Plenty of athletes have surprising pasts. Some high-profile cases on this list will come as no surprise, but others you may never have heard have a checkered past.
In this modern age of public criminal records search databases and social media, it’s very hard for anyone to keep a history of criminal activity private. In this guide, we’re looking at 10 athletes with criminal records, some of whom actually regenerated their careers.
1. Sonny Liston
Sonny Liston was imprisoned in 1950 aged just 20. He had ties to muggings, armed robberies and even organized crime in St. Louis. While he served in prison, Liston would go on to improve his athleticism and boxing skills, and eventually become one of the greatest heavyweight boxers ever. He will forever be remembered for fighting Muhammad Ali.
2. Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress has been dubbed one of the “dumbest criminals” in the history of athletics. He went clubbing, carrying an unregistered gun, which is a felony as per New York’s gun laws. Buress managed to shoot himself in the leg by mistake, and eventually turned himself into police, who would eventually get him a two year stint in prison.
3. Jayson Williams
Former basketball star Jayson Williams accidentally shot his limo driver while giving people a tour of his mansion. He was reportedly playing with a shotgun when it went off, and though he was acquitted of some charges he served a sentence for manslaughter, and trying to cover up the shooting.
4. Darren Sharper
A former NFL star and an All-Pro select six times, Darren Sharper could be looking at spending up to 20 years in jail. He pleaded either guilty or no contest to a string of charges relating to drugging and assaulting women in multiple states of the US.
5. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson was another boxing superstar, but not everyone knows that he has a criminal past. Tyson was imprisoned in the ‘90s after he was found guilty of assaulting an 18-year-old who he is said to have overpowered in his hotel room. Though he denied this, Tyson was given a six-year sentence, of which he served three years before going on to carve out a successful career in boxing.
6. Lee Murray
MMA fighter Lee Murray managed to make off with over $90 million in an impressively large operation to rob a Securitas deposit in Kent, UK. He fled to Morocco and due to his Moroccan heritage he was tried as a citizen there, but given just 10 years as his sentence. The UK intervened and upped that sentence to 25 years.
7. Aaron Hernandez
The sinister story of Aaron Hernandez has been turned into a documentary on Netflix. He murdered Odin Lloyd, a fellow football player. The motive was said to be that Odin knew too much about a previous shooting that may have been traced back to Hernandez. There was plenty of evidence to convict him, and he is now serving life in prison.
8. Mike Danton
Ice Hockey player Mike Danton was arrested in 2004 after he was accused of trying to kill his agent. However, the agent claims that he was not supposedly the target, and that Danton planned to kill his father, who he no longer had contact with. Danton tried to hire a hitman to carry out the murder, and eventually was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. After serving his sentence he returned to professional Ice Hockey, mainly playing in Europe.
9. Oscar Pistorius
Dubbed the “blade runner”, Pistorius is a South African paralympic sprinter who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Originally he served just one year in jail for manslaughter, but eventually the Supreme Court overturned this conviction and found him guilty of murder. His sentence was eventually increased to 15 years in total, partially due to the media pressure that was put on after Pistorius committed the crime, and the incredibly lenient sentencing.
10. Michael Vick
Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick was charged with operating a dog fighting venture and participating in both dog fights and criminal gambling. Vick was accused of being involved in the executions of dogs, admitting to killing 6-8 dogs who were underperforming. Vick was eventually sentenced to three-years in jail with the condition of good behavior.
Upon release, Vick rehabilitated, and as well as returning to professional football, he has done work for charitable foundations.
Some of the criminal pasts of these professional athletes are plain bizarre, others are frankly sinister. There are a number of former athletes serving life in prison for a variety of different criminal activities, from organized crime to drug offences and even petty crime. While some reintegrate back into society, there are athletes who just seem to throw it all away in spite of their established careers.