“The Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya, former world boxing champion in six weight classes and gold medalist at the 1992 Olympic Games, came forward recently with a harrowing tale of cocaine and alcohol addiction. Underscoring the severity of his situation, De La Hoya said that at one time he considered suicide a better solution to his problems than rehab.
As has been proven time and again, the only thing greater than the heights to which professional athletes rise is the depths to which they fall. De La Hoya is only the latest in a long line of sportsmen to have plummeted from the top. Here are a few other notable stories.
Rise to Glory: “Iron Mike” was the world’s youngest world heavyweight champion. He remained undefeated until he dropped the title to Buster Douglas in 1990.
Fall From Grace: Tyson’s decline was sharp and permanent. After being convicted of rape in 1991, Tyson converted to Islam, got a face tattoo and returned to the ring to defeat a series of tomato cans before regaining the WBC and WBA titles. His act of minor cannibalism against Evander Holyfield will live in infamy. Tyson later did a year in prison for assaulting motorists.
Redemption: He is currently the reigning philosopher-king of retired athletes and a committed vegan.
Rise to Glory: Woods is the Michael Jordan of the links. One of the highest-paid athletes in history, Woods set new standards for pro golf.
Fall From Grace: Woods isn’t just the greatest golfer ever to pick up a club. He also set a new standard for marital infidelity. It’s sort of amazing that his wife didn’t do more damage when Woods revealed a seemingly endless series of mistresses, girlfriends and quick flings.
Redemption: Like many sex-scandal-plagued athletes, Woods did a stint of public penance before disappearing from the public eye and promptly returning to the sport like nothing had happened.
Rise to Glory: Bonds holds an impressive variety of records in baseball, including the coveted all-time home-run hitter crown.
Fall From Grace: Barry Bonds became the ultimate fall guy for the baseball doping scandal, probably because of that whole “breaking Hank Aaron’s record” thing.
Redemption: While hardly in his prime at age 47, Bonds claims he isn’t retired. He’s a registered free agent, but no one is biting. If he ever returns to baseball (highly unlikely) he’s within close striking distance of being the first ballplayer to hit over 800 home runs, within four RBIs of 2,000 and 65 hits of 3,000. Don’t hold your breath on this one, kids.
Rise to Glory: Vick made history in 2001 as the first black quarterback to be picked first overall in the NFL draft.
Fall from Grace: Vick’s story is one of the most heartbreaking in professional sports. In 2007, he was revealed to be at the center of a dog-fighting scandal. We’re not just talking about sticking pit bulls in a ring and forcing them to fight to the death, as if that weren’t bad enough. Vick actually tortured several dogs to death. The word “trunking” is forever burned into the collective consciousness thanks to him.
Redemption: He seems to be doing everything possible to make up for being the lowest form of human garbage possible. Good on you, Mike.
Rise to Glory: Considered by many to be the greatest athlete ever to don a jock, Thorpe won gold in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympiad.
Fall from Grace: The scandal here isn’t anything Thorpe did; it was more a result of the institutional racism of sports in the early 20th Century. The Olympic Committee stripped him of his medals after newspapers revealed that he played a little semi-pro baseball. This was common at the time and Thorpe’s only “mistake” was using his real name instead of an alias.
Redemption: The IOC restored his medals in 1983.
Rise to Glory: Three World Series rings, two Gold Gloves, 17 All-Star Game appearances, three batting titles and a Rookie of the Year Award.
Fall from Grace: Rose got caught gambling on Reds games, though he claims he never bet against his own team. He’s banned for life from playing pro ball ever again and will likely never be inducted into the Hall of Fame, despite impressive personal stats both on the field and in the bullpen.
Redemption: None yet, though a committed fan base continues to lobby for his reinstatement so his portrait can hang in Cooperstown.
Rise to Glory: Figure skating seems like such a clean and wholesome sport. Yet it’s home to one of the more notorious scandals in the history of the Olympics. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were fierce rivals. While Kerrigan was lithe, pretty and from a middle class family, Tonya was built like a linebacker and came from a family where mom had to sew her skating costumes.
Fall from Grace: Huband Jeff Gillooly and buddy Shawn Eckhardt decided to take a crowbar to Kerrigan’s knee to take her out.
Redemption: While never convicted of anything directly related to the attack, Harding did plead guilty to interfering with the prosecution of Gillooly, Eckhardt and their hired monkeys Shane Stant and Derrick Smith. She later entered the celebrity sex tape arena and tried her hand at a little professional not-so-foxy boxing.
Rise to Glory: Ok, so he’s not an athlete, but no one can recall their favorite basketball memories without also recalling “the voice of basketball.”
Fall from Grace: Courts charged Albert with forcible sodomy after he allegedly assaulted a woman with whom he had been having a 10-year sexual relationship. Albert denied all charges, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and got a year’s suspended sentence. NBC fired him and The Simpsons cancelled a planned cameo.
Redemption: Albert was back in the booth by 2000, where he remained until NBC lost basketball in 2002.
Rise to Glory: Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson set a record in the 100 meter in 1987, then broke it at the 1988 Olympics.
Fall from Grace: A urine test quickly revealed Johnson used performance-enhancing drugs. He then admitted he was also doping when he set the record for the 100 meter in 1987. The International Association of Athletics Federations stripped him of both records. He received a three-year ban and returned, this time using testosterone to enhance his performance. The IAAF promptly banned him for life.
Redemption: Johnson later worked as a soccer coach for now-ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son. Ben Johnson, class act.
Rise to Glory: Diego Maradona is widely regarded by soccer enthusiasts as one of the greatest athletes the sport has ever known. He also managed several successful teams.
Fall from Grace: The Argentine began using cocaine in 1983, later developing a full-on addiction that effected his on-field performance. His health deteriorated significantly after retirement, including weight gain that left him a doughy shell of his former self.
Redemption: Maradona claimed to have completely kicked coke and booze in a May 2008 interview.
Bonus story: Dock Ellis and a tale of drug heroics
One of the greatest stories in professional ball, Dock Ellis pitched a no hitter while tripping balls on LSD. After dropping a couple tabs with his girlfriend, someone showed him a paper saying he was scheduled to pitch that night. Ellis hopped on a plane and headed off to the game, chowed down a handful of amphetamines and pitched one of the most notorious no hitters in history. This is no urban legend, kids. This is 100 percent true.