Black Sox to Biogenesis: The Biggest Scandals & Controversies in Sports History
As long as there have been sports, there have been scandals surrounding the world's greatest athletes. Surely the ancient Greeks were no strangers to athletic opprobrium—the first Olympic Games were purportedly held in the nude—and today's sports often feel no different.
This list of some of the biggest scandals in modern sports is far from complete. It is difficult when compiling a chronology of malfeasance, corruption and deceit in sports to include absolutely everything without creating a list that, literally, could never end. At the time of this publication, there is a chance the reigning Heisman Trophy winner could be ruled ineligible by the NCAA and that may not even be the third biggest scandal this month.
The list of scandals in the modern era of sports topples triple digits off the top of one's head, but we've tried to compile a representative list while acknowledging some other memorable scandals in each write-up along the way. We present them in chronological order.
Again, this list is not exhaustive. Sports are just too damn scandalous for that.
October 1919: The Black Sox Scandal
Perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of American sports is the first on our list of modern-day sports scandals. Eight players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for allegedly taking bribes to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
Arnold "Chick" Gandil, the White Sox first baseman at the time, persuaded some of his underworld cronies to pull off the fix—funded by New York gangster Arnold Rothstein (popularized today as a character on HBO's Boardwalk Empire)—and convinced his teammates to make a little side scratch while sticking it to their owner, Charles Comiskey.
Gandil recruited pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams along with outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch and shortstop Charles "Swede" Risberg (so many nicknames back then). Fred McMullin was a utility infielder on the team and happened to overhear the plans, threatening to out the players if he wasn't cut in on the deal.
George "Buck" Weaver was invited in on the plan but decided not to participate. He was still banned from the game for his knowledge of the plan. Famously, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was also suspended from the game for his involvement, despite his adamant protestation of innocence.
While rumors swirled for months, the players were not suspended until 1921 by newly-appointed Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis after a delay in their legal trial. Finally, after being acquitted by a grand jury for their involvement in the scandal, Landis banned the lot for life.
January 1951: CCNY Point-Shaving Scandal
The 1950s were a different time in college basketball. CCNY won both the 1950 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and the 1950 National Invitation Tournament (held at different times in the year), but its title team was decimated a year later when several players—including Herb Cohen, Irwin Dambrot, Floyd Layne, Norman Mager, Ed Warner, Ed Roman and Al Roth—were arrested by New York City District Attorney Frank Hogan as part of a sting operation by the NYPD.
In total, 33 players from seven different schools, including Kentucky and Bradley, were charged. From Sports Illustrated:
Unfortunately, gambling was common at the time, and the invention of the point spread in the late '40s had made college basketball players easy targets for local wise guys. According to some accounts, including Scandals of '51, a book published in 1978 by Charles Rosen, unbeknownst to their coach, Cohen, Dambrot, Mager, Roman and Roth were in cahoots with gamblers during the season and some or all of them agreed to shave points in three games, including one they lost. CCNY put together a 17-5 record, earning the last spot in the 12-team NIT field. The gamblers approached some of the CCNY players about rigging the postseason, but the Beavers refused.
March 1967: Muhammad Ali & Draft Dodging
Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay in his early 20s after converting to Islam. Three years later, when Ali was at the top of his game as the world's greatest fighter, he was stripped of his heavyweight title after refusing to be drafted into the United States Army.
At the time, Ali's decision to refuse the draft polarized the nation. My father, Maury, who spent two days with Ali for a story in Philadelphia magazine some years later, shared with me (as we offer to you) how Ali became a pawn in a much bigger social game:
Ali was easily manipulated in those days, and Elijah Muhammad was his main manipulator. It was Elijah Muhammad who told him that fighting was a bad thing, in the ring and in the rice fields of Vietnam. Muhammad told Ali that Vietnam was the white man’s war and “advised” Ali to refuse to go. Ali then lost his title, his boxing license and most of his following.
Some three years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor and Ali was given back his license, Elijah Muhammad suspended him, saying fighting wasn’t a fit thing for a Muslim to do. Ali’s internal battles with Muhammad seemed to be the one fight he could never win.
October 16, 1968: The Olympics Black Power Salute
On October 16, 1968, United States sprinter Tommie Smith won the gold medal in the 200 meters in world-record time. His teammate, John Carlos, won the bronze medal, sandwiched around Australian Peter Norman, who won silver.
Norman may be the most memorable silver medalist in history, as he was famously photographed on the medal stand with Smith and Carlos as both American athletes raised a black glove in solidarity with their fellow black Americans. The two were expelled from the Games for their actions.
From the BBC archives:
Smith said he had raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left fist to represent black unity. Together they formed an arch of unity and power.
He said the black scarf represented black pride and the black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America.
Within a couple of hours the actions of the two Americans were being condemned by the International Olympic Committee.
A spokesperson for the organisation said it was "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit."
The issue certainly got the world's attention, especially in America where the duo were shunned, pilloried and racially abused for their display.
Nearly 45 years later, the image is still one of the most iconic in Olympic and American history. Sadly, race in sports seems to be as big of an issue as ever.
September 9, 1972: The Munich Olympic Basketball Final
It's hard to know exactly how big of a scandal the gold-medal game between the United States and Soviet Union was at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, but if we go by how angry the U.S. players were after losing 51-50 in incredibly suspect fashion to the Soviets who had three attempts at a final shot, it was as big a scandal as there could possibly be.
It should also be noted that the 1972 Olympics had a far more memorable moment just four days earlier, as the Munich massacre horribly overshadowed those Olympic Games. As you will see with subsequent entries on this list, managing to deal with larger non-sport issues like death and destruction can be difficult to include with more sports-related scandals. In situations like this, we would be remiss to not mention the Munich massacre as well.
September 1985: Pittsburgh Drug Trials
In today's world of Major League Baseball, when we talk about drugs in the game it's almost always of the performance-enhancing variety. In the 1980s, the drug of choice around baseball was far more recreational: cocaine.
While the players were granted immunity in the trial—unlike today's investigations, the courts seemed more concerned with catching the drug dealers than the famous drug users—11 players were suspended by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, seven of whom, including Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker and Lonnie Smith, received a full-season ban.
Ueberroth stayed the suspensions, however, for any player willing to agree to donate 10 percent of his salary to charity, serve community service and agree to random drug testing.
The great irony in today's game is that some of the same people who admonish the current crop of players for cheating by taking PEDs look the other way with players who took recreational drugs (like cocaine and speed), which also served to help their performance.
Whenever a player is kept out of Hall of Fame discussion because of his alleged or reported drug use, I remind people of this excerpt from a 2007 story by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN:
[Tim] Raines has some personal baggage to overcome. During the Pittsburgh drug trials in the early 1980s, Raines testified that he kept a gram of coke in his uniform pocket, snorted during games, and made a point of sliding head-first so as not to break the vial. Not exactly a wholesome image there.
There were several players, and even the Pirates mascot, who admitted they would leave the clubhouse during games to meet drug dealers in the stadium bathrooms to buy drugs. But today's drug users don't respect the game.
(Speaking of cocaine in sports, the drug was certainly not limited to just MLB in the 1980s. In June, 1986, University of Maryland forward Len Bias was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the second overall pick, but he died two days later after a cardiac arrhythmia following a night of celebration that included cocaine use.)
February 6, 1987: SMU Football’s Death Penalty
In the 1970s and '80s, college sports were a bit of the wild, wild west, with players routinely receiving extra benefits from boosters around the country while teams looked the other way. Hell, it still happens even with a million different ways to track and catch cheaters in today's watchdog world.
Still, even with how easy is should have been to cheat in the 1970s and '80s, SMU found itself on NCAA probation after major violations that included payment of players. Because normal sanctions were having little effect on cheating programs—losing a scholarship here or there wasn't stopping them—the NCAA agreed to institute the "death penalty" for schools found to be repeat violators.
Nobody actually thought the NCAA would do it, until it did, hitting SMU with the "death penalty" in 1987 after it was revealed that the school had full knowledge and approval of a "slush fund" provided by a booster that paid players thousands of dollars for much of the 1980s.
While school officials suggested stiff penalties and an extension of ongoing sanctions, the NCAA decided to make an example out of SMU, destroying the program by canceling the 1987 season and taking away all the team's 1988 home games, banning postseason play until 1989 and taking away 55 scholarships over four years.
Every player on the team received an unconditional release. The program was essentially dead, and the NCAA has avoided another "death penalty" ruling ever since.
September 24, 1988: Ben Johnson Olympic Doping Scandal
Ben Johnson of Canada and Carl Lewis of the United States were the two favorites in the 100-meter dash at 1988 Seoul Olympics, setting up one of the most memorable finishes in Olympic history.
Johnson was the reigning world-record holder and lowered that time to 9.79, destroying the field that included Lewis en route to the Olympic gold medal. To date, there have only been seven other men in history to run 9.79 or faster, six since 2008, some 20 years after Johnson's blistering mark.
Only, the mark didn't stand. Johnson was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for stanozolol, and he was disqualified from competition. At first, Johnson suggested his water bottle was tainted in a conspiracy against him, but eventually the disgraced champion admitted to doping both in 1987 and 1988.
The conspiracy never went away, however, as Johnson's coach later suggested the sprinter could not have tested positive for stanozolol because he preferred a different drug and that there was a conspiracy because all great sprinters at the time knew when to cycle off the drugs to avoid testing positive.
The great irony, of course, is that Johnson's case rocked the entire world, but it didn't slow the use of PEDs in track and field one bit. In fact, of the seven sprinters to officially record a time as fast or faster than Johnson's 1988 Olympic run, Justin Gaitlin, Yohan Blake, Maurice Greene, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell have been suspended or clearly linked to performance-enhancing drugs in their careers.
(Note: Jump to the 7:30 mark of the video for the race.)
August 24, 1989: Pete Rose Banned from Baseball
Pete Rose was one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball. He also bet on baseball, leading to an investigation that ended in his indefinite suspension from the game in 1989.
Rose is still MLB's all-time leader in hits, but despite his on-field credentials he's most remembered for the scandal that has kept him away from baseball for more than 20 years.
While all the hits and the rugged play are all part of the Rose narrative, the Hall-of-Fame-caliber player would never have become as famous as he is to this day were it not for MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti suspending Rose and refusing to reinstate him. Commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig have declined reinstatement requests as well. And the Hall of Fame refuses to put banned players on the ballot.
When rumors of Alex Rodriguez being banned for life came up in July, 2013, the first person many thought of was Rose. When Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens didn't make the Hall of Fame (despite being on the ballot, which Rose has not been), the first person we think of is Rose.
Whenever there is a cheater in American sports, especially one who gets banned, we think of Rose. He may be officially out of baseball, but he has made a rather comfortable living off his own infamy.
April 15, 1989: Hillsborough Disaster
The Hillsborough Disaster on April 15, 1989, which resulted in the deaths of 96 fans with nearly 800 injuries to others, has remained a dark day in English football for nearly 25 years.
The incident, which over the years has been blamed on a lack of police control, is one of the worst stadium-related disasters in history.
(Note: this is the only stadium-related disaster to make our list. We understand and acknowledge that other incidents could surely be included as well, yet decided to use this as somewhat of a morbid placeholder for all stadium-related riots and incidents, none of which are easy to remember.)
Initially, the fans were blamed for the incident as it was suggested some rushed the gate that was ill-equipped to hold them, but a report on the investigation in the months after the tragedy put much of the blame on the police.
Some 20 years after the disaster, more facts about the event were released, including suggestions that those in charge with the police conspired to cover up what really happened by amending police statements. Nearly a quarter-century has passed since the horrific event, which still holds a cloud over English football.
July 1991: Mike Tyson Rape Case
In July of 1991, Tyson was arrested for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington after he took the young beauty queen to his Indianapolis hotel room and, per testimony, forced himself on her. Tyson testified in his own defense, which some suggested to be a terrible legal strategy, leading to his conviction in February of 1992.
Tyson was convicted to six years in prison, serving three.
Originally, Tyson was slated to fight Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight title in the fall of 1991, but an injury postponed the bout, and Tyson's subsequent conviction served to postpone it even longer.
In 1996, with both fighters well past their prime, Tyson and Holyfield fought in one of the most watched bouts in boxing history. The two fought again in June 1997, and Tyson was infamously disqualified for biting off a piece of Holyfield's ear during the fight.
The decision caused a melee in the arena and Tyson was fined $3 million for his actions. He was banned from boxing in Nevada in a unanimous vote. His license was reinstated a year later, but he was never really the same.
Tyson spent nearly another year in jail in 1999 after assaulting two motorists after a traffic dispute.
(Note: There are many scandals that surround boxing's long and sordid history. Tyson, however, is certainly the most scandalous.)
January 6, 1994: “Why, Why, Why?” Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan
If a Hollywood writer were to pitch a script where a figure skater conspired with her ex-husband and a bodyguard to attack her biggest competitor the night before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in an effort to guarantee her place in the Olympics, that writer would get thrown out of every studio in town.
Crazy as it sounds, the movie would be a true story.
Tonya Harding won the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships after her biggest rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked with a baton in an effort to break her leg and remove her from competition. Kerrigan had to withdraw from the event, but she was placed on the Olympic team anyway, earning a silver medal in Lillehammer.
Harding, who was embroiled in controversy and followed around by hundreds of reporters after the investigation linked her to the attack, still competed at the Olympics, failing to medal.
Jeff Gillooly, Harding's ex-husband, Shawn Eckhardt, her bodyguard, Shane Stant, the man hired to attack Kerrigan, and Derrick Smith, the getaway driver, all served time in prison. Yes, there was even a getaway driver.
Harding avoided jail but was stripped of her U.S. Championship from 1994 and banned from the USFSA for life.
June 17, 1994: O.J. Simpson & the White Bronco
Five days after O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were found dead outside her Southern California condominium, the former NFL running back was charged with murder. Agreeing to turn himself in, Simpson instead tried to flee in a white Ford Bronco SUV, driven by his longtime friend Al "A.C." Cowlings.
The low-speed police chase was one of the most memorable moments, frankly, in television history, so much that it overshadowed the coverage of Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals.
Simpson's trial was "the trial of the century" as it played out daily on national television. Everyone in the case became famous—including the judge, lawyers for the prosecution and defense, police detective on the case and even out-of-work actors like Kato Kaelin, who's dim-witted testimony as the inhabitant of Simpson's guest house at the time was the best reality TV show in history.
The trial, in and of itself, was a circus, with allegations that a bloody glove was planted at Simpson's home. Johnnie Cochran, Simpson's lead attorney, all but dared the prosecution to request Simpson try on the glove. When he did, the glove did not fit Simpson's hand, which led Cochran to summate, "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
On October 3, 1995, a verdict came down of not guilty. (I remember the day like it just happened, sitting in science class and begging our high school teacher not to let us miss the historic decision. The entire class gasped as the forewoman tripped up on Simpson's name while reading the not-guilty verdict.)
Simpson was free, but two years later he lost a civil suit for wrongful death and battery against Goldman and was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.
January 31, 2000: Ray Lewis Murder Charge
"God doesn't make mistakes."
That's what Ray Lewis told CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe before Super Bowl XLVII, his last game in the NFL. Lewis was referencing the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, who were stabbed during a fight after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000.
Thirteen years after the stabbing, for which Lewis was indicted before negotiating a plea agreement in exchange for his testimony against his two companions that night, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, Lewis was still answering questions about what happened that night.
Both Oakley and Sweeting were acquitted of charges in June of 2000. A year after the incident, Lewis—who was never suspended by the NFL—won MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXV. Four years later, he reached out-of-court financial settlements with the Lollar and Baker families.
Lewis became deeply involved in religion and charity as his career moved on, but even in advance of his last game, the incident in 2000 didn't leave him.
July 2003: Kobe Bryant Rape Case
It's almost hard to believe that Kobe Bryant's rape trial in Eagle, Colo., was 10 years ago. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago for one of the NBA's top stars and yet, the details of the case seem as fresh and memorable as any current scandal in sports.
Bryant was in Colorado for a scheduled surgery and was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee of the hotel and resort at which he was staying. Bryant eventually admitted to the sexual encounter but remained steadfast that it was consensual. The accuser ultimately refused to testify but sued Bryant in civil court in a case that was settled before going to a judge. Bryant apologized to the accuser—and his wife with an enormous diamond ring—but never admitted guilt in the assault.
The case rocked the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA, as Bryant was one of the top players in the game, earning first-team All-NBA honors while flying back and forth on a private jet to attend multiple hearings in Colorado. The charges against Bryant were finally dismissed on September 1, 2004, just a few months after the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals to the Pistons (and a year before Bryant signed a seven-year, $136-million contract extension with the Lakers).
September 2003: BALCO & the Steroid Era
Remember when we thought the Steroid Era was over? Can anyone really remember when it began?
While players were linked to steroids for nearly 15 years, it was the BALCO investigation in 2003—and the subsequent Mitchell Report in 2007—that really turned the world of performance-enhancing drugs upside down.
BALCO—Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative—was a company founded by Victor Conte that sold performance-enhancing steroids to many of the world's greatest athletes, including (per BALCO records) Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Bill Romanowski.
Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, then working for the San Francisco Chronicle, first investigated BALCO in the media, while government investigations led to several indictments and jail time for those involved in supplying and using PEDs.
To this day, countless scandals in the world of doping link back to technologies and practices nearly perfected by BALCO.
In 2005, after Jose Canseco's tell-all book cast a light on the seedy underbelly of baseball's drug problem, several top players of the time—including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmiero—were called to testify in front of the House Government Reform Committee. McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past" quote is one of the most memorable moments of the Steroid Era.
Two years later, The Mitchell Report—filed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell—investigated the prevalence of steroids in Major League Baseball, calling out many huge names in the game, including Roger Clemens among a list of 89 players alleged to have used PEDs. This report led to sweeping reform in drug testing in MLB.
November 19, 2004: Malice at the Palace
The biggest scandal to rock the NBA in its history had to be the Malice at the Palace, when a fight between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers spilled into the crowd, creating a scene unlike any other in American professional sports.
The fallout from the fight was severe for the Pacers, whose players threw punches at both the Pistons players and their fans. The fans were not without their fault, as the actions of several fans incited the fracas, but the most severe punishments were levied by NBA Commissioner David Stern on the Pacers.
Ron Artest was suspended 86 games for his involvement, while Stephen Jackson got a 30-game suspension. Jermaine O'Neal was banned for 25 games, which was reduced to 15 on appeal. In total, nine players faced suspensions or fines for the incident.
The biggest hit, of course, came to the NBA's reputation as a bunch of "thugs," an unfair blanket the league had been fighting to shed for decades.
Artest only played 16 games the following year for the Pacers before demanding to be traded, an action that his teammates felt was a betrayal. Artest was traded later that season and has continued to spend the last nine years rehabilitating his reputation with fans.
March 2006: Duke Lacrosse Case
It's not often that college lacrosse is in the national news, but the Duke Lacrosse rape case of 2006 was one of the biggest scandals in recent history in American sports because of its severe racial and socioeconomic divide.
The case was long and, frankly, terrible, with rich, white players on the Duke lacrosse team accused of raping an African American stripper, named Crystal Gail Magnum, whom they hired to work a house party.
The prosecutor at the time of the case, Mike Nifong, wanted the alleged assault to be considered a hate crime.
Duke suspended the lacrosse team and fired its coach before the remainder of the 2006 season was cancelled.
More than a year later, the case against three players accused of the rape was dropped and Nifong was disbarred.
July 4, 2006: Italian Match-Fixing Scandal
In the history of world football we could list at least 25 scandals just involving match fixing, but the most widespread and corrupt of all scandals came in 2006 in the Italian football leagues.
A probe by Italian police in the summer of 2006 found that officials from league champions Juventus and other top clubs including AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were part of a network accused of rigging games by conspiring to select certain referees who may favor their teams.
Juventus faced the stiffest punishment, relegated to Serie B upon appeal (they were originally going to be dropped two divisions). Other clubs were deducted double-digit points in the standings, forced to play games behind closed doors and pulled from international competitions.
Of course, the record punishments did little to deter teams, as match fixing seems just as prevalent as ever in the world of international football, including another scandal in Italy in 2011.
August, 2007: Michael Vick & Bad Newz Kennels
Michael Vick was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when his career was suddenly halted in 2007 in conjunction with a dog-fighting ring that he participated in and bankrolled.
Vick was immediately suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell, putting his future in the NFL in question. Of course, at the time Vick had much bigger issues to deal with, as his involvement in the Bad Newz Kennels led to a plea bargain with federal authorities, which ultimately led to a sentence of 23 months in federal prison.
Vick was released on July 20, 2009. Having been released by the Atlanta Falcons after his arrest, Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on August 13, 2009.
August 15, 2007: Tim Donaghy, the "Rogue Official"
It's amazing that the Tim Donaghy betting scandal in the NBA never got bigger than it did. If there was one moment that David Stern earned his keep as commissioner of the NBA, it was in his handling of the Tim Donaghy situation after the "rogue official" was investigated and found guilty of gambling on games in which he officiated.
Donaghy, who had connections to organized crime, used his role as an official to alter the outcome of games. It seemed, at the time, like a death knell for the NBA, but the league was able to not only survive the scandal, but also thrive in its aftermath.
There are still some fans who believe the game is rigged, and the Donaghy scandal gives them all the fodder they will ever need. For the NBA, however, it could have been a whole lot worse. Donaghy has asserted on many times that other NBA referees were involved in fixing games, and there is a groundswell of conspiracy theorists who agree with his claims, but Donaghy was the only one to ever face legal ramifications.
September 9, 2007: SpyGate
There was a time when the New England Patriots were viewed as the bastion of everything right with the NFL. They were a model franchise for the league in the early 2000s, something that, now, seems ridiculous with the benefit of hindsight.
The first scandal that took the shine off the Patriots helmets, so to speak, was SpyGate, when the New York Jets accused the Patriots of using video cameras in the stadium to steal defensive signals.
The NFL reviewed the tapes in question and then destroyed them, leading some conspirators to believe that Commissioner Roger Goodell was protecting the Patriots from further scrutiny. Bill Belichick, who was fined $500,000 for his involvement, did admit to taping signals as far back as 2000. The Patriots also lost a first-round draft pick in the ordeal.
Months after the initial SpyGate issues, Matt Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant, came forward with information suggesting the Patriots had taped other teams' practices, including those before Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams. No further penalties were levied against the Patriots after these allegations, but the specter of impropriety has stayed with Belichick and the team ever since.
November 27, 2009: Tiger Woods Crashes
Tiger Woods was in a one-car accident on Thanksgiving of 2009, which led to the biggest and most public marital dispute in the history of, probably, the world. The Woods saga was international news. He was literally on the cover of the New York tabloid newspapers for a month, with a harem of women coming out to announce they had sexual affairs with the embattled golfer.
There was rehab, divorce, you name it. This scandal had everything. For a full timeline of the Tiger Woods scandal in more detail, click here.
June 10, 2010: Reggie Bush, NCAA Sanctions & a Returned Heisman Trophy
Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman Trophy while at USC, but an NCAA investigation that took nearly five years eventually led to USC vacating all the wins of a national championship season. The scandal involved agents and gifts to Bush and his family. Bush would turn in the Heisman Trophy amid reports the award would be taken from him.
USC is still recovering from the resulting sanctions, while Bush is with his third NFL team since 2006.
November 2011: Jerry Sandusky
Jerry Sandusky was a football coach at Penn State. After his retirement, Sandusky was still involved with the program and was allowed to use team facilities, often in conjunction with a charity, The Second Mile, he founded in 1977.
In November 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged on 52 counts of sexual abuse and assault of young boys over a 15-year period. Many of the children were associated with The Second Mile, and some instances of abuse allegedly took place on the Penn State campus, in its football facility.
The scandal rocked Happy Valley, leading to the removal of Joe Paterno as head coach and several top administrators at Penn State who were accused of covering up Sandusky's abuse. Paterno's health deteriorated after being fired. He died shortly thereafter.
March 2, 2012: Bountygate
The Bountygate scandal is a fascinating piece of NFL history. Roger Goodell and the NFL were investigating the New Orleans Saints for taking cheap shots at opposing players. Evidence came to light that Gregg Williams, then the Saints defensive coordinator, offered to pay players a bounty for injuring stars on other teams.
The NFL asserted that Sean Payton, the Saints head coach, knew about the bounty program and failed to stop it. After months of investigations and negotiations, the NFL suspended Payton, Williams and several key players for their involvement in the Bounty program.
Payton was suspended for an entire season, the first time a head coach had been suspended in the modern NFL. Williams was suspended indefinitely. Saints GM Mickey Loomis, who also knew about the program, was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season.
Four players, including Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita, were all suspended. Vilma got the worst punishment, being banned by Goodell for the entire 2012 season.
The battle between the NFL and the Saints waged in the courts, as the players fought to get their suspensions vacated. Ultimately, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked to arbitrate the situation, vacating the players' suspensions.
The end result was a black eye for the Saints, but one for Goodell as well, as the punishments were seen as the commissioner overstepping his authority.
October 10, 2012: Lance Armstrong
We could have put the Lance Armstrong saga at any stage in this timeline, but we chose the date of October 10, 2012, because that's the day USADA published a 200-page report that included 26 official statements, many of which suggested Armstrong was not only involving in doping, but was also a ringleader of a widespread network of cheaters, dopers and criminal conspirators.
Over the next few months, Armstrong lost his sponsors, his Tour de France titles and his loyal following of fans. On January 13, 2013, Armstrong admitted much of his involvement in the doping to Oprah Winfrey on a televised interview.
In the annals of cheaters, Armstrong is now viewed as perhaps the biggest in sports history.
January 16, 2013: Manti Te’o & Lennay Kekua
Was the Manti Te'o saga a scandal, or just a love story gone horribly, horribly wrong?
February 2013: The Blade Runner Murder Charge
Oscar Pistorius, the celebrated track star known as "Blade Runner" for the prosthetic blades he used in place of legs to compete with able-bodied sprinters in the 2012 Summer Olympics, reportedly shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in his Pretoria, South Africa, home. Pistorius was taken into custody and formally charged with murder on February 15.
The report sent shockwaves around the world, as nearly everyone in sports had been celebrating Pistorius' courage and dedication just a few months earlier at the Olympics.
Initially, reports surfaced that Pistorius shot through his bathroom door thinking Steenkamp was a home invader, but evidence presented by the prosecution at pre-trial hearings suggested the runner knew it was Steenkamp in the bathroom at the time he fired four shots through the door. The prosecution went for a charge of premeditated murder after presenting its early case and the presiding magistrate agreed, offering bail.
Pistorius's trial date is set to begin August 19, 2013.
July 26, 2013: Aaron Hernandez Arrested for Murder
We had trouble putting murder arrests in the same chronology as players who had fake girlfriends they may have been lying about the entire time, but the Aaron Hernandez story became such a circus we would be remiss not to mention it on the list.
(Note: We chose not to list the murder-for-hire by former NFL wide receiver Rae Carruth, the murder of former quarterback Steve McNair or the murder suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher on the list, but felt it important to mention those here. We respect any opinions suggesting we should have included any, or all, more prominently on this list.)
When all is said and done, the Hernandez story may be one of the biggest scandals to rock American sports in its history. The former Patriot is already accused of murdering one man and could be charged in several other incidents, including another double-murder.
The Patriots have done their best to move on from the situation, but it's nearly impossible. The outcome of his trial will be linked to the Patriots—and the NFL—forever.
August 5, 2013: Alex Rodriguez & Biogenesis Suspensions
When put in the same context as murders, Alex Rodriguez cheating at baseball seems like an insignificant story. There is just no way to compare the two.
Within the context of sports, however, there is no denying how big a story the Biogenesis scandal has become, with more than a dozen players suspended 50 games or more, including Rodriguez getting 211 games—through the 2014 season—which is the longest suspension in baseball to a major, active star since the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
Rodriguez plans to appeal, so the suspension could be lessened. There was a time, however, that MLB was contemplating a lifetime ban, but it settled on the 200-plus game ban. The suspension also calls into question the methods MLB will take to catch its own players, and what the team's culpability is in the PED era. The Yankees may actually benefit from a protracted suspension of Rodriguez. Is that fair for baseball?
More to Come
There were many events we left off the list, from Bill Tilden in the 1940s to Rosie Ruiz in 1980 to the Hand of God to the Fab Five to Latrell Sprewell strangling his coach to Plaxico Burress shooting himself to Gilbert Arenas bringing a gun into the Wizards locker room to Cam Newton's eligibility to Ohio State being placed on probation for...tattoos.
There are surely more scandals to come, as it seems the current nature of sports and competition breeds impropriety and today's media landscape allows us to catch athletes doing far more than ever before.
We gravitate toward the salacious, which makes the chances of more scandals in the near future an absolute certainty, as sad as that may sound.
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