10 Worst Villains in Sports History

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIDecember 31, 2011

10 Worst Villains in Sports History

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    There are lots more people who could be included on a list like this (Top 100? Top 500?), but these people have captured the imaginations of sports fans for their outrageous actions both in and out of their sports profession.  

    A list like this has to be limited, and therefore I've excluded "actual" or "made up" villains like professional wrestlers.  Also excluded are non-sports figures, so there won't be Munich terrorists at the top of the list, gamblers involved in the Black Sox scandal or racial bigots from the 19th Century who caused segregation in sports.  

    Also there aren't any behind-the-scenes sports villains, like those who built the fatal luge track for the Vancouver Olympics, sports owners who ran their teams into the ground or in some cases held cities for ransom for a better sports facility and even removed a franchise from a city to get a better deal elsewhere, or fraudsters like Alan Eagleson.

    It also should be noted that in many of these cases, the figures here listed could be the head of various sub-categories of specific villainy, each with a long line of copy cats behind them.  And so, with a dishonourable mention to people like James Harrison, Mel Blount, Glen Edwards, Brad Gassoff, Paul Higgins, John Kordic, Ile Nastase and every deliberate bean ball pitcher, I present this sports hall of shame.

Angelo Mosca

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    It may seem odd that with the long line of potential villains from the NFL, someone from the CFL makes this list. But even to this day, if someone was to mention dirty play in the CFL, the image of Angelo Mosca, star defensive lineman from the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the 1960s will come to mind before anyone else.  

    Mosca's most notorious moment came in the 1963 Grey Cup Game when he hit BC running back Willie Fleming out of bounds, sending him to the hospital.  But Mosca was a great player without the villainy, winning the Grey Cup five times, and appearing in the championship game nine times, an all time CFL record.  

    When he retired, Mosca became a professional wrestler as (what else) a villain under the name King Kong Mosca.  Mosca's latest notorious incident was to get into a brawl at the age of 73 with BC Lion-Minnesota Viking quarterback legend Joe Kapp.

Dave Schultz

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    It's one thing to be a tough hockey player who takes lots of penalties and gets into fights if you are good. But Schultz was not like Mark Messier, Scott Stevens or even Tiger Williams.  Schultz is simply at the top of the long list of hockey players who have little or no talent for the game and are simply kept around to fight and protect other players.  

    Schultz was the worst of the "Broad Street Bullies" who succeeded the "Big Bad Bruins" as the toughest team in the NHL.  Schultz "played" nine years in the NHL, scoring a grand total of 79 goals (20 in 1973-74) and an even 200 points.  

    He also amassed 2,294 penalty minutes including a still NHL record of 472 in 1974-5.  His only shining moment was when he scored the series-clinching goal in overtime against Atlanta in the 1974 playoffs.  

    That the NHL doesn't need no-talented players like Schultz or even fighting in the sport is shown by the great international matches like the Olympics or Canada Cups where fighting is rarely seen.

    As noted above, Schultz heads a large number of players who could fall into this category including Paul Higgins, John Kordic, Brad Gassoff and Dennis Polonich.  Some of these morons have got into similar brushes with the law, unable to separate their hockey profession from real life.  Some have sustained brain damage.  Some have committed suicide.  Sadly this type of player is still seen as needed in today's NHL.

Charles Gandil

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    Charles "Chick" Gandil was the player who is best known as the originator of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal in which the Chicago White Sox accepted money from gamblers to deliberately lose the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.  

    Gandil is alleged to have made $35,000 from the Black Sox debacle.  That scandal directly led to the creation of a baseball commissioner and to the banning or at least investigation of any player in any sport having even a sniff of an association with organized gambling.

    Gandil and his seven accomplices were acquitted by a jury, but were immediately banned from playing Major League Baseball ever again by the new commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  

    But the Black Sox weren't Gandil's only black eye.  During that same year, Gandil served a five-game suspension for punching out an umpire over a disputed strike call.  He was also arrested in 1909 for stealing $225 from the Fresno team of the California State League.  

    And the Black Sox scandal was not his first brush with bribes.  In 1927, Commissioner Landis was investigating Gandil again along with his close Black Sox partner, Charles "Swede" Risberg for an incident 10 years earlier in 1917.  

    Gandil and Risberg are alleged to have collected $45 from each member of the White Sox to bribe the Detroit Tigers to lose two doubleheaders so that the Sox could win the American League pennant.  The Tigers duly lost all four games, but the investigation proved inconclusive and nothing came of it.

    Gandil's last act of sports infamy was to get former Black Sox team mate Buck Weaver banned from the Frontier League, supposedly because he considered Buck a traitor to his other Black Sox mates. 

Ben Johnson

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    It's unfair to label Ben Johnson as the worst offender, but he is the poster boy for a huge list of recent drug takers/cheaters in both professional and amateur sports. 

    He was not the first, as many Iron Curtain countries are alleged to have doctored their athletes long before Johnson came along, but the international situation prevented any formal investigations.  Johnson was simply the first big name to be caught, the herald of further scandals to come.  

    For a long time nobody knew what was going on. Johnson was voted Ontario Athlete of the Year twice in a row (suckering many including this writer who were giving him standing ovations at the awards banquets) and almost every Olympic sports fan in Canada had their hopes up that Johnson would win several of the glamour track and field events at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

    Instead Johnson became the embodiment of Canada's Olympic shame when he was tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and deprived of his "victory".  The investigation of Johnson merely lifted the curtain on a long list of drug taking Olympic athletes, coaches, doctors, suppliers, star baseball players like Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and too many NFL players to count.  

    The scandal cost Johnson millions of dollars in endorsements.  Fittingly his only recent endorsements are for Chetah (Cheater) Power Surge energy drink.

Mike Tyson

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    Of all the long list of Heavyweight Champions, Mike Tyson is probably the one boxing fans most like to hate.  

    He made himself a terror inside the ring and life outside it was no better or worse.  Tyson was the best heavyweight fighter since Larry Holmes and he had the most potent image since Muhammed Ali.  He knocked out 12 of his first 19 opponents in the first round and became known as Iron Mike.  

    It seemed no one could stand against him.  It is probably safe to say that he had mental and emotional problems long before he became famous.  

    By the time his heyday was over, he would have served three years in prison for rape and have declared bankruptcy, despite earning over $300 million.  Some of his more bizarre purchases included wild animals that belonged in a zoo.  

    Inside the ring, Tyson's worst incident was to bite Evander Holyfield's ear, for which he was disqualified.  When Holyfield and later Lennox Lewis defeated Tyson, it was seen by most fans as a victory of good over evil.

Tonya Harding

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    No list of this nature would be complete without at least one woman on it, and for many, Tonya Harding is the undisputed queen of sports evil.  There are many instances of personal rivalries within the sports world but Tonya would take it to a new level.  

    Since the Olympics and international competitions keep getting bigger as time passes with incredible rewards, glory and recognition given to those who bring back gold medals for their country, the pressure to go beyond "sportsmanship" gets more and more tempting.

    Harding's ex-husband hired a hit man to break American figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan's leg during the United States Figure Skating Championships in 1994.  The hit man managed only to bruise Kerrigan's leg with a baton, but she was forced to withdraw from the national competition which Harding subsequently won. But the mirage burst at the Lillehammer Olympics where Kerrigan finished second and Harding a dismal eighth.

    Though Harding's ex-husband and his accomplices were imprisoned, Harding herself escaped jail time by pleading guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers and received a three year probation sentence, 500 hours of community work and $160,000 fine.  She was stripped of her US national title.

    Harding of course continues to deny her role in Kerrigan's attack, but most fans believe she masterminded the whole thing. Harding has been involved in a number of controversial incidents both before and after Kerrigan's attack which has only enhanced her bad reputation.  She attempted a boxing career after figure skating which has probably only confirmed the evil image most fans have of her. 

Jack Tatum and George Atkinson

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    There have been many "bad guys" in the history of the NFL, but none have caught the imagination of the public, or lived up to the deliberate "bad guy" image of the Oakland Raiders like Jack "The Assassin" Tatum and George "The Masked Assassin" Atkinson.  

    Tatum and Atkinson patrolled the Raiders' defensive secondary during the rivalry years with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s.  Both teams were the most hard hitting physical teams of that era and their secondaries were said to be filled with players who used dirty tactics like Atkinson and Tatum for the Raiders and Mel Blount and Glen Edwards for the Steelers.  

    Both teams were able to intimidate all others by their physical play, but fans looked forward to the NFL American Conference playoffs when both teams usually played each other in a "war". It was said the real Super Bowl champion was the winner of the Pittsburgh-Oakland game; the official Super Bowl was an anticlimax.  

    Eventually amid accusations of rigged footballs and dirty play, Pittsburgh coach Chuck Knoll would warn that there was a "criminal element" in the NFL, not giving names, but obviously implying Tatum and Atkinson, and ignoring his own two terrors, Blount and Edwards.  Though Tatum gained the most notoriety and had the reputation of being the hardest hitter in the NFL, it was Atkinson who taught him many of his tactics.  

    Probably Atkinson's most notorious moment came when he reached into New England Patriot tight end Russ Francis's helmet and punched him in the face in order to "tackle" him during a playoff game.  For Tatum, his worst moment was far more tragic.  

    During a pre-season game, Tatum hit New England receiver Darryl Stingley so hard he paralyzed him for life.  The fact that this injury occurred almost simultaneously with the release of Tatum's "tell all" book They Call Me Assassin cemented his infamous image. 

    The book merely put into words what had been unspoken all along; that in NFL football there is an unspoken code of fear and intimidation that is practised by all teams.  This code still continues to this day; there are many players who deliberately hit to hurt and gain an edge by injuring an opposing player.  Tatum has merely been the most famous "squealer" about violence in professional sports.

Jerry Sandusky

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    There were many college coaches with bad reputations before Jerry Sandusky and there have been many accusations of sexual impropriety including those in Toronto by Maple Leaf Garden employees on young children.  

    Now, however, a college football coach was to be the centre of a scandal like those that have rocked the Catholic and other churches inflicting extreme damage to the accused, the victims and the institution that surrounded them.

    It is beyond the propriety of this article to make a definite statement about incidents for which there has been no definite verdict yet given, but this is probably American college football's darkest hour and the results will be extremely damaging whatever the outcome is.  

    Far worse is that like Ben Johnson, it may open the floodgates for revelations elsewhere.  Right now, it is sports' major drama.

O.J. Simpson

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    No list of sports villains would be complete without O.J. Simpson on it.  

    For a while Simpson seemed to have everything a man could want: Enshrinement in the NFL hall of fame as one of the league's all-time best running backs, fame as a television analyst, a starring role in the Naked Gun movies and wealth to live out the rest of his days without a care in the world. 

    Then he was charged with the murder of his wife and another man, which completely shattered his image and the world around him.  He was acquitted but many people refuse to believe the verdict and his subsequent conviction in a wrongful death civil trial only confirms their beliefs.

    Simpson himself seemed remorseless, and with his image was beyond repair, he only drifted further downward, being suspected of drug dealing and money laundering.  The climax came in 2007 when he was arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping.  

    This time no leniency was shown to a member of the "privileged upper class" and the book was thrown at him.  He was sentenced to 33 years in prison with no parole for a minimum nine years.

    That Simpson is not at the top of this list is due to the following piece of current villainy...

Gregorio Edio Francisco Chaves

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    Soccer is renowned for its ugly incidents, usually involving fans, but the ultimate crime occurred on August 24, 2010 at a Brazilian soccer field when Jose Ramos da Silva protested a foul to referee Gregorio Chaves who pulled out a knife and stabbed him to death.  

    When da Silva's brother tried to intervene, he, too, was severely stabbed.  Chaves got away and is now a hunted man.  This is the first time a player or official committed a murder during a sporting event.  We can hardly wait for the sequel.