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Top 10 Most Controversial NFL Players: Can You Guess the #1?

Publish Date: 12/19/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Like all lines of work, the NFL has controversial characters, whether it’s for how they conduct themselves on or off the field. The NFL has a long history of controversial characters, and today, we will attempt to rank the top 10.

If you are a longtime NFL fan, you can guess a couple of these off the top of your head. They are that obvious, but I am guessing a few of these you never even knew about, So let’s go ahead and take a look at the criteria to make the list and then the list itself.


The criteria are simple; you must be controversial on or off the field and somewhere between. If you were a dirty player, you can make this list. Domestic abuse, murder, and several other things can get you on this list. Being out-spoken can also cause controversy, and that would qualify you for this list.

10) Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick is undeniably one of the most controversial figures of the last decade, as is evident by a litany of allegations and lawsuits that surround him – such as being sued by a woman alleging she received an STD, fined for making obscene gestures at fans, and accused of trying to take an unopened water bottle onto an airplane with hidden compartments in it.

Michael Vick is perhaps best known for his involvement and conviction involving dog-fighting at his mansion, where his involvement led to further accusations which further attracted considerable media coverage – some believe more severe punishment should have been handed out, such as being banned from ever playing football again. He did do jail time for the offense but was welcomed back to the NFL after his release from prison.

Vick was a talented player who never lived up to the enormous expectations put on him by fans.

Video: Bad Newz Kennels - The Michael Vick Dogfighting Story (reissue of Dark Dark World Episode 15)

Bad Newz Kennels – The Michael Vick Dogfighting Story (reissue of Dark Dark World Episode 15)

9) Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

Ray Lewis may have enjoyed great success but was also no stranger to controversy, most notably being accused of murdering two individuals after attending a Super Bowl party in 2000.

There remains much mystery regarding this case and precisely what took place, such as why Lewis’s white suit he was wearing the night of the murder was never found, or why investigators discovered blood from one of the deceased in Lewis’ limousine.

Although Lewis was indicted, he was never found guilty; nevertheless, the gravity of the situation undoubtedly impacted him. Ultimately, however, all charges against him were dropped in exchange for testimony against two defendants.

Lewis is also ranked as one of the dirtiest players in NFL history, which doesn’t help his case.

Video: The Ray Lewis Murder Mystery

The Ray Lewis Murder Mystery

8) Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Off the field, his controversial lifestyle has garnered significant media coverage and been met with legal consequences. For example, he once threw furniture off of his 14th-floor flat into a lower flat below and injured a child; was fined for speeding in 2019; settled a sexual misconduct suit with his former trainer; experienced multiple domestic incidents; was charged with battering a truck driver – among many other transgressions.

He was suspended from the league a couple of seasons ago upon learning of evidence suggesting he falsified a vaccination certificate. I think we have seen the last of Brown on a Football field, but it’s safe to say we probably haven’t heard the last from him off the field.

Video: The Rise And Fall of Antonio Brown

The Rise And Fall of Antonio Brown

7) Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants

Lawrence Taylor will always be remembered as an iconic NFL defensive player – and one of its most controversial. Taylor’s life took an unfortunate and alarming path, infuriating NFL fans everywhere: multiple drug/DWI arrests and sexual misconduct allegations with a 16-year-old girl. He failed drug tests during his career, which led him to be suspended by the NFL, and he admitted to snorting cocaine before games. L.T. is considered by many to be the greatest linebackerย in NFL history!

Documentaries and TV shows have showcased Taylor’s weird views and public outrage over time – even leading USA Today to name him one of their 100 Most Hated NFL Players All Time. Tayloe was the most outstanding linebacker in NFL history. Unfortunately, since he has retired, he has made people forget about L.T., the player, and as they take a look at L.T., the man, they realize he was a better football player than man.

Video: NFL Legend Lawrence Taylor Arrested, Charged in Sex Offender Violations | TMZ Sports

NFL Legend Lawrence Taylor Arrested, Charged in Sex Offender Violations | TMZ Sports

6) Colin Kaepernick, San Fransisco 49ers

This will show you how hard it is to get higher on this list; you have to kill somebody. Kaepernick’s issues came with the sub-par play that would make him a social justice warrior. He was protesting Police violence against minorities. I was okay with that protesting, but by the time all the smoke had cleared, it was clear that this was more of a publicity stunt by a failing Quarterback.

Kaepernick was offered a workout in front of NFL scouts a few years ago, but Collin did not like how the workout was going, so he did not show up! Doesnt sound like a man that wants to play.

Video: How Nike Turns Controversy Into Dollars

How Nike Turns Controversy Into Dollars

5) Donta Stallworth, Cleveland Browns

Donte Stallworth, former wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, pleaded guilty in 2009 to DUI manslaughter after killing construction worker Mario Reyes in Miami Beach, Florida. At the time of impact, Stallworth’s blood-alcohol level was more than double Florida’s legal threshold of 0.08;

At 28 years old, Stallworth was suspended without pay by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating their personal conduct and substance abuse policy. While initially facing up to 15 years behind bars for this transgression, he served only 24 days of a sentence before reaching an amicable agreement with Reyes’ family to avoid civil suit proceedings.

Of course, Stallworth was allowed to resume his career after killing this man.

Video: WR Stallworth Pleads Guilty to DUI Manslaughter

WR Stallworth Pleads Guilty to DUI Manslaughter

4) Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders announced that they had released 22-year-old wide receiver Henry Ruggs just 24 hours after he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, resulting in death, according to court documents.

Clark County District Attorney Eric Bauman revealed that Ruggs was driving 156 miles per hour when his Chevrolet Corvette collided with a Toyota RAV4. At that time, his blood-alcohol levels were twice the legal limit, and Ruggs was in possession of a loaded firearm in his vehicle.

Police reported that Tina O. Tintor, 23, the driver of her Toyota and she and her dog had both died as a result.

Video: Ex-Raiders player Henry Ruggs taking plea deal, prison in fatal DUI crash

Ex-Raiders player Henry Ruggs taking plea deal, prison in fatal DUI crash

3) Leonard Little, St.Louis Rams

Leonard Little, former defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, pleaded guilty in June 1998 to involuntary manslaughter after driving under the influence and killing Susan Gutweiler while operating a motor vehicle in St. Louis.

After Little’s 24th birthday party, he was involved in an accident where a blood test revealed he was at 0.19, nearly double the legal limit at that time of.10.

Little was given four years probation, ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service and sentenced to 90 days in a city workhouse. Gutweiler’s husband reported receiving a small settlement from civil litigation against Little.

Little was given an eight-game suspension from his NFL rookie season and went on to play 12 seasons for the Rams, winning one Super Bowl and earning Pro Bowl honors in 2003. So yes, Leonard Little killed somebody and less than a year later was allowed to play in the Super Bowl.

2) Rae Carruth, Carolina Panthers

Rae Carruth was a first-round draft pick with great promise until his life unravelled after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. His pregnant girlfriend at the time had been shot four times during a drive-by shooting; her subsequent death led to allegations against Carruth; after posting bail, Rae took off and became a wanted fugitive until eventually being charged and sentenced to 18-24 years imprisonment.

Video: Emotionless Hitman Explains Killing NFL Player's Pregnant Girlfriend | The Killer Speaks | A&E

Emotionless Hitman Explains Killing NFL Player’s Pregnant Girlfriend | The Killer Speaks | A&E

1) O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, San Fransisco 49ers

When Simpson played, and even after, he was one of the most loved athletes in America, Simpson was famous for his TV commercials and acting in the Naked Gun movies; he was a longtime TV analyst for ABC and NBC, but that all changed dramatically in 1994.

One of the greatest sports scandals ever was created by O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and, before that, the televised police chase involving him. Millions of Americans watched in disbelief when Simpson was eventually cleared of killing his wife (even though evidence seemed overwhelming against him), only to become then embroiled in more controversies, such as run-ins with the law. Since that event, he has had several more disputes, including run-ins with the law. Simpson is considered by most to be one of the greatest running backs in NFL history!

Simpson went from being a National Hero to a disgraced man.

Video: O.J. Simpson Infamously Trying On Gloves At Trial

O.J. Simpson Infamously Trying On Gloves At Trial

(Dis) Honorable Mention

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

A Georgia college student claimed Roethlisberger assaulted her while they were both present in a bathroom stall of a nightclub, according to their complaint. Roethlisberger’s bodyguard is said to have grabbed her arm and led her towards a hallway, where the quarterback waited with his “penis out.” The case was dropped, but Big Ben still paid the woman off, and the NFL suspended him, so it’s hard to believe that he was an innocent man.

Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders

Randy Moss may have been one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL, yet he still managed to spark plenty of controversy. Even before entering the league, Randy Moss was charged with battery for participating in a racially motivated fight and later violated his probation and served time behind bars. That crime led him to play football at Marshall instead of Florida State.

Additionally, Randy Moss has been fined for angry outbursts, forced into taking anger management courses, involved in more fighting incidents, mooned fans during games, and mooned fans in public spaces; it seems this player can’t stay out of trouble! Moss does seem to have turned his life around now, but I wouldn’t hold my breath that something doesn’t happen again.

Chad Ocho Cinco, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins

Otherwise known as Chad Johnson, the enigmatic Johnson was a breakout star in the early 2000s and was loved by all until he became a little too full of himself and made it all about himself. From the start of 2006, everything spiralled out of control for Johnson, and each year, his production went down until the Miami Dolphins finally released him.

Adam “Pac Man” Jones, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans

Jones was arrested at least seven times during his career and a few more times since he retired; Alcohol was his issue. As a player, Jones was outstanding. But, in the end, Jones was his own worst enemy.

Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys, San Fransisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals

Whether it’s when heย criesย or when heย spikes a football on the star mid-field for a touchdown celebration, he is a walking controversy. T.O. was one of the greatest wide receivers ever to play the game, but his antics on and off the field overshadowed that. Owens is rated by mant as one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play in the NFL.

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