27 Controversial Figures in NFL History

Scouts and executives in the National Football League have never been overly concerned with inconveniences like criminal records or character. Need proof? These world-class scuzzballs made it to the league. While some brought their heavy Louis Vuitton baggage from college, others' scumbaggery came with few warning signs.

1. Darrell Russell

Darrell Russell
Image Credit: Oakland Raiders.

An Oakland Raider defensive tackle, Darrell Russell, videotaped himself and two friends as they sexually assaulted a woman who had been drugged. The tape was discovered after police raided Russell's home. Prosecutors then arrested and charged Russell but later dropped the charges. Russell later died in a fatal car accident.

2. Eric Naposki

Eric Naposki
Image Credit: Ciker.

Eric Naposki, a New England Patriot from 1988-1997, was charged with murder in the 1994 death of  Nanette Johnston's boyfriend, Bill McLaughlin, so Johnston could get McLaughlin's life insurance payout. Naposki was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

3. Randall Woodfield*

Randall Woodfield
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

While he *never played, the “I-5 Killer” was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. He was also a serial killer who murdered up to 44 people. He signed a contract with the Packers but was cut during training camp, failing to make the final roster. He played the 1974 season with the semi-pro Manitowoc Chiefs. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1981.

4. Rae Carruth

Carolina Panthers
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Speedster Rae Carruth was virtually unguardable as a wide receiver at the University of Colorado, amassing a resume that would make him a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. Sadly, Carruth's unwillingness to pay child support for a second child was also unstoppable, so he spent money on a hitman to murder Cherica Adams, a beautiful real-estate agent carrying Carruth's unborn child.

Adams would die at the hospital, but her son, Chancellor Lee Adams would miraculously live (though with extensive brain damage). Carruth was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other charges, receiving a sentence of up to 24 years and four months in prison—cold-blooded Carruth.

5. Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Most everybody knows the story of Aaron Hernandez, a high school and college football star who took a hard left-turn towards criminality in college and only pressed harder on the accelerator once drafted by the New England Patriots.

Paranoid, allegedly closeted and implicated in multiple murders, Aaron Hernandez led the kind of life that reminds NFL fans never to conflate athletic feats with good character. Hernandez reportedly committed suicide in a Massachusetts prison at the age of 27, nearly two years to the day after being convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd.

6. OJ Simpson

OJ Simpson
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Based on all available evidence and theories, it seems likely that O.J. did it alone, or his son (diagnosed with intermittent rage disorder) did it, and O.J. helped cover up the crime. Either way, O.J. Simpson earned his spot on this list and cemented Top-Five status when he wrote the notorious “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.”

7. Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Ray Lewis (of blood-stained suit fame) is living proof that “not guilty” does not translate to “innocent.” Despite Lewis' 12 Pro Bowls, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards, two Super Bowls, and Hall of Fame induction, Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker are still dead from multiple stab wounds. Lewis had blood all over his suit on the night of the murders, and he testified against his two friends to save his skin (and NFL career).

If you say it with a twang, “Ray Lewis” rhymes with “two-tiered justice system.”

8. Kellen Winslow, Jr.

Kellen Winslow, Jr.
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Kellen Winslow, Jr. was the son of a Hall of Fame father, a star in how own right at the University of Miami, and a quality starter across 10 NFL seasons.

Now, Winslow is a convicted sexual offender who took advantage of the elderly and the homeless. Since his stunning charges hit the headlines, revelations have emerged that Winslow was known to watch adult videos as a leisure activity and exhibited other red-flag behaviors throughout his playing career.

Is there something about freakishly talented tight ends that makes them prone to commit heinous crimes? Between Kellen Winslow, Jr. and Aaron Hernandez, you have to wonder.

9. Thomas ‘Hollywood' Henderson

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Thomas Henderson's criminal allegations, to which he pleaded no contest, could shake your faith in humanity's inherent goodness. The allegations involve forcing a paraplegic minor to conduct acts against her will while issuing credible threats to her life. While a history of substance abuse may help explain the former Dallas Cowboys linebackers' despicable behavior, there is only so much abhorrent behavior that you can blame on your addiction.

10. Robert Rozier

St. Louis Cardinals
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

An Alaska native, Robert Rozier became known more as a by-any-means enforcer for the Nation of Yahweh Hebrew Israelite cult than a professional football player, though he was the latter. Rozier would admit to several felonious crimes, including taking lives, that he committed as a member of the Nation of Yahweh.

11. Tommy Kane

Seattle Seahawks
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Former Seahawks wide receiver is yet another case study proving that one's ability to run with a football does not translate into good character. Kane pled guilty to taking his estranged wife's life in front of his mother, displaying a level of callousness that few can fathom.

12. Dave Meggett

New England Patriots
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Dave Meggett wasn't just some also-rand in the NFL. The former New England Patriots running back was a two-time All-Pro selection, but it's tough to see Meggett's on-field accomplishments with his considerable rap sheet dangling in the way. From failure to pay child support to allegations of soliciting night walkers to even more disturbing allegations (like, several) of taking advantage of women against their will, Meggett belongs in the Hall of Fame of Bad Guys.

13. Barret Robbins

Oakland Raiders
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Barrett Robbins would have lived in infamy if his bizarre disappearance the night before Super Bowl XXXVII was the worst thing he ever did. However, Robbins (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder) would go on to engage in arrest-worthy physical altercations (including an alleged attack on a mother and daughter), be shot multiple times, and struggle with drug use as his arrest record grew and grew following his playing days.

14. Henry Ruggs III

Henry Ruggs III
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Henry Ruggs III may not be a man with bad intentions, as there were no signs of poor character before being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. However, Henry Ruggs III is a testament to the devastating consequences of poor decision-making.

In 2021, Ruggs got behind the wheel of his Corvette while intoxicated, eventually reaching speeds of 156 mph before striking a Toyota RAV4. Tina Tintor and her dog were in that RAV4, and they burned to death after the vehicle caught fire.

15. Gene Atkins

New Orleans Saints
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

New Orleans Saints safety Gene Atkins became a fan favorite in the Big Easy as a seventh-round draft pick out of Florida A&M, but his post-playing life was anything but easy. In 2004, Atkins sparked an altercation that would lead to 20 criminal counts and a spot on this list.

Atkins' wife called authorities for help, claiming that her husband had cornered her in a bedroom before physically striking her numerous times and preventing her from leaving the home. When police arrived, Atkins was wielding multiple knives, overcame a taser strike, and physically assaulted an officer before eventually surrendering.

16. Darren Sharper

Darren Sharper
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Darren Sharper was the last guy you would suspect of being a serial predator. The Hall of Fame-worthy talent was a tall, suave, smooth-talking professional athlete, but his public persona belied a preference that would eventually land him in prison.

Multiple women shared accounts of falling unconscious after sharing drinks with Sharper, feeling that they had been taken advantage of while incoherent. A shocking pattern emerged as victim after victim came forth with similar allegations. Sharper pled guilty to numerous charges in multiple states, forever dismissing the possibility that these were merely baseless allegations.

17. Leonard Little

St. Louis Rams
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Leonard Little was an accomplished defensive end for the St. Louis Rams across twelve NFL seasons but succumbed to the impulsive, reckless decisions that we see in so many retired football players with a decade-plus of head injuries to their name. In 1998, Little drove drunk and took the life of a woman who was on her way to pick up her son from a concert. Little was again arrested for DWI in 2004 but was acquitted despite admitting to drinking alcohol (presumably because he refused breath or blood tests).

18. Darryl Henley

Los Angeles Rams
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

A second-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1989, cornerback Darryl Henley would intercept 12 passes across 76 games played in his NFL career (about five seasons' worth of action). However, his 41-year prison sentence for trafficking illegal narcotics and trying to resolve his legal issue homicidally will, unfortunately, be Henley's lasting legacy.

19. Michael Vick

Michael Vick
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

The right to second chances is practically the 28th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Americans understand our own capacity to mess up, but “messing up” hardly describes Michael Vick's felonious dogfighting ring. Vick has rehabbed his image to the extent that he's employed as a T.V. analyst on a major network, but people (and especially pitbull owners) don't forget.

20. Lawrence Phillips

Lawrence Phillips
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Cornhuskers running back Lawrence Phillips was, once upon a time, a household name whose stature and talent for football loomed larger than the corn stalks in York County, Nebraska. Even in his collegiate days, Phillips was accused of heinous crimes, including dragging his ex-girlfriend down a flight of stairs.

Sadly, Phillips would continue his descent after being disappointed in the NFL. His life would become defined by legal issues. He allegedly drove a car into teenagers who he was beefing with because of a pickup basketball game. Phillips was also accused of domestic abuse, assault, false imprisonment, and other allegations (most of which led to convictions).

When Phillips' cellmate lost his life, there was only one person to point the finger at, and that was the only other person in the cell (Phillips). While awaiting trial in that case in January 2016, Phillips appeared to take his own life, ending a tragic life that had spiraled far out of control since his collegiate heyday as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

21. Alonzo Spellman

Alonzo Spellman
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Alonzo Spellman was a 6'4″ goliath who played defensive end for multiple NFL franchises. Yet, Spellman was also one of multiple NFL players eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a string of behaviors that many would consider bizarre.

From a blow-up in a doctor's office to an outburst on a plane flight and a high-speed chase with police, Spellman continually endangered others while refusing to take medication and instead relying on drugs and alcohol. While there must be sympathy for serious mental disorders, Spellman burned multiple second chances on his way to making this list.

22. Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Few people (let alone athletes) have slid from the top of their craft to destructive pariah quicker than Antonio Brown. With one massive hit, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict seemingly rewired Brown's brain. Since that fateful game in 2015, Brown has burned multiple franchises with erratic on- and off-field antics, been the subject of police standoffs, and reportedly refused to pay personal chefs and football players for services rendered (Brown purchased an indoor football team and chaos promptly ensued), and has been generally incoherent at every step along the way.

From the undisputed best receiver in the NFL to out of the league, Brown's tragic fall from grace is not for lack of talent. While Brown has not hurt anyone physically (to my knowledge), his willingness to publicly trash and financially thrash those close to him speaks to Brown's poor character.

23. Cecil Collins

Miami Dolphins
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Former Cowboys and Dolphins running back Cecil Collins claims one of the most bizarre arrests in NFL history. He allegedly broke into the Davie, Florida, home of a woman he was familiar with from his gym but claimed he was only interested in watching her sleep. That excuse was not enough to prevent the judge from sentencing Collins to 15 years in prison for the offense.

24. Jerramy Stevens

Jerramy Stevens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

As if you didn't already have sufficient reason to dislike Hope Solo, meet her husband, Jerramy Stevens. The immensely talented tight end was accused of many offenses at the University of Washington and the NFL (including with the Seahawks and Buccaneers). Allegations against Stevens include multiple physical beatings, an assault of an unconscious woman, and domestic violence involving Hope Solo (who has her own history of similar allegations).

If there's fire where you see smoke, Jerramy Stevens belongs nowhere near you or your loved ones.

25. Jim Brown

Jim Brown
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Most know Jim Brown as arguably the best professional running back of all time, while others note his acting career and civil rights efforts. Yet, Brown has faced multiple allegations of violence and unwanted advances against women, though he was acquitted in multiple cases. Still, many believe there was enough evidence to convict Brown in the court of public opinion and that for all the good he represented, Brown was very much a flawed man.

26. Bill Romanowski

Bill Romanowski
Image Credit: Raiders.com.

Former Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski is the poster child for unhinged, steroid-fueled antics on the football field. Admittedly taking pride in injuring other players, Romanowski thought nothing of ending a career if it meant an advantage to his team. Yet, Romo would even injure his own teammates, forcing Raiders teammate Marcus Williams to retire after punching him and breaking his eye socket.

From spitting in players' faces to being generally psychotic, Bill Romanowski more than earns the distinction of a bad guy.

27. Greg Hardy

Greg Hardy
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Greg Hardy has a well-documented record of treating female companions, let's say, less than well. Many have cheered Hardy's downfall from All-Pro caliber defensive end to desperate for an NFL job, to a flash in the pan in the UFC, then cut from the UFC. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

Source: Reddit.