Athletes Who Weren’t Hurt and Refused to Play
The long and sordid history of professional athletes who have wanted to get paid for not working is alive and well in 2022. The sense of entitlement that comes with thinking you can still cash a check without actually doing what you were paid to do is foreign to rational thinking people — but not to some of the highest-paid athletes of all time.
In the world of big-time professional sports, the truth is that the contracts are set up so a lot of the time, you can elect not to play and still watch the money fill up your bank account. While it doesn't always work that way, and there are examples of players choosing to sit out and not get paid, it's a flawed system when you can get paid millions of dollars for not doing your job.
These are the most egregious cases of professional athletes who weren't hurt but refused to play, including some who still got paid big bucks anyway.
15. Zion Williamson
We could care not less what the company line from the New Orleans Pelicans has been over the last year. The foot surgery the franchise said kept star forward and former No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson out for the 2021-22 season was a fugazi excuse from the start, as were the myriad of health concerns that kept him out for most of 2022-23.
The facts are much more embarrassing for Williamson — and for the team he plays for. He didn't tell the team about the foot injury until right before training camp started, and when he did show up to let them know, it appeared as if he'd put on around 50 pounds from the previous season. Maybe more. It was a ridiculous lie. And the Pelicans still made the playoffs without their best player.
There's another list we anticipate Williamson will be on sooner than later. That's biggest draft busts in NBA history. He played just 29 games in 2022-23 when he once again intimated he might play ... then didn't. Williamson has played in just 114 regular-season games in four seasons.
14. Joey Galloway
We could include any number of holdouts on this list but have picked a select few because of their end result, length or oddity.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Joey Galloway didn't want to play out the final year of his rookie contract in 1999, which would have paid him approximately $1.5 million. He turned down a seven-year, $35 million extension with a $7 million signing bonus from the franchise.
Galloway missed the first eight games of the season before deciding to end his holdout, and ended up making about half of what he would have made that year. But in the end, he came out on top.
Galloway knew he needed to be on the roster for at least six games that season to eventually become a free agent and was sent to the Dallas Cowboys in a sign-and-trade before the 2000 season. Galloway's haul was a seven-year, $42 million contract with a $12.5 million signing bonus.
13. Kenny Anderson
Kenny Anderson was one of the NBA's better point guards in the 1990s, but when the Portland Trail Blazers traded him to the Toronto Raptors in 1998, Anderson refused to go play in Canada for the newly started franchise and the ensuing tax headaches.
The Raptors, fearing they might not get anything for Anderson, quickly dealt him to the Boston Celtics, where he spent the next four seasons.
Despite making $63 million during his NBA career, Anderson filed for bankruptcy in 2005, which was also his final season.
12. Kerry Collins
In one of the more bizarre conversations that probably ever occurred between an NFL head coach and a starting quarterback, Kerry Collins told Carolina Panthers head coach Dom Capers he no longer wanted to be the team's starter after an 0-4 start in 1998 because his "heart wasn't in it and (Collins) wasn't happy."
Capers did more than just bench Collins. He gave him his outright release less than two years after he'd led the Panthers to the NFC championship game, and he was claimed off waivers by the New Orleans Saints for a $100 fee.
Collins' later admitted it was alcohol addiction fueling his bizarre behavior, including a racist remark made to a teammate, and one DUI arrest. Three years later, he was clean and sober and leading the New York Giants to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-7.
11. Pavel Bure
When Vancouver Canucks star Pavel Bure told general manager Brian Burke he would never play for the team again following the 1997-1998 season, he meant it.
Burke learned Bure was a man of his word the hard way, with the high-scoring right wing holed up in his home in Moscow for all but 11 games of the 1998-99 season before he was dealt to the Florida Panthers in a mega-trade.
Bure's rookie contract with the Canucks was for $8 million over five years. The Panthers broke him off to the tune of five years and $47.5 million.
10. Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche — who averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 10 seasons — refused to go into a game with the Washington Wizards in 2010, according to head coach Flip Saunders, who was previously riding Blatche about his poor defense.
"In my fifteen years (of coaching), I've never seen anything like it," Saunders said. "I'm more disappointed in him that I've ever been with a player in my coaching career."
Blatche tried to say Saunders was lying. Blatche is the same guy who was fined $10,000 for participating in a mock-celebration of the infamous guns-in-the-locker-room incident between Wizards players Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton.
9. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard wanted out of San Antonio before the 2017-2018 season — nothing wrong with that. There's no rule that says a player has to stay with the team that drafted him for his entire career. This isn't the 1950s. The guy is a big-time star and wanted to play in a bigger market. More power to him.
Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season with a quadriceps injury, returned to play nine games before he said he hurt his shoulder, then was ruled out again with the same quadriceps injury. In March, with the team poised to make a playoff run, Leonard was cleared to play by team doctors.
He saw it differently, and despite pleas from his teammates to return, sat out the rest of the year. Call it what you want — Leonard quit on his team. He successfully forced his way into a trade to the Toronto Raptors, where he won an NBA title in 2019 and was named NBA Finals MVP. He's been with the Los Angeles Clippers since the 2019-20 season.
8. John Riggins
Headed into the 1980 season, Washington Redskins running back John Riggins wanted a raise from his $300,000 per year salary. When he couldn't get one, he simply left the team and sat out the entire season, retreating to his farm in Kansas.
One year later, new Washington coach Joe Gibbs traveled to Kansas to implore Riggins to come back. And it worked. "I'm bored, I'm broke and I'm back," Riggins told The New York Times.
After struggling in 1981 after a year away from football, Riggins led the Redskins to a Super Bowl win and was named Super Bowl MVP in 1982.
7. J.D. Drew
Florida State star outfielder J.D. Drew and super-agent Scott Boras said he wasn't going to play for a team unwilling to sign him for $10 million ahead of the 1997 MLB draft. The Philadelphia Phillies went ahead and selected Drew No. 2 overall and offered him $2.6 million.
Drew played Independent League baseball for one year and was selected No. 5 overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998. They signed him for $7 million. Drew wound up playing 14 seasons in the majors and made one All-Star team.
6. John Wall
There is no stranger case of a player sitting out when they were perfectly healthy and able to play that what happened with Houston Rockets point guard John Wall during the 2021-2022 season.
The Rockets paid Wall, a five-time All-Star, $44.3 million to not play any games in order to let younger players Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green get more experience. This is also known as tanking. And Wall happily obliged.
What's even crazier? Wall has a player option with the Rockets that will pay him $47 million for the 2022-2023 season that he will certainly take on. Which means if the Rockets can't find a team that wants Wall in a trade they can either pay him that money and have him sit out again (or play him, which isn't likely). Or they can negotiate a buyout that still pays him most of that money and makes him a free agent.
Either way, the man is getting paid. Isn't America great?
5. Le'Veon Bell
Of all the players who just chose to sit out a season when they could have played, Le'Veon Bell's decision to do so in 2018 as a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the biggest head-scratchers.
Bell's decision came from having the franchise tag placed on him for a second year in a row. So instead of playing for $14.5 million in 2018, he sat out and made no money at all.
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets in 2019, with $35 million guaranteed. He played 17 games for the Jets before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020.
Bell played for the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021, with Tampa giving him his outright release in January 2022.
4. Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros may have been the most coveted No. 1 overall pick in the history of the NHL draft, and when the Quebec Nordiques took him No. 1 in 1991, they did so despite Lindros telling them he would never play for them.
Ahead of the 1992 NHL draft, the Nordiques worked out trades with the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, and an arbitrator had to be brought in to determine which deal was completed first — it was the Flyers by about 80 minutes.
Philadelphia gave up four players, including goalie Ron Hextall and 1992 No. 7 overall pick Peter Forsberg, along with a first-round pick in 1993 and $15 million cash for Lindros.
3. Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson blamed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for costing him his final year of college baseball eligibility at Auburn, vowed never to play for them and they drafted him No. 1 overall in 1986 in spite of this. Turns out, Bo was serious.
Jackson went to play professional baseball for the Kansas City Royals and sat out the entire 1986 NFL season. Tampa Bay forfeited his rights before the 1987 NFL draft. He was taken by the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round and allowed to still play baseball.
2. Ben Simmons
In the pantheon of professional sports, few athletes have come under as much scrutiny for their decision not to play while seemingly healthy as former Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons.
After his mind-numbing decision to pass up an open dunk led to the 76ers being eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2021, Simmons used a variety of excuses to miss the entire 2021-2022 season — from his desire to not play for the 76ers, to mental health issues to a sore back. It culminated in the team shipping him to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for James Harden. Where Simmons continued to not play.
It led to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith unleashing on the "pathetic" Ben Simmons in one of the all-time great sports media rants.
1. Scottie Pippen
There is no other player that can occupy No. 1 on this list. Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen staked his claim to infamy when he refused to re-enter a playoff game against the New York Knicks in 1994.
With the score tied 102-102 with 1.8 seconds left, Chicago head coach Phil Jackson drew up a play to get Toni Kukoc the final shot. Pippen refused to go back in the game because Jackson called Kukoc's number, and Kukoc hit the shot.
Expertly portrayed in the 2020 documentary series "The Last Dance," Pippen insists to this day he was right for not going back in and Jackson's decision was racially motivated, despite no evidence to back this up.