Professional athletes are an important part of popular culture. They can be inspiring, cool and sometimes downright strange. Perhaps one of the more notorious examples is the former basketball player Dennis Rodman. He’s been known to wear dresses and hang out with North Korea’s Communist dictator, Kim Jong Un. MMA fighter Conor McGregor might have a screw loose because he wants to fight Floyd Mayweather – who just happens to be one of the best boxers on the planet. But eccentric athletes aren’t anything new. Bill “spaceman” Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1969-1978 and confounded fellow players with his memorable lines and offbeat antics. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte made a splash at the Rio Olympics, unfortunately not just in the pool. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle puts athletes under a microscope, so it’s nearly impossible for them to hide their weirdness from the world.
16. Come at Me Bro!
Former National Hockey League player, Sean Avery, is as much known for his antics off the ice as his performance on the ice. But the NHL made a rule because of the Rangers’ left winger so that is saying something. The so called “Sean Avery Rule” came about during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2008 when Avery stalked the New Jersey Devils’ goalie by waving his arms and stick in Martin Brodeur’s face and shadowing his movements. Brodeur complained after the game and the NHL acted to change the rules on unsportsmanlike conduct. The next day the league issued a rule that made Avery’s actions a penalty. Avery has been just as controversial off the ice with public spats and internships at the fashion magazine, Vogue.
15. Lochte Monster
Ryan Lochte is not as familiar to casual fans of swimming as the legendary Michael Phelps, but even so Lochte has made a splash in popular culture as a strange guy. His performance in the pool at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was not covered in nearly as much details as his antics out of the pool. He and several teammates were suspended by the Olympic Committee after they were involved in an incident at a local gas station where the swimmers committed some minor vandalism and store security guards were accused of extorting them. Lochte and the authorities offered different versions of the events that unfolded in the early morning hours. He and his teammates returned to the U.S. to try to put the incident behind them, but the media backlash continued. Lochte’s behavior resulted in losing a number of lucrative endorsement deals, but a company did offer him a deal to promote an autoerotic device as “…the masturbation device Olympic champions choose.”
Bill “spaceman” Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox for almost a decade then played for the now defunct Montreal Expos. Variously labeled as a hippie, nonconformist and weirdo, Bill Lee was known for bring up some esoteric topics like the “snowball theory,” that ran something like: the earth will be a frozen ball of ice in a million years so it doesn’t really matter if I strike this guy out or not. Referring to the famous left field wall known as the Green Monster Lee apparently asked,”Do they leave it there during the Game?” Lee once protested an umpire’s refusal to call a rain delay by going to the pitcher’s mound wearing rain gear and carrying an umbrella. But he had a more serious side too and it cost him. While playing for the Expos Lee went on strike to protest a teammate getting cut so the team got rid of him too. Lee was an eccentric and complicated person, but he was willing to stand up for his principles.
13. Give World Peace a Chance
There have been many famous Los Angeles Lakers over the years including Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Skaquille O’neal and Kobe Bryant, but there is only one Ron Artest. Before going to the Lakers he played for the Pacers and in 2004 was involved in a Youtube worthy brawl with Pistons fans that was very much frowned upon by the NBA. The Lakers decided to take a risk and add Artest to their roster and he didn’t disappoint. After winning with the Lakers in 2009 Artest gave an epic rambling press conference that touched on many subjects including showers and his teammate Kobe Bryant when he said, “I didn’t mean to walk in the shower with him. Yeah, I walked in the shower. I’m not a homosexual, but Kobe – he had no clothes on.” Most people know Ron Artest as – Ron Artest, but in 20011 he decided to change his name to “Meta World Peace” the Hindu virtue of kindness.
12. Wild Thing
John Daly started playing golf when he was four and he started drinking beer when he was eight. Daly’s father had to move the family around a lot because of his job, but young John found golf to be a stabilizing influence. He liked to play countless rounds by himself, but would also join groups, learning valuable skills in the process. With his aggressive “Grip it and Rip it” style of play his professional golf career seemed promising, but was tainted by his erratic behavior. In 1990 he fell into a coma from an alcohol fueled bender while playing in a tournament in Maine. In 1992 he got into an altercation with his wife at a Christmas party. A breaking point came in 1993 when he got into a fight with a fan in a parking lot. Sponsors Reebok and Wilson Golf dropped lucrative deals with the troubled golfer costing him millions of dollars.
11. Gronk’s World
It’s good to be Gronk. Since being drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010 Robert Gronkowski has become the best tight end in the game. At 6’6″ and 265 lb and blessed with uncommon quickness, Gronkowski is too big for corners and safeties and too agile for linebackers to cover effectively. The Gronk’s reputation for partying quickly reached epic levels and the intense Boston media turned a bright spotlight on his shenanigans. In 2011 he apologized to Patriots owner Robert Kraft for several photographs that appeared on Twitter featuring him posing with porn actress Bibi Jones. The attractive young lady was wearing Gronk’s jersey and likely nothing else. Given his love of partying it might seem strange he once said “Beer tastes weird,” but he’s also quoted as saying, “I don’t do drugs, I don’t drive drunk, I don’t break the law … I’m a 23-year-old guy just looking to have a fun time.”
10. Being Manny
Manny Ramirez will go down as one of the best hitters to ever wear a Boston Red Sox uniform. He helped propel the Sox to 2 World Championships in 2004 and 2007 after 86 long years of disappoint and heartache in Boston. With names like Ted Williams, Jim Rice and David Ortiz Ramirez is in excellent company. But Manny won’t be remembered only for his prodigious skill with a bat, he’ll be remembered for “being Manny.” His quirky and clueless behavior was on display early in his career when he played for the Cleveland Indians including asking a reporter for a $60,000 loan. He has sometimes been accused of getting thrown out stealing first base from second base for heading back to first thinking the pitch had been fouled off. Baseball players are known as a superstitious bunch, but Ramirez took it to a new level when he decided to play games wearing a fellow indian’s uniform pants.
9. Ricky “Rio Don” Williams
Ricky Williams made a dramatic entrance to the NFL after Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints traded their whole 1999 draft and their 2000 first and third round picks. Williams was a gifted athlete and talented running back to be sure, but no one could be expected to live up to that kind of pressure. He battled injuries his first season; the Saints finished 3-13 and Ditka was fired. Countless young men would do almost anything to play in the NFL, but Williams is infamous in sports circles for walking away from the Miami Dolphins supposedly to indulge his penchant to light up. The pot angle may have been played up a bit in the media. Although, he did tell 60 Minutes part of the reason he retired was to avoid the public embarrassment of a third failed drug test. During another interview where he was asked about his thought process he responded in part,”I’m finally free. I can’t remember ever being this happy.” He later explained that he struggled with anxiety disorders during his playing career and had used marijuana to self medicate. While contemplating a return to the NFL he decided to change his name to “Rio Don” in a bid to play for the Raiders.
8. The Djokovic is on us
Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has been described as colorful, but perhaps another word is more appropriate: strange. As the above photograph suggests he likes to put on wigs and impersonate fellow tennis players, in this case Maria Sharapova. Tradition is part of tennis, especially Wimbledon and Djokovic has a tradition he reserves for the venerated tournament. He likes to eat the grass on the court because he says it tastes like sweat. Kids get scolded for eating grass, but he gets called colorful. Djokovic would not be the first professional athlete to feign injury during a contest. According to his opponents he has suffered a number of “injuries” during key moments in matches. It is difficult to know what the truth is, but he does seem to persevere despite the “injuries” and ultimately prevail. In the tradition of the great John McEnroe, Djokovic has a habit of using explicit language on the court. Here is one R-rated example: “Now you all will s*** my d***.”
7. Mountain Mandarich
All 6’6″ and 330 lb. of Tony Mandarich thundered into popular culture in 1989 with a cover story in Sports Illustrated. He was a big cocky kid who lived in the gym and had plans to transform the National Football League. The young prospect entertained fantasies of conquering Hollywood much as one of his idols, Arnold Schwarzenegger had. The Green Bay Packers picked him second overall in the 1989 draft. His holding out until a week before the start of his rookie season foreshadowed the downside of this human mountain that would soon show itself. Years after his disappointing football career with the Packers and then with the Colts came to an end Manarich finally admitted to using steroids and Human Growth Hormone. He blamed his erratic play on addiction to alcohol and painkillers. The latter of which he kept in his athletic supporter for ready access. Mandarich is clean and sober now and he still lifts weights and he’s still a cautionary tale of how strange can overshadow sense.
6. Planet Zito
Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito was given nick names like Planet Zito and Captain Quirk partly because of stunts like dying his hair blue. However, more generally he was thought of as a bit “out there” embracing Transcendental Meditation. The Athletics and Giants pitcher once explained that he’d grown up in a “spiritual, metaphysical type church.” While not strange activities on their own, they reinforced peoples’ perceptions of him. Perceptions that were based on odd statements such as his reason for wearing the number 75: he felt this particular pair of digits held “Zito” up on his uniform better than other numbers. A man of eclectic interests, Barry Zito surfs and practices yoga. Tapping into his parents’ background in music, Zito started a second career as a singer/songwriter in Nashville. He scored a Billboard hit in 2017 with No Secrets and enjoyed some success pursuing a passion he’d embraced since his playing days.
5. Terrell Owens
Former wide receiver Terrell owens was a six-time Pro Bowl selection playing for the 49ers, Cowboys and Eagles. He racked up 15, 934 receiving yards for second all time in NFL history. So it seemed strange when in 2012 he was abruptly cut from the Indoor Football League’s Allen Wranglers. The quality of his performance on the field was given as the official reason for the parting of ways. However, Owens had not been living up to some of his obligations such as missing team functions like an appearance at a children’s hospital. Keep in mind that the IFL is one step below the Arena Football League and players could make as little as $250 a game. How did he get to this point? It was a long strange fall punctuated by incidents like the one in Dallas in 2000 where he twice went to mid-field to taunt Dallas fans after scoring touchdowns. Cowboy George Teague knocked ran on the field and knocked Owen down when the 49er attempted his second celebration. Owens was suspended and fined by his own team for his unsportsmanlike behavior. Despite his antics he would later play for the Cowboys.
4. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is one of the most dominant tennis players in the history of the sport. She is also a little strange. Many professional athletes go to great lengths to be in top shape, but Serena apparently likes to go just a bit further like performing splits while balanced on bars and suspended from cables. Her preparation for matches extends to rituals such as bringing her shower shoes to the court. Serena takes her rituals seriously and has even blamed losses on her failure to follow them. Social media can make anyone famous or infamous in an instant. Unfortunately it can coax already famous people into sharing too much. Williams did just that while in Rome for a tournament in May 2016 when she posted a brief video to snapchat admitting to eating dog food and feigning stomach problems. She would not be the first hot head tennis star, but she was appropriately embarrassed after she allegedly threatened a judge with violence during a match.
3. Black Eye of the Tiger
Tiger Woods spent most of his childhood practicing golf with his ex-Green Beret father. Perhaps this is the reason the legendary golfer turned out to be a little strange. No doubt he will go down in history as one of the best golfers of all time, but he will also be remembered for “car accident” in his driveway. Apparently its hard to steer when your enraged wife is tossing golf clubs through the rear window of your SUV. Some people might judge her response as tame considering she’d just learned of her husband longstanding habit of having rough sex with an assortment of porn stars, waitresses and models. For this he threw his family away and gave a press conference with his mother sitting in the front row. So how does Tiger Woods spend his time now? Apparently he spends a lot of time playing war with former special forces operators and others willing to share their tactical expertise with him. His golf career has been on hold for several years because of an ongoing back injury that some might chalk up to karma.
2. Mystic Mac
Conor McGregor AKA Mystic Mac is an MMA fighter and the current UFC Lightweight champion. He is also a preening showboat who likes to talk trash as much as he likes to fight. McGregor repeatedly insulted retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the press conference to officially announce their upcoming bout. His eagerness to fight one of the best living boxers in the world is exhibit A in the case of McGregor v. strange. It is difficult t quantify the ego of a man who went out of his way to challenge and insult Mayweather. Showmanship is one thing, but he seems intent on being an SOB to get the biggest payday possible. He’ll get his chance to put his money where his mouth is on August 26, 2017 in Las Vegas.
1. As the Worm Turns
It seems former NBA star Dennis Rodman has always been strange. The extent of “the worm’s” unpredictable behavior came to the public’s attention in 1997 when he kicked a cameraman in the groin. However, this incident was only a sample of what was to become a long, strange trip that continues today. I suppose we have to give him credit for being up front about his bizarre behavior. In his book Bad as I Wanna Be he wrote about contemplating suicide – once while sitting in a pick up truck with a rifle outside the Palace of Auburn Hills, where Rodman used to play for the Detroit Pistons. Some people think its the piercings, hair styles, tattoos and the outlandish outfits that define Rodman’s brand of strange. Others point to his foray into professional wrestling or the messy, whirlwind relationships with the likes of Carmen Electra and Madonna. But all of these foibles are almost charming compared to Dennis Rodman’s inexplicable schmoozing with Kim Jong Un, the brutal dictator of North Korea.