Although most sports stars get famous for being great athletes, some also gain a reputation for being just plain weird. Whether it’s their odd playing styles, superstitions, or off-field antics, these are some of the players who’ve been able to win fan support and the attention of the media for reasons other than their athletic skill.
10. Mark Fidrych
Baseball pitchers are known for being some of the biggest oddballs in sports, and Mark Fidrych was no exception. Nicknamed “The Bird” because his curly hair and lanky build was reminiscent of Big Bird, Fidrych made a name for himself as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. He had a number of odd habits while pitching, among them aiming the ball like a dart, talking to it, and frequently strutting around the field after striking a batter out. He also had the curious habit of insisting that a ball that “had hits in it” be removed from the game, saying, “I want it to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it’ll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time.” Fidrych was a sensation with the fans, who would chant for him to be put in the game, and any time he did start attendance would skyrocket. For all his antics, Fidrych was known for living very simply in a small apartment, always insisting that if he weren’t a professional ball player he’d be pumping gas in his hometown of Northborough, Massachusetts.
9. Rene Higuita
Still playing professionally at age 42, Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita is one of the wildest personalities in international soccer. Higuita is known for his flamboyant style and his tendency to take huge risks. He often leaves his goal unattended and dribbles the ball far down field in an attempt to score. This has been disastrous on more than one occasion, and a huge blunder in a 1990 World Cup match led to his earning the nickname “El Loco” in the Columbian press. Higuita is probably most famous for inventing the scorpion kick (see video), which was once voted the greatest soccer trick of all time, and he even executed the kick in an international game against England in 1995. Outside of soccer, Higuita has made the news on more than one occasion. In 1993, he was arrested for profiting in a kidnapping case involving the famous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and eventually served seven months in prison. More recently, he tested positive for cocaine while playing professionally in Ecuador, and famously appeared on a Spanish-language reality TV show called “The Island of the Famous: A Pirate Adventure.”
8. Chad Ochocinco
There’s not much you can say about a man who’s willing to legally change his name to his jersey number, but Chad Ochocinco (formerly Chad Johnson) is one of the most bizarre athletes to come along in the NFL in some time. A wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, Ochocinco has developed a reputation for his wild hairstyles, media stunts, and amazing catches. He is also known for his creative and often hilarious touchdown celebrations, which have included performing CPR on the ball, mock proposing to a Bengals cheerleader, and pushing a camera man aside and pretending to film the game. He was fined numerous times by the NFL for these performances, and famously held up a sign after one touchdown that read: “Dear NFL, Please Don’t Fine Me Again!” which led to yet another fine. In 2007, in order to demonstrate his amazing speed and to benefit charity, Ochocinco raced a thoroughbred horse 220 yards on foot and won. Still, his most famous stunt to date is undoubtedly his recent legal name change to “Ochocinco,” the numbers 8 and 5 in Spanish, which has long been his nickname. Starting in 2009, this will be the name that appears on the back of his jersey during games.
7. Turk Wendell
A pitcher for a number of different Major League teams from 1993 to 2004, Turk Wendell was famous for his eccentric personality and tendency to speak his mind. Wendell was a fan favorite during his time in the major leagues, and was well known for his superstitions and strange behavior on the field. For example, he insisted that the umpire roll the ball to him instead of throwing it, and anytime his catcher stood up, he would crouch down. He refused to walk on the baseline, and any time he entered or left the field he would intentionally leap over it. He was also said to often brush his teeth between innings, and supposedly wore a necklace made of teeth from animals he had killed while hunting. Wendell had an obsession with the baseball movie Major League, and wore number 99 in a tribute to the film’s main character, Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughan. Near the end of his career, Wendell said he hoped to play his last year of baseball for free in order to be “a testament to the game,” and insisted that the only things he wanted out of life were “a wife, children, to play baseball and to hunt deer.”
6. John Daly
Known, among other things, as “Wild Thing” and “The Lion,” John Daly is one of the more eccentric players in the otherwise stately world of professional golf. A big and imposing figure, Daly burst onto the professional golf circuit in 1991, when he won the PGA Championship despite barely earning a space in the tournament as a last minute alternate. He is known for his tremendous power, which has seen him average over 300 yards per drive throughout his career, and helped him to win his second major tournament victory in 1995 at the British Open. Despite his obvious skill, Daly’s career has been full of huge highs and lows, thanks in large part to a years-long battle with alcohol and gambling addictions. He has famously claimed to have lost as much as $60 million gambling, and has been arrested for his drinking on a number of occasions. As a result, he is well known for his tendency to blow up halfway through an otherwise strong tournament, and has been disqualified or quit on numerous occasions. In recent years, he has tried to get himself back on track, though he is still known for his prodigious use of cigarettes and diet coke to calm his nerves while playing, once famously saying that for him “nicotine plus caffeine equals protein.”
5. Ricky Williams
Although considered by many to be one of the more talented running backs to come along in some time, Ricky Williams has gained a reputation as one of the oddest players in NFL history. He gained fame immediately upon his entrance into the league for his quickness, long dreadlocks, and intense shyness, which led him to conduct many post-game interviews with his helmet still on. Williams famously tested positive for marijuana in NFL drug tests multiple times, and was fined $650,000 before unexpectedly announcing his early retirement from the game. After leaving football, Williams studied holistic medicine and Hinduism and traveled to India and Australia, where he supposedly spent time living in a tent. He returned to the NFL in 2004, only to fail a drug test again and be suspended for the season. While banned from the NFL, Williams played Canadian football for a season while teaching yoga classes on the side. He finally returned to the NFL in 2007, and now plays for the Miami Dolphins.
4. Bill Lee
Known for his counterculture personality and unique throwing style, Bill “Spaceman” Lee was a pitcher who played for the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos in the 1970s. Lee often sported a wild mountain-man beard, and was known for his candidness in interviews, openly admitting that he smoked marijuana and offering his opinion on everything from race relations to health food. His on-field antics were equally famous, and included separating his shoulder in a fight with New York Yankees players in 1976, and threatening to bite off an umpire’s ear during a 1975 World Series game. Lee’s wild personality and his tendency to speak out against club management endeared him to the fans, and musician Warren Zevon even wrote a song about him, but his outspokenness ultimately got him kicked off of both his major league teams. After leaving professional baseball, Lee ran for President in 1988, but he was unable to get on the ballot in any states.
3. Mike Tyson
One of the most feared and explosive fighters in boxing history, Mike Tyson has gained a reputation as one of the unpredictable and downright bizarre athletes of all time. After a rapid rise to fame, Tyson’s career took a hit following an upset defeat by Buster Douglas in 1990, and a subsequent rape conviction saw him spend 3 years behind bars. After his release, Tyson attempted to make a comeback in boxing by defending one of his titles against Evander Holyfield, but he lost the fight by technical knockout. The two fought again a year later in one of the highest paying boxing matches of all time. In what would come to be known as one of the oddest events in sports history, the fight was called in the third round after Tyson bit off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear, supposedly in retaliation for Holyfield head butting him. The incident led to a near-riot in the arena, and Tyson was fined millions for it. After making a number of guest appearances in professional wrestling, Tyson returned to the ring in 2002 for a title fight against Lennox Lewis, and once again made headlines for saying to Lewis, “I want your heart, I want to eat his children.” Tyson lost the fight by knockout, and has since retired from boxing.
2. Dennis Rodman
One of the most famous “bad boys” of professional sports, Dennis Rodman is a basketball player who played as a forward for a number of NBA teams throughout the late 80s and 90s. Also known as “The Worm” and “Dennis the Menace,” Rodman had a remarkable rebounding ability, collecting nearly 12,000 during his career, but he is best known for his antics both on and off the court. He famously dyed his hair a variety of colors, head-butted opponents, appeared in public wearing a wedding dress, and seemed to make a habit of being ejected from games. In 1998, he briefly married Baywatch star Carmen Electra, and later had a high-profile fling with singer Madonna. Rodman had a big interest in wrestling, and while still in the NBA he began a side career as a professional wrestler with his friend Hulk Hogan, even going so far as to participate in WCW events while in the middle of the 1998 NBA finals. He also cultivated another side career as an actor, appearing in the action movie Double Team along with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and later as the star of the film Simon Sez, but both films were huge commercial and critical failures.
1. Joe Namath
Popularly considered to be the first media star in professional football, quarterback Joe Namath has been making a name for himself on and off the field for over forty years. Namath is most famous his audacious prediction that his underdog New York Jets would win the 1969 Superbowl. He delivered on his promise, and immediately became one of the most famous athletes in America. Nicknamed “Broadway Joe” for his flamboyant style, Namath would often wear a full-length fur coat while on the sidelines during games, and he enthusiastically appeared in racy television ads for women’s pantyhose, which caused an uproar in the media at the same time that it helped establish him as a sex symbol. Namath famously retired from the NFL for a brief stint in 1969 after refusing to sell his stake in a New York City bar called Bachelors III, which the NFL commissioner claimed had become a popular mafia hangout, but he eventually complied and was back for the next season. Since retiring from football, Namath has appeared in a number of films and television shows, and even hosted his own late night talk show for a short time. In 2004, Namath was in the headlines once again when he drunkenly told ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber that he wanted to kiss her during an interview, and he has since gone into treatment for alcoholism.