Stand Up To Cancers: Sports’ Worst Teammates
There is no “I” in team. But you can’t spell team without “me,” and for some players they took this far too literally. Inflated egos can cause locker room rifts, team-wide controversies, and destroy a team from the inside. We’re looking at you Terrell Owens. Here’s the definitive list of those athletes who found themselves in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and what Jeff Kent did to Barry Bonds deservedly landed him high on this infamous list.
What Terrell Owens did on the field — like playing with a broken leg in the Super Bowl, catching heaps of touchdowns, and being one of the most formidable receivers of his generation — is sadly eclipsed by his laundry list of on- and off-field antics that made playing with him unbearable. These same antics nearly severed his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, his remarkable numbers were just too much to ignore, and Owens was inducted in 2018.
One of Owens’ most memorable moments is also one of the most ubiquitous. After catching a touchdown in Dallas, Owens sprinted to the 50-yard line, posing on the Dallas Cowboys’ star. Owens, after drawing the ire of the entire stadium and Cowboys team, decided to repeat his actions following a second touchdown. This time, Dallas’ George Teague decided to make an example of Owens and his desecrating behavior, blindsiding him with a devastating hit.
After forcing his way out of San Francisco, a disgruntled Owens found himself in Philadelphia, a city known for being unforgiving – to say the least – to its teams and players. Changing cities, however, wouldn’t change his attitude.
In Philadelphia, the list goes on and on about how Owens was a locker-room cancer and a major distraction. Following the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2005, Owens created a major locker-room rift by publicly calling out quarterback Donovan McNabb’s performance and energy levels in the big game. Then, the situation continued to spiral out of control. Owens ripped his team and management for not publicly acknowledging his 100th touchdown reception. These comments, along with the continued public criticism of his quarterback and a locker room fight, essentially ended Owens’ tenure in Philly; he was suspendee for the remainder of the season (nine games) and signed with their chief rival, the Dallas Cowboys, in the offseason.
In Dallas, Owens was less of a locker room distraction but still found his way into the spotlight. After a crushing playoff defeat against Seattle, in which quarterback Tony Romo dropped a critical extra-point snap, a crying Owens did a total 180 and took to the postgame mic to defend quarterback Romo in an emotional speech that was apparently genuine, but definitely strange.
Delonte West had a tumultuous career throughout his eight years in the NBA. He’s a player that is more defined by his character than his achievements on the floor. His stunning, tragic fall from grace is alarming and deserves the sympathy of the public. Yet as a teammate, he is deserving of the pointed criticism directed his way.
Things got off to a pretty solid start for the former St. Joseph’s star when he became the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. His tenure in Boston lasted three years, before he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that is when the mystery of Delonte really began to unfold.
In 2009, West was arrested on weapons charges after he was pulled over on his Can-Am Spyder (those three-wheeled motorcycles) in Maryland. At the time of the arrest, West was carrying two concealed pistols and had a shot-gun strapped to his back hidden inside a guitar case. Clearly, he wasn’t speeding to go play pickup ball with his friends.
The following year, the defining moment – and one of the strangest rumors in NBA history – in West’s troubled career unfolded. The Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs in six games by the Celtics. LeBron James, the greatest player in the NBA, saw his shooting percentage fall from .541 in the first three games to a miserable .340 in the last three. There had to be an explanation, and that explanation shocked the NBA.
Apparently, according to the rumors, West was in a relationship with LeBron’s mother, Gloria. The rumors began to unfold prior to Game 4, which is a slight explanation as to why James’ numbers fell off a cliff. The drama continued to gain momentum as anonymous sources leaked more info regarding this scandalous affair. Although this rumor has never been confirmed by West or James, cryptic comments and tweets have led people to their own conclusions, mostly thinking that the affair in fact did happen. James, following the playoff exit, bolted for Miami and never played with West again.
Agent Zero went from Washington hero to absolute zero. Gilbert Arenas was one of the NBA’s best scoring point guards for a handful of seasons during the mid 2000s. He had his own collection of signature Adidas sneakers, signed a $100 million contract, and graced the cover of EA Sports’ NBA Live 2008. He was a solidified star in the league with a flashy character and a smooth shot. But off the court, Arenas became the face of the NBA’s biggest controversy in recent memory and was a detrimental force in the locker room.
Before we plunge into Gilbert’s guns, it’s important to note how he was perceived – and how he perceived himself – in the locker room. Teammates and Gilbert alike would admit that he was a prankster. He was easy going and liked to mess around. In one of his more famous, albeit disgusting, pranks, Gilbert decided to defecate in the shoes of teammate Andray Blatche. After arriving to the locker-room, a stunned Arenas found his clothes floating in the Jacuzzi, courtesy of Blatche. Blatche believed Arenas messed with one of his suits, so he thought a fitting revenge would be to put Arenas’ clothes in the Jacuzzi. When Arenas saw this, he decided to exact some revenge himself. He did so by putting dog poop in the soles of Blatche’s shoes, masking the smell with baby powder. We all have that friend who takes things too far, and Arenas certainly did here.
His next prank, though, would be far more serious and detrimental to both parties involved. The legend goes that Arenas, a huge gambler, had unpaid debts to teammate Javaris Crittenton, and the two began feuding over Arena’s stubbornness to repay his debts. One day in 2009, the feuding reached an all-time high, with Arenas and Crittenton pulling guns on each other in the locker room. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but each player would be suspended for the remainder of the season. Arenas would never play the same and Crittenton would find himself in jail following a lethal shoot-out.
Safe to say, Arenas wasn’t the best – or smartest – teammate.
“Practice, practice, practice. We talking about practice.” Those famous words uttered by Allen Iverson symbolize how the star player handled things that didn’t go his way. Yes, Iverson was phenomenal on the court. He was tough, could score, and was the face of the franchise while in Philadelphia. However, his bad attitude lingered around and undoubtedly affected his career and reputation.
To start, Iverson had a well-documented drinking and gambling problem. He’s been banned from casinos in two cities and has squandered millions of dollars. He’s started casino fights and urinated in a trash can in an act of defiance. His body guard has severely beaten people over trivial disputes, and in one lawsuit was forced to pay $260,000 to a victim stemming from a gruesome bar fight.
Those are just some of Iverson’s off-field demons. But on the court, the talented scorer and former league MVP has managed to create a legion of enemies. He was labeled as selfish ball-hog who is more concerned with individual, rather than team, success. Iverson’s tenure in Philly was, early on, successful and captivating, but it fizzled out and relationships soured. He went on to Denver where he, the league’s second-leading scorer, teamed up with league leader Carmelo Anthony.
The two of them together couldn’t figure out how to mesh and share the ball. Denver would become the first in a few more stops marked more by disappointment and frustration than success. He feuded in Detroit with Rip Hamilton; he then moved to Memphis where he refused to take a role of the bench and lasted all of three games.
See, with Iverson, there aren’t any specific flare-ups besides his notorious practice rant that define him as a bad teammate; it was his overall unwillingness to put the team first that plagued him. His inability to give up the ball and mentor younger players; his lack of passion for anything but personal accolades. Instead of accepting a role off the bench, Iverson wanted glory and stats. His end goal of being a starting guard that can score was realized in the end, although it was this passion for personal success that also led to his downfall from the NBA.
It’s like he was playing with Stickum on his already grippy gloves. He was as fast as they come and as sure-handed as anyone in NFL history. Randy Moss is one of the best receivers in NFL history. His spectacular catch ability is as unmatched as his penchant for controversies. By no means is Moss the worst teammate mentioned on this list, but there was a constant negative aura that surrounded him on the gridiron and off it.
Although the highly memorable – and downright hilarious — “Straight cash, homie” sound bite and mock mooning of Packers fans are two incidents that jump to mind when thinking about Moss’ character, there were plenty of other incidents that shed light on how he was a less than stellar teammate.
The first one that comes to mind was during the 2001 NFL season when Moss, the best player on the field for the struggling 4-7 Vikings, told a reporter, “I play when I want to play.” This statement, coming from the star receiver on a struggling team battling to stay in playoff contention, surely didn’t sit well with the team.
During Moss’ second stint in Minnesota he loudly bashed head coach Brad Childress to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. This public berating, combined with Moss’ criticism of the team’s catering company, earned him a spot on the free agent list after only four games.
Lastly, Moss’ character was put into question when he left the field early following a loss in 2005. His teammates and coaches voiced their displeasure with the petulant Moss. It’s an unwritten rule in sports that win or lose, players should always put the team first, and Moss’ actions clearly disregarded this and rubbed everyone the wrong way.
A sure-fire way to make this list would be an attempt to sabotage your (better) teammate’s chances of going to the Olympics.
Before we discuss the brutal attack that could have ended someone’s Olympic dream, let’s look at the sheer desperation and malice that Tonya Harding had towards teammate Nancy Kerrigan.
Two teammates who are training for the Olympics together should have an unbreakable bond. Obviously, there is intense competition that, realistically, will lead to some level of rivalry between two teammates, especially in an individual sport such as figure skating. But that intensity should manifest itself in good ways; in productive, complementing ways that boost performance and make one another better.
Instead, Tonya Harding’s desire for glory turned from passionate to spite. She knew she was the far-inferior skater to Nancy Kerrigan. She knew that, if things went according to plan, she wouldn’t get to taste the Olympic glory she’d been training her entire life for. So, she decided to alter fate and ensure that part of her competition would be eliminated before the games even began.
In one of the most shocking instances in sports, Tonya Harding decided to hire a hitman of sorts to attack Kerrigan after a practice during the U.S. National Championships. In an eerie clip that captures the aftermath of the attack, a crushed Kerrigan is filmed on the ground crying out, “Why, why, why?” A scramble to find the perpetrator ensued as Kerrigan was carried to the locker room by her shocked father.
In a twist of fate, however, Kerrigan’s leg was not broken and only bruised. She would end up missing the U.S. Championships but was able to compete in the 1994 Olympic games. Kerrigan would earn the sweetest revenge by capturing the silver medal while Harding failed to reach the podium, a drastic deviation from her original plan.
The NFL is full of big, aggressive, and potentially mean men. They are paid to hit people for a living. Richie Incognito is no different, except for the racist bullying scandal that set the NFL ablaze and altered his career.
Known as a loudmouthed, hard-nosed player, Richie Incognito earned a reputation in the league as one of its most hated players. He had a checkered path full of fights and on-field incidents that earned him his tainted reputation. Spitting, hitting, and using racially insensitive remarks are just a few complaints against Incognito; however, his bullying of offensive lineman and then-teammate Jonathan Martin fully solidified Incognito as a bad human and teammate.
Apparently, the Dolphins coaching staff wanted Incognito to toughen up Martin. What toughen up means isn’t exactly clear, but it’s probably along the lines of pushing Martin a bit harder in practice and maybe some light taunting or hazing- nothing that’s too uncommon in professional sports.
What the Dolphins didn’t want was for Incognito to absolutely explode on Martin. In a serious of disturbing voicemails, text messages, and locker room altercations, Incognito threatened and verbally absurd Martin and his family. The threats escalated to death threats and personal attacks against Martin’s mother.
For his role in the hazing, Incognito was given an indefinite suspension that lasted a year and a half before he found a second chance in Buffalo. Meanwhile, Martin is out of the league and was arrested after posting a message on Instagram featuring guns and a cryptic message about suicide and revenge.
Holdouts in sports are always messy, but usually in football, the player that chooses to sit out in search of a better contract limits his self-imposed exile to the preseason. Sometimes, you almost wonder if the holdout is just an excuse to avoid the hot summer afternoons of two-a-day practices in pads. Michael Strahan comes to mind. That’s how you extend a Hall of Fame career.
But every so often, the bad blood and game of chicken between player and management spills over into the regular season, and that’s when the whole team becomes part of the problem. In 1993, Emmitt Smith held out for two games, both of which the Cowboys lost. The team gave in, Smith returned and the ‘Boys on a second straight Super Bowl.
That was a story with a happy ending. But what’s happening in Pittsburgh to start the 2018 season is anything but tranquil. Star running back Le’Veon bell began threatening to hold out for a new contract as early as the previous season, and he was true to his word, failing to appear at any of the Steelers’ training camp.
But as the holdout threatened to extend into the regular season, it was clear Bell’s teammates were not standing in solidarity with their stubborn star. Several teammates began calling Bell out in the media as it became increasingly clear Bell would start missing actual regular season games. Bell had still not reported as the Steelers tied the Browns 21-21 in the season opener.
“What do you do? Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess, so we’ll treat it as such,” offensive lineman Ramon Foster told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . “I just hate it came to this. … He’s making seven times what I make, twice as much as Al [Villanueva] is making, and we’re the guys who do it for him.”
Fellow offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey was equally upset.
“Honestly it’s a little selfish,” Pouncey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I’m kinda pissed right now. It sucks that he’s not here. we’ll move on as a team. It doesn’t look like he’ll be in the game plan at this point. [James] Conner looks great. We’ll worry about him in Week 2.”
Arguably no one in NFL history was a dirtier player than linebacker Bill Romanowski. “Roid rage Roman” played 16 years in the NFL and was as much of a nightmare to opposing teams than he was to his own team.
Well documented for his steroid use throughout his career, the juiced-up Romanowski knew how to hit people. The problem is, he would hit his own team with as much frequency as he’d hit the other team, and he had particular fondness of hitting others after the play.
As if lining up against the 6-foot-four 255-pound steroid infused linebacker wasn’t intimidating enough, players knew there would be some extracurricular activities going on.
Before discussing Romanowski’s problems with teammates, it’s important to note other incidents he’s been involved with to complete the picture of just how menacing of a human he really was.
He was ejected from a game after kicking fullback Larry Centers in the head multiple times, he broke the jaw of quarterback Kerry Collins during the preseason, spat in the face of receiver J.J. Stokes, dislocated Shannon Sharpe’s elbow, and threw multiple punches at tight end Tony Gonzalez. Romanowski was a loose cannon, and these outbursts were just against the other team. Now time for the juicy stuff.
While on the 49ers, Romanowski leveled Jerry Rice in practice, creating a team-wide brawl for his unnecessary actions against the game’s greatest receiver. While on that same team, Romanowski attacked Bubba Paris while the offensive lineman returned to the huddle.
Romanowski’s most brutal outburst came as a member of the Raiders. During a practice, Romanowski and teammate Marcus Williams got into a physical altercation. Romanowski ripped Williams’ helmet off and punched him in the face, breaking his orbital bone around his eye and causing brain damage. Williams was forced to retire from football and took Romanowski to court where he was awarded $340,000 for damages and lost wages.
Fortunately, the four-time champion is long retired, but the dirty play he was known for has been passed down to the next generation, such as Nnamukong Suh and Vontaze Burfict.
One of the league’s biggest trash talkerer and, ironically, smallest receiverers, Steve Smith easily made more enemies than friends throughout his time in the NFL. He’s a fiery receiver who plays with a chip on his shoulder. It was his way of adapting and excelling in a sport where nearly everyone is bigger than him. So, it’s easy to sympathize with Smith to a certain extent. He’s the little guy just trying to stay afloat.
But what’s nearly impossible to understand is why Smith would channel his anger so frequently at his teammates. He was one-part receiver one-part human wrecking ball. He caught touchdowns and helped his team one day and caused schisms the next.
During the 2002 season, Smith broke the noses of two teammates. First, he attacked rookie receiver Guilian Gary. Not much details have emerged from this fight other than Gary’s nose was broken. Later that year, Smith attacked practice squad player Anthony Bright, also breaking his nose. Smith would record a hat trick of fights while on the Panthers, the final one coming at the expense of Ken Lucas. The two players engaged in a heated on-field practice fight that spilled over to the sidelines. With no helmets on for protection, Smith punched Lucas in his face, breaking his nose and severely bruising his eye. Fortunately, Lucas was able to continue playing following a few weeks off and put the incident behind him. Smith received a multi-game suspension for his actions.
After Smith’s tenure ran up in Carolina, he found himself on the Baltimore Ravens. Although the uniform would change, the fighting would remain constant. He was involved in a tussle during one of the first practices of the season with cornerback Lardarius Webb.
Who knows how much more productive Smith could have been if his aggression was strictly focused on making himself and his team better.
Jeff Kent is an interesting character here. He’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player, one of the best second basemen to play the game, and was – according to most – a locker room cancer. People categorize Kent as an old-schooler. One who does his talking on the field. He likes to hunt and ride ATVs. He’s not for formalities, he’s for winning. And winning, for Kent, would come at the expense of relationships with teammates.
One of Kent’s most notable inner-team rivals was Barry Bonds. The two played together for six tense seasons in the Bay Area, and although the Giants found success on the field, the two could never reconcile their differences. One of the most famous incidents was Kent, a newcomer to the team at the time, sitting in Bonds’ bus seat and refusing to move. As the team watched in silence, Kent continued to defy Barry’s wishes; eventually the slugger shrugged his shoulders and moved himself. Kent’s antics weren’t restricted to preseason bus rides, and eventually carried over to the field.
In one of baseball’s most notorious dugout disputes, Kent and Bonds butted heads again, this time nearly coming to blows in a full-force shoving match. Even manager Dusty Baker had to intervene to prevent these two stars from doing some serious damage.
Then there was Kent’s refusal to participate in a ritual hazing put on by the New York Mets. The Mets, as tradition goes, make every rookie wear a ridiculous outfit around the clubhouse, rather than their traditional street clothes. Kent objected to this tradition, claiming he already paid his rookie dues as a member of the Blue Jays. The locker room didn’t take kindly to his arrogance and refusal; the ordeal turned into the Mets versus Kent and had to be defused by the manager. Players, following this incident, claimed Kent was isolated and had no interest in fitting in with the clubhouse or culture.
Despite having a reputation as a bad, isolated teammate, Kent’s desire to put the team first and win were never put into question, and although he was disliked, he was surely respected by all.