Tiger King: Memphis Depay not the first athlete to post picture with exotic animal

By Ciaran VarleyBBC Sport

When Memphis Depay posted this picture of him cuddling a lion cub, there was a sense he was a little out of step with public opinion.

Since Netflix documentary Tiger King became the defining show of what may come to be known as the 'lockdown era', the general vibe online has not been in favour of the domestication of exotic animals like tigers and lions.

Of course, we don't know whether the cub is a pet of Depay's or not, but the picture is unlikely to earn the Dutchman - whose autobiography is called Heart of a Lion - any fans in the animal rights community.

He isn't the first sportsman to be snapped with an exotic animal, though, with footballers Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema and David Luiz among those to post pictures of themselves.

But the popularity of Tiger King has led to several athletes looking to distance themselves from practices that many see as cruel towards big cats and other exotic animals.

NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal went on the defensive after catching some heat for his appearance in the Netflix documentary, in which he is featured visiting GW Zoo - owned by the titular 'Tiger King' himself, Joseph Maldonado-Passage.

Maldonado-Passage, known as Joe Exotic, is serving a 22-year prison sentence after being found guilty of charges including murder-for-hire, and also violating the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act by trading in illegal wildlife, including tigers, lemurs and lions.

O'Neal, who is shown saying "Shoutout to Exotic Joe" and "I got two more tigers", said on his podcast he donates to help tigers, never bought any from Maldonado-Passage and isn't friends with him.

"I don't harm tigers," he said. "I love tigers. I love white tigers.

"Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers."

Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has also spoken out this week, saying he was wrong to domesticate big cats.

The American, who kept two tigers in his Las Vegas mansion in the 1990s, said on an Instagram Live with Fat Joe: "I was foolish. I shouldn't have had them in my house, believing they were domesticated. I was wrong."

But he isn't the only athlete to have kept exotic animals as pets.

Former NFL wide-receiver Chad Johnson tweeted in 2011 to let people know he was updating his collection.

We assume Julio was a nod to Johnson’s time with the Cincinnati Bengals - which is definitely going one up on team merch.

Elsewhere, former NFL defensive end Darnell Dockett used to have a thing about taking his pet tiger cub to training camp - though there's speculation about whether this was all a joke.

A step too far?