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Most Shocking Athlete Confessions in Sports History


A clear conscience is good for the soul. Or for some, it's good for the public reputation or book sales.

Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey was not a first in the sports world, nor was it a surprise -- he told the host he indeed used performance-enhancing drugs on the way to Tour de France titles and building the Livestrong nonprofit empire.

Some confessions are foisted upon athletes by the media, mainstream or otherwise (hello, Deadspin!), or by the athletes' peers. Other times, these confessions, simply put, help move memoirs and autobiographies.

Here are a handful of the sports world’s top confessions, ranging from admitting to recreational or performance-enhancing drug use, discussing money problems or revealing close personal secrets.

Jan. 17, 2013: Lance Armstrong
In a Monday interview with Oprah Winfrey, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his run of seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Armstrong had been stripped of his titles and had long been accused of doping, but his vociferous denials over the years made his confession itself a shock.

Jan. 16, 2013: Manti Te’o
In a statement in a response to a Deadspin article on the hoax of his deceased girlfriend, Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman finalist Manti Te’o states: “I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” As more news and nuggets trickle out of the Lennay Kekua hoax story, this may not be the final confession.

May 2010: Floyd Landis
Before Armstrong revealed his PED-use, Landis did. Like Armstrong, he fought the accusation of doping on the way to a Tour de France title in 2006. After he tested positive for multiple PEDs, Landis implicated Armstrong and others in communication with anti-doping officials.

February 2012: Tiger Woods
A 2009 car accident set off a series of revelations about Tiger Woods’ personal life including infidelity. Woods admitted to widespread extramarital affairs in a public apology less than three months later. As multiple women came forward with stories of affairs with Woods, the golf superstar lost many of his endorsement deals.

January 2010: Mark McGwire
McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998, repeatedly said, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” during a Congressional hearing on steroids in 2005. By the time he wanted to re-enter baseball has a hitting coach in 2010 he talked about the past, admitting to taking performance enhancers at separate times throughout the 1990s, including during ’98 home run chase.

October 2009: Andre Agassi
In his autobiography Open, Agassi admitted to using crystal methamphetamine in 1997 and 1998. Originally, the tennis star claimed in a letter to the ATP that his failed drug test was due to accidentally taking the drug. Though another confession was less serious than using crystal meth, Agassi also admitted that for a time his legendary ‘do was actually a hairpiece.

October 2009: Theoren Fleury
A former star with the Calgary Flames, Fleury wrote in his autobiography he was sexually abused by a coach in junior hockey. The abuse, Fleury wrote, contributed to alcoholism.

August 2009: Rick Pitino
The Louisville basketball coach apologized in a press conference for “an indiscretion” that occurred six years prior. The indiscretion was an extramarital affair that led to extortion charges against the woman.

February 2009: Alex Rodriguez
After Sports Illustrated reported Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, Rodriguez told ESPN he used steroids with the Texas Rangers first in 2001 after he signed his record-breaking $252 million contract. Rodriguez called the era “loosey-goosey” and claimed he did not know what specific steroids he had been taking. Rodriguez had denied as recently as 2007 that he had ever taken steroids.

October 2007: Marion Jones
Marion Jones, who earned three gold medals in the 2000 Olympics, tearfully admitted to using PEDs and lying about it as part of the BALCO scandal.

May 2006: John Daly
The golfer has had his share of personal demons, but among them was a gambling problem he admitted in his autobiography in 2006. Daly wrote he lost up to $60 million during 12 years of gambling.

February 2006: Jose Canseco
In his tell-all book Juiced, Canseco wrote he used human growth hormone and steroids from beginning to end in his career, but the bigger legacy of Canseco’s book was accusations of the rampant use of PEDs through baseball during the 1990s. As he is now, Canseco was not considered to be the most reliable source of information, but the names mentioned — Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and more — were revealed to be PED-users themselves.

January 2004: Pete Rose
In advance of his book My Prison Without Bars, baseball’s all-time hit leader admitted to what had kept him out of the Hall of Fame and baseball altogether since 1989 when he confessed to gambling on baseball and gambling on his own team to win. After his banishment from baseball, Rose first denied betting on baseball, then admitted to that but denied betting on the Reds while Cincinnati’s manager, then he finally admitted to betting on the Reds but only to win.

June 2002: Ken Caminiti
The list of denials, investigative reports and eventually confessions regarding steroids in baseball could take up the bulk of this page, but one of the first belonged to All-Star third baseman Ken Caminiti in this Sports Illustrated article. He told SI he used steroids so heavily during his 2006 National League MVP season his body had all but stopped producing natural testosterone. Caminiti died in October 2004 at age 41 of a heart attack.

November 1991: Magic Johnson
At 32, Magic Johnson retired abruptly in 1991, revealing in a news conference he tested positive for HIV. At the time, he did not reveal how he acquired the disease, but he later explained he had unprotected sex with multiple women.

August 1987: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
Though he battled drug problems for most of his career, Henderson admitted to one episode in his autobiography that was especially troubling. The former Dallas Cowboys linebacker wrote he used a cocaine-laced inhaler during the second half the Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1981: Martina Navratilova
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, at the height of her career, announced she is a lesbian. She is credited as the first major athlete — male or female — to come out while at the height of her fame. The same year, tennis star Billie Jean King was outed in a palimony suit by a female former partner.