The 15 biggest career crashes of 2015

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Plenty of people resolve to jump-start their careers in the new year. For some, this resolution is more of a necessity than lip service.

Here are 15 high-profile people (and teams) whose careers or reputations took a big hit in 2015. While we expect many to bounce back, others may never recover.

Former pharma CEO Martin Shkreli

The former hedge fund manager took a lot of heat in September after he jacked up the price of a critical antiparasitic drug by more than 5,000% from $13.50 a tablet to $750.

The controversial move prompted anger from Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, legislators to call Shkreli to Washington to explain his business practices, and a bipartisan senate investigation into price increases across the pharmaceutical industry.

Shkreli made news again in December when he was arrested by the FBI on charges of securities fraud related to events that happened while he was managing hedge funds. Following his arrest, Shkreli resigned as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and was fired as CEO of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals. He has pleaded not guilty to charges and is out on $5 million bond.

SEE: The downfall of former pharma CEO Martin Shkreli
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The 15 biggest career crashes of 2015
Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager under fire for buying a pharmaceutical company and ratcheting up the price of a life-saving drug, is belted into an awaiting car after being taken into custody following a securities probe, on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 in New York. A seven-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Thursday charged Shkreli with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager under fire for buying a pharmaceutical company and ratcheting up the price of a life-saving drug, sits in an awaiting car after being taken into custody following a securities probe, on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 in New York. A seven-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Thursday charged Shkreli with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager under fire for buying a pharmaceutical company and ratcheting up the price of a life-saving drug, is escorted by law enforcement agents in New York Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, after being taken into custody following a securities probe. A seven-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Thursday charged Shkreli with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager under fire for buying a pharmaceutical company and ratcheting up the price of a life-saving drug, is escorted by law enforcement agents in New York Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, after being taken into custody following a securities probe. A seven-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Thursday charged Shkreli with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager under fire for buying a pharmaceutical company and ratcheting up the price of a life-saving drug, is escorted by law enforcement agents in New York Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, after being taken into custody following a securities probe. A seven-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Thursday charged Shkreli with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
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Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle

AP

Federal authorities raided Fogle's Indiana home in July as part of a child-pornography investigation. Hours later, Subway announced that the company and Fogle "mutually agreed to suspend their relationship." The company severed all ties with Fogle and scrubbed every mention of him from its website and stores.

In November, Fogle pleaded guilty to charges involving at least 14 girls and boys under 18 and was sentenced to more than 16 years in prison for possession and distribution of child pornography and traveling across state lines for sex with a minor.


Former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP Rachel Dolezal

The prominent civil rights leader made headlines in June when her parents told media outlets in the Spokane area that, though Dolezal identified herself as white, black, and Native American in public appearances and on applications, her family's ancestry consists of Czech, Swedish, and German with traces of Native American heritage.

Dolezal told "Today" that she started identifying as black when she was 5 years old, noting that at the time she drew self-portraits with a brown crayon instead of a peach crayon.

Less than a week after the news broke, Dolezal announced her resignation from the NAACP, writing in a lengthy Facebook post that her decision to step down had been influenced by the "unexpected shift" in dialogue to her "personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity."


Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter

Less than a week after being re-elected in a landslide for his fifth term as president of FIFA in May, Blatter announced he would resign following a special election in February 2016. The re-election and announcement came just days after nine other high-ranking FIFA officials were arrested on corruption charges in a $150 million bribery scandal.

Blatter is now also under investigation for "criminal mismanagement" and "misappropriation" and currently suspended.


Former United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek

Smisek resigned in September amid a federal corruption investigation into whether the airline tried to influence officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The investigation is focused on David Samson, who was chairman of the Port Authority until he resigned in 2014, and whether United lavished him with dinners and a special plane route as the airline sought lower fees and funding for its operations at Newark Airport in New Jersey.

Smisek walked away with $4.9 million in cash and more than 60,000 shares of stock as severance, but he would have to pay much of it back if he was found to have done anything illegal while running the airline.


Former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey

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In one of the mixed martial art's biggest upsets of the year, UFC bantamweight fighter Holly Holm ended Ronda Rousey's three-year reign as undefeated champion in a knockout that stunned record audiences.

In a recent article for Vice Sports, Rousey's sister, Maria Burns Ortiz, describes the loss as "the moment when a part of my loved one died, when I saw someone I cared about have her soul crushed."

Holm and Rousey will have a rematch in Las Vegas on July 9.


Former NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams

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The news anchor went off the air in February for more than six months following a suspension from NBC News and a demotion for his storytelling exaggerations.

Williams apologized in June on the "Today" show after it was discovered that he fabricated the details of several news stories, including an incident in which he was embedded with soldiers during the US invasion of Iraq.

Williams returned to TV as a breaking news anchor on MSNBC, where he covered Pope Francis's visit to America.


Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn

An emissions cheating scandal this September engulfing Volkswagen, one of the largest automakers in the world, led to a massive management crisis and the resignation of the car maker's CEO.

The US Environmental Protection Agency revealed that VW had installed "defeat device" software on nearly 500,000 VW and Audi vehicles, which switched on full emission-control systems when the cars were being tested but switched them off during normal operation. This enabled VW to mask emissions of nitrogen oxide that exceeded the standards by up to 40 times.

"This activity has been going on for years, meaning Winterkorn either had full knowledge of the deception, and approved it, or he was negligent in uncovering and stopping it," Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer wrote in an email. "Either situation reflects poorly on Winterkorn and his leadership skills, and given the tragic impact this scandal will have on VW, his resignation wasn't just likely, but necessary."


Ex-reality TV star Josh Duggar

The eldest Duggar child, "19 Kids and Counting" star and self-described "biggest hypocrite ever," resigned from his position as executive director of conservative Christian lobbying group, the Family Research Council, in May after reports claimed he had molested five children, including four of his sisters, about 12 years ago. He publicly apologized on Facebook.

TLC canceled the show in July after pulling the series from airing in May, and Duggar entered a rehab facility for a porn addiction in August after reports alledged he'd had an almost two-year Ashley Madison membership.


NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL

Fresh off a very bad 2014 from from a public relations standpoint, Roger Goodell and the NFL had another bad year in 2015.

After concluding that the New England Patriots likely intentionally broke league rules and deflated their footballs used in games, the NFL hit quarterback Tom Brady with a four-game suspension.

Goodell has been criticized for his handling of the situation, with some saying he turned what should have been a fine or scolding into "a path to doom."

"How the man in charge of the world's most-lucrative sports league and one of world's biggest sports superstars couldn't find a way out of this mess is the biggest story of all," The Guardian's Les Carpenter writes.

Though Brady's suspension was overturned, the NFL doubled down on Brady and appealed the decision.

Former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Horn called the NFL commissioner "the devil" in May, complaining that Goodell has too much unchecked power.

"If he has an opportunity to take money from [players], or there's a situation where they're guilty before they go to court, he'll rip them apart. And there's nothing no one can do about it. If the owners are happy with Roger Goodell, the fans, the media, no one can take his job from him. I hate it," Horn said.

NFL owners said in September, however, they would discuss changing Goodell's role in disciplining players.


Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett

AP

In October Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud following a federal investigation into a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms, for which she agreed to accept $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks. In an email exchange with one of the executives involved in the scheme, Byrd-Bennett wrote: "I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:"

Byrd-Bennett could serve more than seven years behind bars.


Former Iowa State University researcher Dong-Pyou Han

AP

After being charged with falsifying HIV vaccine research in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, Han was sentenced in July to more than four years in prison and ordered to repay $7.2 million in grant funds his team received from the federal government using falsified data.

Han admitted he initially accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood in 2008, which made the experimental HIV vaccine his team was working on appear to cause the rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV. Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing his mentor after the scientific community became excited that the team could be on the verge of a major breakthrough.

According to Han's attorney, the disgraced researcher will likely be deported by immigration officials "and possibly never permitted to return," separating him from his wife and two adult children who are US citizens.


Former Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao

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After sparking a major discussion about sexism in the tech industry and going on to anger Redditors by changing harassment policies during her brief interim as CEO, Pao arguably became one of the most hated people on the tech scene — and her career suffered for it.

Prior to her resignation from the helm at Reddit in July, an online petition to dismiss Pao collected more than 210,000 signatures, and, as Pao later detailed in the Washington Post, she was targeted with harassing messages, attempts to post her private information online, and death threats, which she called "one of the largest trolling attacks in history."

In September, Pao also dropped the appeal for her legal case against Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination and retaliation, writing in an essay on Re/Code that seeking justice in the courts has been painful for her personally and professionally.

Pao continues to write about gender discrimination, however, and while she hasn't announced any specific career moves yet, she tells The Guardian's Lindy West she wants to work at a startup with friends: "I haven't really thought about it that much, but I do want to get back to doing stuff and building things, and making a difference that way," she says.


Rapper Meek Mill

AP

In a move that President Barack Obama's former advisor and current CNN commentator Dan Pfeiffer called a "brilliant marketing" strategy, Mill sparked a feud with fellow rapper Drake in July — less than a month after Mill released his new album — by tweeting that Drake doesn't write his own raps.

In the court of public opinion, however, Drake came out on top of this fight — no one seemed impressed when Mill released his diss track, while one of Drake's diss tracks, "Back to Black," was nominated for a Grammy. As Tech Insider's Molly Mulshine puts it, "This feud is a master class in how to attract negative attention and turn yourself into a laughing stock online."

Perhaps more damaging to the rapper's career is Mill's history of parole violations following a 2008 gun and drug conviction. Mill served a three- to six-month sentence for violating probation last year, which forced him to cancel a string of gigs. He's in the hot seat once again after Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley found him guilty this month of violating probation. Mill has been ordered not to leave Pennsylvania or perform before his February 5 sentencing, which TMZ reports is costing the rapper hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Taco Bell executive Benjamin Golden

A video appearing to show a drunk Uber passenger attacking his driver went viral in November. Police identified the passenger as Benjamin Golden, the head of mobile commerce and innovation at Taco Bell, according to an online bio. Golden was arrested at the scene after the driver used pepper spray to stop the attack and later fired from his role at Taco Bell.

"Given the behavior of the individual, it is clear he can no longer work for us," Taco Bell said in a statement provided to Business Insider. "We have also offered and encouraged him to seek professional help."

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