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Epic Fails And Successes: College Athletes Off the Field

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OneClass Blog
29 Oct 2019
9 min read

For college sports players, success on the field and off the field don’t necessarily go hand in hand. For some athletes, life takes a downward trajectory that results in criminal convictions or financial troubles. Other college athletes excelled in their classwork and also found success in life. 

To understand the ups and downs of college sports players, let’s take a “Myron Rolle vs. Aaron Hernandez” approach to comparing student-athletes. 

5 College Athletes Who Failed Outside of the Game

Being a top athlete doesn’t necessarily mean achieving success off the field. After all, 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or broke within two years of leaving the game. Which college athletes had dramatic declines? Here are five cases of epic fails. 

1. Aaron Hernandez

He was an All-American, having played tight end with the University of Florida’s Gators. He also made the honor roll as a sophomore. However, his classes while in college included bowling, theater appreciation and wildlife issues. Later, he’d go on to play for the New England Patriots, but his career came to an abrupt halt. 

He was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Then while incarcerated, he was acquitted of a separate double homicide charge only to have died days later in his cell. It was ruled a suicide.  

2. Jerry Sandusky

He started his career playing Defensive End for Penn State and he earned a place in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. However, at age 68, he was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison after being found guilty of 52 counts of child molestation and sexual abuse. 

In response to the scandal and its attempted coverup, NCAA ruled Penn State should be sanctioned with a $60 million fine, have 40 scholarships withheld and be vacated of the 111 wins that occurred between 1998 to 2011. An additional $13 million in fines was levied by the Big Ten Conference. 

3. Michael Vick

Before the NFL, he played college football at Virginia Tech for two years. He needed a 2.0 GPA to stay on the team, and he had a 2.3. 

In 2007, he was convicted for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. During his 21 months in federal prison, he filed for bankruptcy, even though his income was $25.4 million in 2006.

4. Art Schlichter

When quarterbacking at Ohio State, he rarely went to class, but it’s common for athletes to receive help from college coaches and athletic staff. “The athletic department had tutors for us,” said Schlichter. “I had a class or two each quarter in which I knew I could get a decent grade no matter what. Some professors were football fans and they'd make it easy.”

However, his decade-long NFL career is less memorable than his 40-year long problem with compulsive gambling. He committed many felonies and stole millions of dollars. Between 1995 and 2006, he served the equivalent of 10 years in various jails and prisons. He’s currently serving another 10-year sentence and is expected to be released in 2020.

5. Marion Jones

She attended the University of North Carolina on a full scholarship. As a basketball player, she helped her team win the NCAA championship and was named an ACC Women's Basketball Legend. She was also a six-time All-American in track and field.

After college, she competed in track and field at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Then in 2006, she was linked to a check counterfeiting scheme. At that time, the bank foreclosed on her $2.5-million NC mansion. A year later, she lied under oath about taking performance-enhancing drugs during the Olympics. As a result, her Olympic medals were taken from her and she went to jail for six months. 

5 College Athletes Who Were Also Rhodes Scholars

For some college athletes, life after school had an upward trajectory. 

Rhodes Scholars are most commonly known for their academic studies. However, you may not realize there’s also an overlap with sports achievement. The Rhodes Scholar application has “success in sports” as one of its criteria. 

Let’s look at five college athletes who were awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and went on to have a successful career. 

1. Myron Rolle

During his time as a college football player at Florida State, he had a 3.75 GPA. In just two-and-a-half years, he earned a degree in Exercise Science and completed the pre-med requirements. 

Then he earned a Rhodes Scholarship and completed his Master’s degree in medical anthropology. The following year, he entered the NFL draft. “Toward the end of my career, I started to think about concussions and what the effects of repetitive concussions can do," he said. So he graduated from med school and began a neurosurgery residency at Harvard.

2. Cory Booker

The 2019 presidential candidate played varsity football in high school and was a tight end on the Stanford University team. Before earning a law degree at Yale, he studied at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. 

The Senator has joked about his college grades on Twitter. “Got into Stanford because of a 4.0 and 1600 (4.0 Yards/Carry and 1600 receiving yards),” he said.

3. Bill Bradley

He turned down 75 college scholarships to attend Princeton, choosing it because of the school’s history of preparing students for politics. He won the NCAA Player of the Year, and he went on to win an Olympic gold medal with his teammates at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He then went on to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Oxford via a Rhodes Scholarship.

After joining the NBA and playing with the Knicks, he scored 9,217 points over 742 NBA games, earning him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He then became a U.S. Senator and made a bid for the U.S. presidency. 

4. Heather Wilson

Before she served in the House of Representatives, she attended the U.S. Air Force Academy. She was the first woman to command basic training and was the first woman Vice Wing Commander. She then received a Rhodes Scholarship to study international relations at Oxford. 

Over the course of her career, she’s been a congresswoman, Secretary of the Air Force, President of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and President of the University of Texas-El Paso

5. Kris Kristofferson

While studying literature at Pomona College, he was spotlighted by Sports Illustrated as a player to watch because of his achievements in rugby, football and track and field. He then earned a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford where he played rugby, boxed and wrote songs. 

His career earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, 10 Grammys and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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