Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes

Football is one of the most popular sports in the USA. Still, in the past couple of decades, there have been numerous controversies related to this game, and one would have to stop and wonder whether these situations have affected the image of the NFL.

According to numerous reports, although fans are aware of what is happening with some of the players off of the field, most are more interested in their performance on the field. The best proof of this is that, although there have been numerous scandals, the numbers and ratings are still on the rise. In this article, we will explore the following types and incidents of NFL athlete controversies:

  • Suspended Due to Gambling
  • Deflated Footballs
  • Spygate
  • Popular Bullying Cases
  • Bounty Case
  • Harassment Towards Female Reporter
  • Scandal on a Love Boat
  • Allegations of Domestic Violence
  • The Case of Lyle Alzado
  • The Case of Jovan Belcher
Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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Suspended Due To Gambling

Although gambling suspensions aren’t that common, there have been a couple throughout the past few decades. The most famous case is that of Paul Hornung (Green Bay Packers) and Alex Karras (Detroit Lions), who were banned from the league for continuously betting on games.

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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As a result, more than five other players from the Detroit Lions team were fined $2,000 for placing bets on the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants game. Additionally, the team officials had to pay $2,000 because they didn’t respond to any of the allegations that had been made regarding their players gambling on games. 

One of the most popular cases with a similar outcome was that of Art Schlichter, who was suspended back in 1983 for placing bets on Colts games, which was the team he played for at the time. 

Deflated Footballs

Tom Brady was the center of one of the most recent controversies. It was related to deflated footballs in the games between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts back in 2015. The Colts were claiming that the air pressure in the footballs was irregular. 

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. Patriots owner Robert Kraft advised Brady to challenge this accusation, but that legal battle was lost. To this day, the deflate-gate remains one of the biggest scandals in NFL history

However, that didn’t stop Brady from leading his team to another Super Bowl the same year that he was suspended for 4 games. Apart from the suspensions, Tom Brady had to pay the costs of the multi-million dollar legal battle that he lost while challenging the suspension.


In 2007, when the New England Patriots had just won their third Super Bowl title, there was another scandal related to shady tactics. Head coach Bill Belichick was accused of sending a videographer to record the New York Jets during their training, thus gaining an unfair advantage.

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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While Belichick had to pay $500,000, the New England Patriots were fined $250,000 as a team for failing to respond. 

Additionally, popular players including Tom Brady were once again put in the middle of the scandal and accused of “cheating” by the players on other teams, as well as millions of NFL fans. After the fine and a hit to the New England Patriots’ reputation, everything went back to normal.

Popular Bullying Cases

One of the most popular cases of a player being suspended for aggressive behavior was that of Richie Incognito while he played for Miami Dolphins in 2013. As a linesman, he was reported multiple times for harassing and bullying Jonathan Martin, along with a couple of fellow players. 

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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After a swift investigation, these allegations were proven, and Incognito was suspended for the rest of the NFL season. Although the Miami Dolphins apologized to Martin for what he had gone through, he decided to retire in 2014 after playing just a couple of games for the San Francisco team. 

Incognito went on to sign with Buffalo in 2015 and appeared in three consecutive Pro Bowls. To this day, he doesn’t accept the proven allegations that he harassed Jonathan Martin.

Bounty Case

Back in 2012, members of the New Orleans Saints coaching staff were suspended for a series of games. They were accused of giving bounties to their players if they injured players from opposing teams. Along with them, Greg Williams was also suspended and fined for supporting the bounty program.

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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Not only were the staff members suspended, but several players were sidelined, as well, including Smith, Fujita, Hargrove, and Vilma. All of the players except Vilma (who was suspended for the whole season) were suspended for a couple of months. 

Along with that, Goodell requested that the New Orleans Saints pay a fine of $500,000 and give their 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks. 

Harassment Towards Female Reporter

One of the biggest scandals in the history of the NFL is a case regarding the New England Patriots back in 1992. A couple of players apparently harassed reporter Lisa Olson and were fined $72,000 for such behavior. Not only that, but the team’s image was greatly tarnished. 

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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Although the accusations were clear, the owner of the club, Victor Kiam, didn’t want to accept the facts and claimed that it was Lisa who broke into the locker room of the New England Patriots. However, a couple of months later, he changed his statement and apologized for his words. 

The reason for this was because there was a boycott of Remington products, a company that he owned. We have to say that this was an isolated incident in the NFL, and to this day, there haven’t been any further claims related to the harassment of female reporters. 

Scandal On a Love Boat

Back in 2006, Minnesota Vikings players Fred Smoot and Bryant McKinnie attended a party on a so-called “love boat”, which resulted in fines of $1,000 each by the court. They were also ordered to do a bit of community service. They pled guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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After this scandal, Vikings owner Zigi Wilf publicly apologized for the behavior of his players. Not only that, but he posted a code for his players and personnel regarding behavior that would not be accepted by the team. 

Debauchery and indecency were the two main accusations against both Bryant McKinnie and Fred Smoot, as well as Pat Williams and Daunte Culpepper, who had their charges dropped. While this controversial party isn’t an isolated incident when it comes to NFL players and athletes in general, it certainly is one of the most publicized.

Allegations Of Domestic Violence

There has been a lot of discussion on the new “domestic violence” policy that was imposed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. This is mostly because his sanctions against Ray Rice, a player who knocked his fiance unconscious, simply weren’t enough. The first suspension was just for two games. 

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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After he was heavily criticized for his decision, he imposed a more serious sanction, as Ray was indefinitely suspended from the NFL. This suspension was later lifted, but Rice never appeared on the field again

The fact that this situation wasn’t isolated is one of the main reasons why Goodell had to produce the new domestic violence policy. Looking at the numerous scandals, it is no surprise that these have generated the most attention.

The Case Of Lyle Alzado

There is a list of forbidden substances that NFL players can’t use (much like in any other sport). Among these are anabolic steroids. Although the league started testing and tracking cases of use in the 1980s, there are multiple reports that players have effectively used steroids for decades before that.

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
Image Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

One of the most famous cases was that of Lyle Alzado, who unfortunately passed away back in 1992 from brain cancer. He tested positive multiple times over the course of a few years, and this was an obvious sign to the officials that a lot of the popular players were using forbidden substances. 

In the past couple of decades, the suspensions have become quite rigid. Most players are banned from the league for at least 2 years. The idea behind this is to discourage them from using performance-enhancing products.

The Case of Jovan Belcher

One of the most shocking cases in NFL history is that of Jovan Belcher, who was a linebacker for the Chiefs. According to police reports and witnesses, including a team executive, he killed his girlfriend before ending his own life.

Learn About Some of the Biggest Controversies of NFL Athletes
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As he was a promising NFL player, news of his death shocked fans all over the world. Additionally, it was just another reason why the officials and commissioner Goodell decided to impose new policies and regulations regarding mental health checks and helping players cope with stressful life situations. 

While no one talked the issue through with Belcher, later reports revealed that he was suffering from brain trauma, which may have caused his aggressive behavior.


Much like in any other sport, there are controversies in the NFL, and the ones that we have listed are just a few of the ones that have been most publicized. 

Still, it is great to see that the representatives of the league are doing their best to counter misdemeanors and controversial behavior with suspensions and fines.


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