All professional sports leagues want their fans to enjoy watching their favorite team and supporting their favorite players. The NFL is the most popular sport in the United States, and it gathers family and friends like no other game in the country.

However, in sports just like life, there are bound to be a few bad apples who drag down a league's reputation. Often, players who cross this line by too much, or too many times, are banned from the league, even the NFL.

An off-field issue that dies down after a couple of weeks or a one-week suspension because of an on-the-field melee are one thing, but some actions have much more profound consequences. These instances are not given any sort of leeway.

We have very recent examples of this with Indianapolis Colts players Isaiah Rodgers and Rashod Berry, as well as free-agent Demetrius Taylor, being suspended indefinitely through at least the 2023 season for gambling on NFL games in 2022. It's plausible that these season-long suspensions ultimately turn into lifetime bans like some players in the past, but more likely they'll at least get one more shot at this conclusion of the 2023 campaign. Not everybody is that lucky, though.

Now, let's look at the seven NFL players permanently banned from the league as well as a couple honorable mentions who had their bans lifted but still never returned to the game.

Ray Rice (honorable mention)

The NFL banned Ray Rice indefinitely after a video surfaced in the 2014 offseason showing him assaulting his girlfriend. Rice was indicted for aggravated assault and the Baltimore Ravens released the star running back. While Ray Rice technically won reinstatement after being banned, no team signed him after he was reinstated, so the ban still ended his NFL career.

Frank Filchock (honorable mention), 7. Merle Hapes

Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes were accused and proven to be involved in a bribery scandal in 1946. Honestly, they may have been able to get away with it initially, but they did it in a championship game, which magnifies the sinful act.

Filchock and Hapes were involved in a bet that would give their franchise at least a 10-point edge in the championship match. The controversy was discussed by the league hours before the game, but Filchock was still allowed to play. He ended up throwing six interceptions, but because his team lost by exactly 10, the bets were a push.

Through further investigation, it was proven these two men were also involved in an immense bet for the last regular-season game. Filchock's ban was eventually lifted, but Hapes was never allowed to return to the game.

 

6. Rae Carruth

Rae Carruth's reason for being suspended from the NFL is not related to any on-field shenanigans. He was a first-round pick who received a substantial amount of playing time with the Carolina Panthers.

Carruth was instead involved in a conspiracy plot to murder his partner Cherica Adams. Rae Carruth spent 18 years in prison after hiring an individual to shoot his partner four times, along with the child in her womb. Carruth was released in October 2018.

Aaron Hernandez, a tight end with the New England Patriots, was another active NFL player that was arrested and charged (and eventually convicted) of murder. However, the NFL never got around to actually suspending him.

5. LaRon Landry

LaRon Landry was an NFL safety who was slapped with an indefinite suspension that was never lifted. Landry was suspended a couple of times due to performance-enhancing drugs, with the third offense resulting in an indefinite ban.

4. Justin Blackmon

Similar to LaRon Landry, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely by the NFL because of violating the substance policy. Blackmon had already been booked for numerous violations. It was an ongoing issue for Blackmon as he had prior issues, such as a DUI charge and underage alcohol possession.

For the deeper inside story on the 7 players banned from the NFL, listen below:

3. Rolando McClain

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain was suspended for the third time at the end of the 2014 season. The reason for this suspension was due to the NFL's substance abuse policy as well. As he was suspended by the league, no other team gained interest in acquiring McClain, so the indefinite suspension remains in place.

2. Stanley Wilson Jr.

A Cincinnati Bengals running back, Stanley Wilson was a player from 1980 who was straight-up banned because of his substance-abuse problem. Wilson was suspended on the eve of the Super Bowl.

Previously, he missed the whole 1985 and 1987 seasons for violating  the NFL's drug policy, so a third offense led to a harsher punishment. The ban was warranted, but the admirable action from the league is how they helped him treat his drug addiction in the years after.

Unfortunately, he continued to deal with mental health issues and died while in custody in a mental-health facility in February 2023. His family claims workers at the facility mistreated Wilson and have various lawsuits against officials involved.

1. Bernard Williams

One of the best players on this list, Bernard Williams was heavily recruited out of college at Georgia. He was a starter instantly as a rookie for the Philadelphia Eagles, even making the 1994 All-Rookie team, but that ended up being his only successful year in the NFL. Williams failed a whopping 15 drug tests, which made it an easy decision for the league to ban him.

Years after his ban from the NFL, he shared the numerous tragic events that occurred at that juncture of his life, as well as the physical wear and tear of football, that led to him using marijuana, which hadn't been banned by the league in 1994 but was starting in 1995.

“I had teammates who had pain pills shipped to them in training camp, but I never liked taking pills,” Williams told UGASports' Patrick Garbin. “I didn’t drink or take drugs while in high school, and smoked [marijuana] some in college when, honestly, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. There was no drug policy during my rookie season in the NFL, so I picked up the habit of smoking pot. Marijuana was my way of dealing with the pain and the stress of football.”

Williams also explained why he didn't appeal his indefinite suspension that has effectively served as a lifetime ban from the league.

“At the time, I really didn’t even want to think about football. It was a lot for me to handle back then—to go through—and football, at that point, was just kind of nagging at me. I was always good at football, and liked the sport, but, as I said, I was never really a “football guy.” Plus, outsiders had started to tug at me from different directions, so the sport became unattractive to me after a while—and I wanted a way out. If I could have taken a second year off and then returned to the NFL, I probably would have done so.”

Williams has led a successful post-football life, starting a pair of companies and partnering with his nephew, former Kansas City Chiefs star safety Eric Berry, to open juice bars in Kansas City and Atlanta as well as another company that buys, sells, and customizes classic cars.

In November 2013, the Eagles finally waived Williams nearly 30 years after the NFL suspended him. It was just a technicality as the NFL was cleaning up old records.