10 Sports Conspiracy Theories That Are Totally True

Dan Carson@@DrCarson73Trending Lead WriterApril 29, 2013

10 Sports Conspiracy Theories That Are Totally True

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    Are you constantly seeing motives behind motives? 

    Do you own a cork board labeled "Shadow Games" that's covered with pictures of alleged Illuminati members? Do you write comments about the Freemasons on YouTube videos?

    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you might be a conspiracy theorist. 

    With the right mindset, anything can become a conspiracy—even the seemingly fair competition events that occur in sports. Today we’ll be looking into some of those theories that seem to hold the most water. 

    Strap on your tin foil hat and head for the basement, because the following are 10 sports conspiracy theories that are totally true—or, rather, totally plausible.

10. Muhammad Ali’s Phantom Punch

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    Muhammad Ali’s famous “phantom punch” against Sonny Liston in February 1964 was a pivotal and controversial moment in boxing history.

    Ali (then Cassius Clay) hit the then-heavyweight champion with a seemingly light counterpunch that sent Liston to the mat in the first round. Liston was unable to recover from the blow, and Ali was awarded the TKO. 

    The manner in which Liston went down has drawn speculation about the fight, with some believing Liston fixed the fight in order to pay off debts with the mob.  


    Plausibility Level

    Believable. The punch is there, but Liston’s troubled life outside the ring and lengthy arrest record make it all the more reasonable to think he would do something like throw a match.

9. Michael Phelps Lost the Race, Won the Gold

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    Michael Phelps had a horrible start to the beginning of the 100-meter butterfly at the 2008 Beijing Games, but he managed to put together a miraculous finish to take gold.

    Or did he?

    The replay isn’t conclusive, but appears to show Serbia’s Milorad Cavic narrowly defeating Phelps. Phelps was given the win according to his electronic touch pad, which registered the American coming in one one-hundredth of a second before Cavic. 

    The possible conspiracy theory here is that Phelps’ electronic touch pad was rigged to be extra sensitive, and that the swimmer had actually triggered the pad with the force of the water his hands moved in their downstroke toward the wall. 


    Plausibility Level

    Believing Phelps’ pad was rigged is a bit much, but who’s to say his desperate final lunge wasn’t enough to trigger the device?

8. 'Hand of God' an Inside Job?

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    Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona got away with the equivalent of handball murder in a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal against England.

    The striker fielded the ball with his hand after a botched clearing by an English defender, punching the ball over the head of England’s goalkeeper and into the net. The infraction wasn’t called, as referees apparently failed to notice the glaring handball.

    The lack of a call by officials remains a mystery today, and one of the explanations could be that officials wanted to see Argentina, the underdogs, defeat England.

    Plausibility Level

    Believing refs were on Argentina’s side is hard, but it’s easier than believing God intervened in a soccer game, as Maradona believes

7. The Michael Jordan Food-Poisoning Theory

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    Michael Jordan’s miraculous 35-point “Flu Game” performance against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals continues to spawn conspiracy theories seeking to explain it. 

    The most recent theory is that Jordan was delivered a sketchy pizza the night before Game 5 of the series. 

    According to Tim Grover, Jordan’s former personal trainer, the team ordered a pizza from their hotel room in Utah. Grover says that five men delivered the pizza (red flag) late at night, and that he (Grover) had a bad feeling about the situation.

    Jordan was the only one who ate the pizza, and later that night, at two o’clock in the morning, Grover says he received a call saying that Jordan was sick.

    Plausibility Level

    Requires a lot of faith in one man’s story but is much more believable (and detailed) than Jalen Rose’s hangover theory.

6. Auburn Football Overlooked Illegal Spice Use

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    On the way toward winning the 2010 BCS title, the Auburn football program allegedly overlooked positive tests for “spice,” a synthetic marijuana, in the name of keeping players eligible to play football. 

    ESPN The Magazine aired the story in a special E:60 called “Coming Down” in mid-April. The special declares that the program purposely held off testing their players for the synthetic drug until two weeks after the team finished its national title run in 2010.

    Auburn maintains it didn’t have a test available to administer to athletes, while ESPN claims multiple tests for spice existed in the market before the season even began.

    Plausibility Level

    Likely, but far from certain. There’s evidence to support that Auburn acted in the only manner it could, but ESPN found that one of the players failed seven consecutive tests for spice after the testing began, and the university didn’t do anything.

5. Bobby Riggs Threw ‘The Battle of the Sexes’

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    In 1973, professional tennis player and hustler Bobby Riggs challenged women’s tennis legend Billie Jean King to a "Battle of the Sexes" match, the implied meaning of which was to sort out whether or not the best female player in the world could keep up with a decent male player.

    King ended up dismantling Riggs, and some believed Riggs had bet against himself and purposely let the match get away from him. 


    Plausibility Level

    Most likely true. Riggs had challenged Margaret Court—then the No. 1 female tennis player in the world—to another man versus woman match prior to his showdown with King and had won easily. 

4. The 1972 US Basketball Team Was Robbed

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    After losing 51-50 to Russia in the 1972 Olympic Games, the United States men's basketball team felt it had been cheated.

    It was the first game in which the squad had been defeated since the sport joined the Olympics in 1936, and it came after a controversial last-second decision by officials. With three seconds left on the clock, Russia had tried twice to inbound the ball. 

    The ball was deflected twice, leading the U.S. to believe it had won the game; however, the clock still had one second remaining in the game. At this point, a “high-ranking international basketball official” said the clock hadn’t been reset after the second inbounds pass, and he gave Russia a full three seconds on the clock.

    Russia inbounded the ball and used the additional time to score a game-winning layup, causing the U.S. team and American fans to believe that the game had been rigged. 


    Plausibility Level

    Off the charts. The U.S. appealed the decision on the court with the International Basketball Federation, and a five-member panel (three of whom were associated with nations in the Communist Bloc) declined the appeal.

3. Major League Collusion

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    Team owners across the MLB landed themselves in big trouble in the late 1980s after they were caught sharing information with each other in the name of driving down player salaries.

    The collusion case brought against franchises involved a salary-offer data bank that had been created by owners in 1987. The data bank allowed teams to see how much money other teams were offering free agents, and it served to bring down salaries across the board for players looking to sign with a new team.  

    Plausibility Level

    Completely true.

2. Bob Arum Fixed Pacquiao vs. Bradley

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    Fixing and boxing have walked hand in hand seemingly since the first match ever took place.

    We’ve (presumably) seen less of it in modern times, as viewers have multiplied and television cameras have allowed fights to be reviewed over and over again. 

    But even in the age where everyone can see who punched who where and how many times, match-tampering still happens. And nowhere was that more apparent than the 2012 bout between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley.

    Long story short, Pacquiao drank Bradley’s milkshake for a strong majority of 12 rounds (eight rounds to four, some called it), and Bradley won the bout in a split decision.

    The most plausible theory behind the bunk decision is that promoter Bob Arum (who represents both Bradley and Pacquiao) paid off the judges to guarantee a Bradley win. 

    The reasoning behind this theory is that Pacquiao, then 33 years old, was ripening for retirement, and Arum wanted to crown a new champion in his own corner. Also, by losing the fight in a contentious manner, a rematch would be guaranteed to make him more money and milk another fight out of Pacquiao.

    Even Bradley wasn’t convinced he won.

    Plausibility Level

    Strong like bull. 

1. Game-Tanking in the NBA

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    NBA teams at the bottom of the barrel purposely tank games to get a better draft pick. Let's not debate that. 

    Although the league has tried to fix this with the lottery, the weighted component of the system favors teams with the worst records, and thus the competition to the bottom is born. 

    Some examples of game-tanking would be anything and everything the Golden State Warriors did in the last stretch of the regular season in the 2012, including benching David Lee with a mysterious “groin injury.”

    Plausibility Level

    Grade A fact.