before you knew it, women all over the country hated him and sponsors started dropping. Fans who once worshiped the greens he walked on turned on him, and even his swing coach quit. Writers who before would never dare speak badly about Woods now felt the need to kick the man while he was down. There is still a lot of time left for Tiger to repair his image (see Kobe Bryant), but for now, his fall from glory is one the biggest in sports history.
2. Michael Vick - Vick’s fall is a little different than everyone else on this list. While most of the people on the list's fall from glory resulted in them losing fans, Vick’s fall created countrywide hatred towards him. Vick went from the face of a franchise to the face of PETA in a matter of days. Vick, who was the most exciting player in football, was becoming one of the most marketable faces in sports. When police found out that Vick was bank rolling a dog-fighting ring in his back yard, sponsors couldn’t get away from Vick fast enough. Even Vick’s biggest supporters were scared to open their mouths in fear of the backlash they would face for defending his actions. Vick quickly went from the 100-million dollar franchise quarterback to behind bars. While Vick had became known for his ability to make defenders miss, there was no running from his protesters as they seemed to show up everywhere he went.
1. O.J. Simpson - Your dad knew him as one of the best running backs ever and your mom knew him from the Naked Gun, but everyone knew O.J. Simpson had found a way to be embarrassed by white America as the anti-Jim Brown. As hard as he ran on the field, he was as soft spoken off it. Whether he was running through the airport in an Avis commercial or running away from would-be tacklers, everyone loved OJ. While OJ ran for over 11,000 yards in his career, it is his run from the Law that he will forever be remembered for. No one will ever forget Simpson and his white Bronco leading police all over southern California after the murder of his ex-wife. Simpson’s once nice-guy image has now forever been replaced by the image of a murderer and convicted felon.