The 20 Biggest Crimes in Sports

Amber LeeSports Lists Lead WriterApril 16, 2012

The 20 Biggest Crimes in Sports

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    Just to clarify, we're not talking about the type of crimes associated with the likes of O.J. Simpson or even Ryan Leaf. That's a much darker list for another day.

    We're talking about crime in a much more figurative sense—the inexplicable travesties peppered through sports history that have been considered a crime against the game. Okay, that might be a bit on the hyperbolic side, but passionate sports fans know what I'm talking about. 

    Crimes in sports might not be technically against the law, but some of them really should be. I challenge you to find someone who doesn't think the fact that Matt Millen is still gainfully employed after his disastrous is nothing short of criminal. 

    Let's take a look at 20 of the biggest crimes in sports. 

20. Matt Millen's Tenure as Lions GM

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    Matt Millen's tenure as team president and general manager of the Detroit Lions is one of the most painfully inept and downright embarrassing stretches ever for a professional sports franchise. It started off kind of amusing to those of us outside of Detroit, but the Thanksgiving Day massacres, constant draft busts and the overwhelming sense of futility eventually became hard for everyone to watch. 

    Yet for nearly a decade, Millen inexplicably remained gainfully employed until ownership mercifully pulled the plug on the whole debacle in 2008. We all thought that surely he would have a long stretch of unemployment to think about his epic failures, but that's almost never the case for people who deserve it. Millen was immediately hired by ESPN. 

19. ESPN's Hour Long Special: "The Decision"

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    When Ohio's own LeBron James decided to ditch Cleveland for the glamour of South Beach, the public didn't exactly wish him well. There was no avoiding a certain level of anger from Cavaliers fans, but James managed to invoke the ire of a nation by announcing his departure via an hour-long special on ESPN. 

    "The Decision" is undoubtedly one of the greatest public relations miscalculations in the history of sports. I've always said that nobody (outside of Cleveland) would have blamed James for wanting to leave Cleveland, but it really wasn't necessary to absolutely gut the fan base with this self-serving circus of his own creation. 

18. Colts Flee Baltimore for Indianapolis

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    Everyone has heard the story (or at least the statement) that (then) Colts owner Robert Irsay moved the team from Baltimore to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in March, 1984. Turns out that wasn't an exaggeration and it left the despondent fans in Baltimore absolutely heartbroken. 

    Irsay may have been responsible for the move, but it would be fair to say his hand was forced. After three years of deteriorating relations with Irsay, the Maryland legislature intervened and passed legislation giving the city of Baltimore permission to seize ownership of the team via eminent domain. 

    One of the ugliest franchise moves in sports history and the fans paid the price for the two sides being unable or unwilling to work together. 

17. ESPN Coverage of "Linsanity" & "Tebowmania"

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    If the mere mention of Jeremy Lin or Tim Tebow makes you want to put your head in the oven and end it all, you can thank ESPN for that. 

    Their excessive round-the-clock coverage of these kids is what created "Linsantiy" and "Tebowmania," both media manufactured frenzies that were great for debate and awful for the men at the center. 

    Lin's fall back to earth and subsequent injury mean that "Linsanity" may be behind us for good, but the circus surrounding Tebow's trade to the Jets suggest "Tebowmania" could very well be a permanent state of being. 

16. Pittsburgh Pirates: 2 Decades of Futility

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    I've never been accused of going easy on the Pirates, maybe because I'm from Pittsburgh and grew up loving the Buccos—the whole thing just feels a little too personal sometimes. 

    Maybe I was overreacting to their seemingly permanent place in the gutter way back in 2001. But with 19 straight losing seasons and counting, I'm starting to wonder about the mental stability of the eternally optimistic fans. 

    I no longer consider myself a fan nor will I come running back if they ever get it together, but I respect and admire those that have hung in there all these years. They deserve a lot better than this. 

15. Gregg Williams & the Saints Bounty Program

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    I think that most of us, particularly Saints fans, are more than ready to put "Bountygate" behind us. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell really brought down the hammer on the Saints ownership and coaching staff with record fines, suspensions and the docking of draft picks. Hopefully the final act will be the impending player penalties.

    The desire to put this unpleasantness to rest aside, there's no denying the ugliness that was brought to light. Many in the insular sports media have been arguing semantics, but seemed to agree (for the most part) that a lot of this was just part of the game—at least they did until the audio tape of Gregg Williams was made public. 

    We should all be able to agree that players being "paid for performance" is one thing, and being coached to take out an opponent's ACL is an entirely different thing. 

14. The NHL's Nonsensical Stance on Player Safety

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    The NHL claims to be concerned about player safety, but it's not clear just how serious they are. Greats like Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine had their careers cut short by concussions and more recently put into jeopardy the careers of Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger. 

    And then there's the 2011 deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak. The circumstances surrounding their deaths are unique, but all three were NHL enforcers who combined in their careers to score 20 goals and accumulate more than 2,000 penalty minutes. The commonality has left many wondering what impact their skull-crushing brand of played in their demise. 

    Perhaps recognizing there's a problem is the first step to finding a solution, but right now they aren't even close. In fact, Shea Weber's recent $2,500 fine for slamming Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass and subsequent explanation proves how far there is to go. 

13. Michael Jordan Gets Bored with Greatness

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    Almost two decades have passed since Michael Jordan's shocking retirement announcement brought on by what he said was a loss of desire to play the game, having already won three championships with the Bulls. 

    Equally stunning was Jordan's ill-fated foray into professional baseball after signing a contract with the minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. It didn't take long for Jordan to see the error of his ways and return to basketball. 

    Three championships later MJ retired again, before again proving his penchant for bad decisions by staging one comeback too many—this time with the Washington Wizards. Which reminds me... 

12. He Retired a What?

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    In the modern era it's becoming more and more common for iconic athletes to end their career on a team other than the one whose name he's synonymous with. Though it is becoming more of a common occurrence, that doesn't mean anyone likes to see Jerry Rice as a Raider, Brett Favre as a Viking or Peyton Manning as a Bronco. 

    "Broadway" Joe Namath is one of the earlier and most famous examples of this. While playing for the Jets, Namath was a bonafide superstar and led the team to its first and only Super Bowl victory as quarterback. Even today it's painful to see Namath in a Rams uniform. 

11. Baseball's Black Eyes: Black Sox, Pete Rose & Steroids

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    Of all of the sports fans I correspond with on a regular basis, serious baseball fans seem to be the most passionate, obsessive and devoted group of fans out there. I'm always impressed, and often taken aback, by their fanaticism, which I find all the more impressive given some of the ugly scandals the game has dealt with. 

    Obviously the Black Sox scandal of 1919 isn't exactly fresh in anyone's minds, but Pete Rose's penchant for betting on baseball is—mostly because Rose likes to remind us. Then there's the more recent decade-long "steroid era" that has tarnished the legacy of a number of the game's greatest. 

    I'm not disparaging the game, I'm just saying that the fans deserve better than this. 

10. ESPN Severs Ties with NHL

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    When the NHL failed to reach a broadcasting agreement with ESPN in 2005, they probably didn't realize that meant the end of the network covering hockey almost entirely—but that's exactly what happened. To this day the NHL is rarely even mentioned on ESPN, unless it's being made the butt of Colin Cowherd's painfully unfunny jokes. 

    Today, during the playoffs there is the occasional mention—particularly as the finals approach, but not much else. In fact, in ESPN's 20011 Year in Review special, there wasn't even a single mention of the sport, despite a number of tragic and noteworthy events. 

9. Glazers Ownership of Manchester United

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    There is a storm of discontent brewing over the billionaire Glazer family's financial mismanagement of the British Premiere League's Manchester United. The club's success has helped temper the resentment, but that's just a bandaid on a what has become a gaping wound. 

    Since acquiring the club in 2005, the Glazer's have leveraged the team to the tune of 3/4 of a billion dollars—quite a massive sum, even for billionaires. United has been very successful over the same period of the, but a massive groundswell of resentment has been building amongst fans. 

8. MLB's CBA Takes Aim at Small Market Teams

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    In a year with a lockout in the NFL and a lockout and work stoppage in the NBA, many lauded MLB for quietly extending their CBA and avoiding a similar showdown—extending the 21 years of uninterrupted labor peace for the league. It's safe to assume that many of those people were Yankees or Red Sox fans. 

    Fans of small market teams that struggle to compete thanks to their small market payroll had nothing to cheer for. The only significant change in the CBA were serious restrictions on the money teams are allowed to spend on the amateur draft and international signings—essentiality the last remaining lifeline for smart small market  teams who manage to stay competitive via savvy scouting. 

    This will likely widen the already vast competitive gap and ensure that the disheartening MLB welfare system lives on.

7. Alexandre Daigle & Lazy, Good-for-Nothing Draft Busts

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    In every sport there are countless draft picks who turn out to be complete busts, often through no fault of their own. All the passion and desire in the world can't change the fact that sometimes talents just don't translate to the professional level. It's got to be a devastating realization for some of them. 

    And then there are those with all the talent and natural ability necessary but choose to throw it all away. It's difficult for the public to forgive the guys who throw it all away willingly—Alexandre Daigle, Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell and Todd Marinovich aren't likely to be ever be warmly received by sports fans. 

6. Warren Moon Goes Undrafted

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    Considering that two of the top four quarterback prospects in the last two NFL drafts have been black, it's hard to imagine that we're not all that far removed from a time when a talented (Hall of Fame) player like Warren Moon wasn't even given a consideration out of college. 

    After an impressive three years at the University of Washington, Moon played six seasons in the Canadian Football League before making a move to the NFL. We definitely have not come as far as we need to in terms of eliminating racial prejudice and misconceptions, but players like Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III will have an easier road thanks to Moon. 

5. Babe Ruth Sold to the Yankees

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    Yankees fans aside, it's hard not to feel for Red Sox fans when it comes to the Babe Ruth debacle. It's been over 90 years since (then) Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees to dump his salary and finance a Broadway play, but I can see how that would be a tough one to let go. 

    The Sox two relatively recent World Series wins must have finally eased some of that pain, but if you've ever been lucky enough to attend a Yankees/Sox game at Fenway—you know the rage still lives on. 

4. The Rise of Don King

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    Forget that infamous boxing promoter Don King has been accused of swindling countless fighters, most notably Mike Tyson. Forget his likely ties to organized crime and the fact that he pleaded the Fifth during a Senate investigation regarding his ties to mobster John Gotti in 1992. And forget that every dollar of his $300 million fortune came at the expense of someone else. 

    How about the fact that he was able to have this life at all, considering he's been convicted of murder twice. The first incident was determined to be "justifiable," despite the fact the victim was shot in the back. He was convicted of second degree murder for stomping someone to death over a $600 debt. 

    King served just four years for the murder and was later pardoned by Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes. 

3. Cubs Fans Point the Finger at Steve Bartman

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    We all know that Cubs fans have had a pretty rough century. It really seems as if their suffering has no end, so I tend to give them a break most of the time. The whining, the yelling and the finger pointing (at a goat) are all forgivable under the circumstances. 

    What isn't forgivable? The finger pointing at and outright rage directed at the unassuming Steve Bartman, one of their own, in the wake of a Game 6 loss in the 2003 NLCS. In 2011, the ESPN documentary Catching Hell recounted the disturbing details of the incident. 

    To their credit, I know a great number of Cubs fans who don't forgive themselves for the incident. It was ugly, misplaced rage that impacted someone in ways we'll never know—because he's chosen never to speak about it. 

2. NBA Officiating

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    Sometimes the zebras get it right and sometimes they get it absolutely and inexplicably wrong. But, despite conspiracy theories, is safe to assume that they are doing their very best to call a fair game…except in the NBA.

    Based on the (unforgivable) Tom Donaghy gambling scandal of 2007 and the fact that NBA refs routinely abuse the power of their position and blow calls on a nightly basis—I'm just not convinced these guys deserve the benefit of the doubt.

1. Art Model Moves the Browns to Baltimore

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    It really seems that residents of the city of Cleveland really just can't catch a break when it comes to sports. At least when LeBron James left town, he didn't take the entire franchise with him. Can't say the same about Art Modell's move to Baltimore in 1996. 

    In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell ended the years-long negotiations and discussions with the city of Cleveland regarding the team's stadium and secretly entered into discussions with state officials in Maryland. He announced the franchise move to Baltimore days before the vote on a public referendum which would extend the sin tax and fund the improvements to the stadium. 

    Modell claimed the referendum wasn't receiving the public support required to pass it, but ultimately passed by a wide margin. Embattled and devoted Browns fans did not react well to ownership reneging on promises to never move the team.