As long as there has been sports, there has been cheating. Every generation has had its infamous sports cheaters. Here is my top-10 list of sports cheaters.
While such an opinion piece is completely subjective, I did frame my thinking when winnowing down my list. For instance, the kind of cheating I focused on has certain elements to it.
First off, there is an element of planning. Heat-of-the-moment reflexive actions don't count. This eliminates such events as Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in the World Cup quarterfinals against England and Mike Tyson munching on Evander Holyfield's ear.
Secondly, I wanted to look at impact on the sport. Activities that bring an entire sport into disrepute, or threaten its integrity. will rank higher. For this reason, I have left Danny Almonte's 2001 Little League World Series scandal off my list.
Finally, I considered whether the cheating was somewhat pervasive in the sport. In such cases, I have nominated a figurehead to represent the wider group of cheaters.
Without further commentary, I present my list. Let the arguments ensue!
1. 1919 Chicago White Sox — The scale of this famous cheating scandal, is, I believe, unparalleled in sports. Eight players rigging the World Series, most notably "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. At the time, the World Series was sports' most significant championship.
2. Barry Bonds — I have selected Barry Bonds as the poster boy for this decade's most-visible sporting scandals. Clearly, there are other worthy candidates. Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, A-Rod, Jose Canseco et al. have brought shame to their sport, not just for the cheating, but the reprehensible denials and pitiful excuses and explanations that followed. It's a headache for Hall of Fame voters for years to come.
3. Ben Johnson — Olympic gold medallist, world's fastest man, and track and field's introduction to intensive media scrutiny relating to drug cheating. Prior to those 1988 Olympics, Johnson had been on a steroid regimen for seven years! Look back to that picture of Johnson crossing the line and notice there is no hint of smile or relief on his face. Urine testing awaited!
4. Carl Lewis — While unarguably a greater Olympian than Johnson, Lewis managed to keep out of the drug spotlight for years. When USOC Anti-Doping chief Wade Exum's report came out in 2003, it exposed a systematic cheating in U.S. track and field: 19 athletes failed drug tests at the Olympic team trials, but officials covered up the results and allowed them to compete. Ironically, Carl Lewis was awarded the 1988 100-meter gold when Ben Johnson was stripped of his!
5. Floyd Landis — I have chosen the 2006 Tour de France winner to represent one of the most tainted of sports. Almost all winners in the past 20 years are in doubt, and the reputation of Lance Armstrong is unavoidably tainted. While many Americans still believe his protestations of innocence, European cycling fans are certain he is as guilty as Landis, Ullrich, Pantini, Basso, and so many others. Professional cycling is in its darkest days, as sponsers flee athletes and teams in droves.
6. Marie Reine le Gougne — She was the French judge involved in the judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics. She admitted to being pressured by the president of the French federation to knocking down the scores for Canadians Sale and Pelletier in order to secure a victory for the Russian pair. In exchange, the French dance pair would be awarded a gold medal. This only confirmed suspicions that figure skating results has been fixed for years. The scoring systems for the Olympics and World Championships were changed as a result.
7. Bill Belichick — When the New England Patriots were caught filming the New York Jets' defensive signals, a cloud of suspicion was raised about the highly-successful Patriots franchise. Suddenly, it seemed that three Super Bowl victories, each by only a margin of a field goal, could have been partly the result of cheating. Belichick is one of the most-knowledgeable and prepared coaches in all of professional sports, so his protestations that he misunderstood the rule simply rang hollow.
8. Marita Koch — East Germany had the most highly-organized, institutionalized pharmacological cheating program in the world, and Koch is only one of many names from those highly-successful teams. Setting an astonishing 30 indoor and outdoor world records in sprinting, Koch was one of a number of female athletes from that country with rather-noteworthy muscular development as a result of a state-sponsored steroid program.
9. Park Se Hun — The Korean boxer was thoroughly dominated in the gold-medal match by American Roy Jones Jr., but inexplicably won a 3-2 decision. Even by the standards of Olympic boxing it was inconceivable. Subsequently, German police files revealed payoffs relating to the bout. It brought into question many victories by Cuban and Soviet-bloc fighters in the previous 40 years.
10. Tim Donaghy — Few cheating scandals in professionals sports have involved officials, so when it was disclosed that Donaghy gambled on games which he was refereeing, the implications were frightening. Although there was no indication of a league-wide problem, Donaghy brought the refereeing profession in all pro sports into suspicion.