The NFL hates marijuana and all forms of illegal substances, the MLB loathes gamblers and steroid users, the NBA can’t stand fighting and the NHL despises anyone who uses their equipment for evil.
For instance, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was just reinstated during the 2017 season after being sidelined for a whopping 52 games for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Meanwhile, in the same year (2014) Baltimore Raven’s Ray Rice received just two games for allegedly knocking his fiancée Janay Palmer (now wife) unconscious and dragging her around a casino. He would eventually be banned indefinitely by Baltimore (for which he sued and won for wrongful dismissal) but he hasn’t played football since.
From gamblers to steroid rage, to the hilariously ironic (see: Metta World Peace), behold some of the longest suspensions in sports history. We’ve also included a few infamous non-athletes (read: owners) who have been given the boot from their chosen sporting endeavors.
Here are 20, in no particular order.
20. Chael Sonnen – Three Years – UFC/MMA
Now a competitor in the light heavyweight division with Bellator MMA, elite fighter Chael Sonnen has known the heavy hand of governing body justice. In August 2010, just after losing to Anderson Silva in UFC 117 in Oakland, the California State Athletic Commission tested Sonnen and the urinalysis revealed his testosterone/epitestosterone (TE ratio) to be 16.9:1. Very high, when a normal man has a level of 1:1. He was suspended for a year and after much legal wrangling and lifting/reinstatement, the year-long suspension was upheld. Sonnen wouldn’t fight again until Oct. 8, 2011 at UFC 136, where he beat Brian Stann. As a tiger rarely changes its stripes, Sonnen failed a random test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission before UFC 175 in Las Vegas in July, 2014. It was his second, after which he announced his retirement. But wait, later that same year Sonnen would fail a second random test by the NSAC and eventually be banned for another two years to add to his previous one. He’s been clean since reinstatement in 2016 — we think.
19. Pete Rose – Lifetime – MLB
For baseball players, betting on baseball is just bad juju. Betting on your own team, well, it’s worthy of a lifetime suspension. For Pete Rose, the career hits leader and a would-be shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, it has been a bitter pill to swallow since he accepted permanent ineligibility from baseball after accusations he bet on baseball (but not to betting on his own team) while playing for and coaching the Cincinnati Reds in the ’80s. The Baseball Hall of Fame, piled on in 1991, banning him from induction. Rose only copped to complicity in gambling in 2004, after years of vehement denial that he bet on the Reds between 1984 and 1986. In 2015, ESPN concluded its own investigation into Rose’s alleged gambling and produced evidence, including records of bets he made, that proved he did it. Charlie Hustle will likely never be enshrined in Cooperstown.
18. Maria Sharapova – 15 Months – ITF
The world found out what Meldonium was really used for, once tennis superstar Maria Sharapova was suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after testing positive for it in June of 2016. The drug, banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in January of that same year, is commonly used to treat ischemia, a condition where too little blood flows to organs of the body. Sharapova, who was suspended originally for two years, said she bore responsibility and significant fault for the test, but appealed it anyway. Intentional use of a banned substance in the tennis world calls for a four-year suspension, but a subsequent investigation concluded it was unintentional, which still stipulates a two-year ban. Sharapova appealed the two-year suspension, won and got it reduced to 15 months, starting from the time of the failed test on Jan. 26,2016. She returned to the WTA tour in April 2017.
17. Muhammad Ali – 3.5 Years – Boxing
The People’s Champion was many things to many different folks: a great boxer, a motormouth, a showboat. What he wasn’t was a man who went against his principles. The former Cassius Clay was against the Vietnam War and said that as a conscientious objector that he wouldn’t be drafted. In March of 1967 he paid for his resolve, being stripped of his hard-earned heavyweight title. Later, Ali would be convicted of draft evasion but paid a bond after launching an appeal and never did he end up doing time (it carried a sentence of five years). However, his licences to box were taken away in every state and his passport was confiscated. Thus, while the appellate courts considered his case, Ali would not fight from March 1967 to October 1970. His conviction was overturned in 1971.
16. Billy Coutu – Two Years – NHL
The history of the NHL is littered with tough guys doing dirty deeds like fighting and policing for their less belligerent teammates. Billy Coutu, from rough-and-tumble North Bay, Ontario, was one such fellow. He joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1917 and by 1920-21 he was the league leader in penalty minutes with 95 as a member of the Hamilton Tigers. That may not seem like much, but the schedule at that time mandated just 24 games. During the 1927 Stanley Cup finals, Coutu would etch his name in infamy. At the end of Game 4 between Coutu’s Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators (the Sens won the Cup that game), Coutu initiated a bench-clearing at the behest of coach Art Ross. During the melee, Coutu would end up beating the crap out of referee Jerry Laflamme and then tackling another who came to the hapless Zebra’s defence. NHL president Frank Calder would hand down the longest suspension in the history of the game, a lifetime ban, for Coutu’s antics. He would actually sit out two years after the suspension was lifted, allowing him to play minor league games. Even though he gained full NHL reinstatement in 1932, he never played another game.
15. George Steinbrenner – Three Years – MLB
The Boss was so meddlesome and cantankerous, he was even lampooned on the hit 1990s sitcom, “Seinfeld.” George Steinbrenner ruled the New York Yankees with an iron fist from 1973 until his death in 2010, with a blip in the middle due to his ornery ways. Commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner from managing day-to-day operations of the Yankees in 1990 — but not from ownership — after it was discovered that the Boss had hired a gambler to dig up some dirt on Dave Winfield, who had sued the Yankees over a contractual dispute. Steinbrenner was eventually reinstated in 1993 and finally relinquished most of the daily goings-on in the executive offices to guys like Gene Michael, as well as allowing minor league stars such as Bernie Williams to develop, instead of being dealt for veteran help (as was Steinbrenner’s previous MO).
14. Josh Gordon – 42 games – NFL
The NFL’s substance abuse policy, unlike the one governing domestic violence, has some teeth. Cleveland Browns‘ wayward wide receiver Josh Gordon found out just how bad the bite was in 2014. In 2013, Gordon was suspended for the first two games of the year for contravening the policy, but still managed to rack up over 1,600 yards, leading the league in that category and going to the Pro Bowl. But, in the summer of 2014 he was arrested for drunk driving and later suspended for a full season for a second violation of the substance abuse policy. It was reduced to 10 games on appeal. Yet, Gordon just couldn’t stay on the right side of the league rules, earning an indefinite suspension for a third violation in 2015. He would not play at all in 2015 and 2016 (he failed a drug test that year, too, and entered rehab), finally being reinstated for the final five games of the 2017 after nearly three straight years away from the game.
13. Donald Sterling – Lifetime – NBA
There haven’t been many more despicable persons involved in pro sports than former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The lawyer and real estate tycoon bought the struggling San Diego Clippers in 1981 and vowed to turn the sad-sack franchise into a winner. However, a winning season wouldn’t come to fruition until the 91-92 season and during his tenure the team would lose more games than it won. Over the years Sterling fought to move the club from San Diego to L.A (which did happen) and was known league wide as a penny pincher who was once considered for removal from his position when it was found out he was in arrears to his players and creditors. Eventually, his racist views and mouth would be his undoing. In April of 2014, TMZ released a recording between Sterling and his mistress where he says that she could “associate with black people (he took issue with a photo of her and Magic Johnson) and even sleep with them, but not to bring them to Clippers’ games.” That was the straw for his team and the league, with the commish taking swift action to ban him for life and fine him $2.5 million. The team was sold to Steve Ballmer soon after.
12. Marty McSorley – One Year – NHL
There have been vicious on-ice attacks in the 100-year history of the NHL and then there was the one perpetrated by Marty McSorley. For years, the defenceman/winger was a fairly talented player with a penchant for rough play and fighting. He was included in the huge trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings and it was there that he would lead the league with an astounding 399 minutes in penalties during the Kings superb 1992-93 season (they went to the Stanley Cup finals and lost). That would be his last full season and for years after he bounced around and spent a lot of time on the IR, eventually ending up with the Boston Bruins for the 1999-2000 season. It would end up being his last. With just seconds left during a game against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 21, 2000, McSorley wound up and smoked Canucks’ enforcer Donald Brashear in the head, causing him to lose consciousness and sustain a concussion. McSorley was charged with assault and suspended for the remainder of the season (23 games) and the playoffs. The assault conviction stood up in court (he got probation) and the league extended his ban to one full season from the date of the infraction. He never played another game.
11. Eric Cantona – Eight Months – FA
As beloved as French National Eric Cantona was with Manchester United in the 1990s, his attack on a rival fan permanently stained his legacy in the Premiership. The imposing and eminently talented forward was widely credited for helping revive the Man U franchise, with the team winning four league titles during his tenure, among other accolades. However, he was a fiery player with a suspect disciplinary record who let his emotions get the better of him during a game against Crystal Palace on Jan. 25, 1995. After being sent off for a brutal kick on a Crystal Palace opponent, he was confronted by a profanity spewing fan who came down several rows to confront him. He launched a kick at that fan and followed it with a flurry of punches. Not only was he suspended immediately, but Cantona was also charged with assault. His sentence of two weeks in jail was commuted to community service, but the Football Association would eventually deem him ineligible for eight full months. In addition, Cantona was also stripped of the captaincy of the French National team.
10. Guillermo Mota – 100 Games – MLB
He may be long forgotten as a major league pitcher — Mota retired after 14 seasons in the big leagues in 2012 — but the big, hard-throwing Dominican reliever will always be remembered for a lengthy suspension. During his fairly lengthy career, the set-up man spent time with Montreal, the Dodgers, Florida, Cleveland, the Mets, the Dodgers again and finally the San Francisco Giants in 2010. He won a title with San Francisco in 2010 and in 2012, at the age of 38, he was still pitching for a Giants team in search of another championship. But, on May 7, 2012, the MLB announced that it was suspending Mota for 100 games for using Clenbuterol (he is one of just three major leaguers ever to fail a drug test twice), which is a performance enhancing drug. It was one of the longest bans in major league history for something other than gambling. He did pitch a bit in the 2012 post-season after his suspension was over, but he never pitched in the majors after that.
9. Lance Armstrong – Lifetime – Cycling
Long before the Russian Olympic Team was suspended from this year’s winter event in Pyeongchang for years of systemic and sophisticated doping of its athletes, Lance Armstrong was a one-man PED peddling and abusing show. Armstrong famously battled and won against metastatic testicular cancer early in his cycling career and then went on to win seven Tour de France titles and an Olympic bronze after his return in 1998. He retired in 2005, unretired not long after and raced competitively before retiring for the final time in 2011. However, he had been the subject of doping allegations ever since 1999 and in 2012 the U.S. Anti-Doping agency concluded an investigation on Armstrong, which concluded that he was the ringleader of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Armstrong, who didn’t contest the allegations, was then stripped of all his Tour de France titles, as well as banned from competitive cycling for life by WADA. It was a spectacular fall from grace.
8. Stanley Wilson – Lifetime – NFL
Early in his NFL career, running back Stanley Wilson could have been considered a success story. An unheralded back out of the University of Oklahoma, Wilson was an afterthought at the 1983 draft, going in the ninth round to the Cincinnati Bengals at no. 248. He made the team that year and in a back-up role he started two out of 10 games and had 374 combined yards and two TDs. Not bad for a late round pick. But, behind the scenes, Wilson had a nasty cocaine habit. Abuse of Bolivian Marching Powder would later see him be suspended for the 1985 season for his first contravention of the substance abuse policy and then the 1987 season for the same thing. He seemingly got his act together to have a career year in 1988, staring six of 15 games and compiling 508 total yards and three TDs. He then played a key role in the Bengals making it all the way to Super Bowl XXIII against San Francisco, scoring two more touchdowns in two playoff games. But, just prior to the big game, Wilson was found in bathroom of his hotel room in the midst of big cocaine high. The Bengals had no choice to inactivate him and this third violation of the league rules led to a lifetime suspension.
7. Chris Simon – 25 & 30 Games – NHL
Chris Simon is a big boy. At 6’3″, this tough customer was famous for two things in his career – his long hair and unforgiving hits. But that was with the Washington Capitals. Fast forward to 2007, not a good year for the enforcer, as he would be suspended three times in one calendar year. A minor incident with Edmonton Oilers Mike Grier landed him three games, but in March of that year Simon slashed New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg in the face and received 25 games for his crime. Before the year was out however, Simon completed the suspension trifecta by stomping on the ankle of fellow fringe player Jarkko Ruutu of the Pittsburgh Penguins, landing Simon 30 games and forcing him away from hockey to think about his actions again.
6. Donte Stallworth – One Year – NFL
The substance abuse policy in the NFL is well defined and has been wielded with impunity — see Stanley Wilson — but the personal conduct policy has always been a little fuzzier in its application. Especially where former star wide receiver Donte Stallworth was concerned. A first round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2002, Stallworth played six decent seasons in the league (four with the Saints, then Philadelphia and New England) before having a lousy season in 2008 with Cleveland. In 2009, his world came crashing down around him. On the morning of Mar. 14, 2009 he struck and killed a pedestrian while driving his car in Miami Beach. He was charged and later convicted of DUI manslaughter, served 24 days in jail on a plea deal and was suspended for the entire 2009 season without pay by Roger Goodell. He was reinstated in 2010, but didn’t do a lot in three seasons before retiring in 2012.
5. Gilbert Arenas – 50 Games – NBA
Gilbert Arenas was at the height of his career in December, 2009 when a stupid mistake landed the star in hot water with his team, the Washington Wizards. Arenas shockingly decided it was a good idea to keep unloaded guns with him in the team’s locker room, a move that cost him 50 games and $147, 000. To put the literal icing on the cake, Arenas received his massive suspension on his 28th birthday. After brief stints with the Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzles, Arenas decided to take his talents to Shanghai to play in the Chinese Basketball Association.
4. Latrell Sprewell – 68 Games – NBA
In 1997, “Spree” attacked then-Golden State Warriors Coach P.J. Carlesimo during practice for telling him to put more velocity on his passes. As any stable person would, Sprewell responded by choking his coach. Later on, he returned to punch Carlesimo in the face just in case he wasn’t in enough trouble. Sadly, Sprewell had a history of shenanigans with his peers after attempting to fight with two teammates previous to that infamous assault on coach Carlesimo. First he fought Byron Houston in 1993, and then Jerome Kersey in 1995, when he came to practice wielding a two-by-four and threatened to return again with a gun. After the team attempted to void his contract for attacking the bench boss in 1997, an arbitrator overturned the decision but what resulted was a 68-game suspension, which was the rest of that season.
3. Metta World Peace – 86 Games – NBA
Although he is changing his name to “Panda Friend”, we will stick with Metta World Peace for the poetic irony of this article. In possibly the most despicable and embarrassing pro-sports moment in United States history, Ron “Panda World Peace Friend” Artest was suspended 73 games, by the NBA for his role in a huge brawl between the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Pistons fans at the Palace of Auburn Hills. It would turn into 86 with missed post-season dates, and be the longest suspension ever issued for an on-court incident. Someone threw a Diet Coke at him from the stands, and World Peace responded peacefully by charging into the stands and punching the wrong person in the face in what came to be known as “the Malice at the Palace.” After tons of fighting, teams were escorted out while flurries of beer, soda, and popcorn rained down from the aisles.
2. Alex Rodriguez – 162 Games– MLB
Originally set at 211 games, A-Rod’s ban was finalized at one full season for his role in the infamous PED chronicles that plague Major League Baseball. Despite putting up Hall of Fame worthy numbers (696 Home Runs and 2,086 RBI), the most astonishing factor about Rodriguez’s suspension is the money involved. He lost all but $2.9 million of his $25 million salary in 2014. Rodriguez did eventually return, since the Yankees were on the hook for $21 million in 2015, and $20 million the following two seasons. A-Rod did have a decent comeback of sorts in 2015, but retired after just 65 games in 2016. Cheaters never win and it’s likely he won’t get into Cooperstown.
1. The Black Sox – Lifetime – MLB
The Chicago White Sox joined together to persuade gamblers and gangsters that they could fix the 1919 World Series. Hilarious names like Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams (no, this is not Mr. Burns’ team) joined Eddie Cicotte, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Fred McMullin in the scam. Amidst all the controversy, the Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds. The next season Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner of baseball and banned all involved players for life. The curse of the Black Sox lasted until 2005 when Chicago finally won the World Series. But besides money, why did the team want to throw the Series? It was simply due to the fact that notorious tightwad White Sox owner Charles Comiskey refused to pay for the players’ uniforms to be cleaned.