'Craziest' Conspiracy Theories in Sports

Sean Evans@@seanseaevansContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2014

'Craziest' Conspiracy Theories in Sports

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    When you mix the purity of competition, zealotry of fans and the booming commercial success of professional sports, you get a breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

    From the UNLV Runnin' Rebels purportedly fixing a Final Four game against Duke to Babe Ruth missing a chunk of the 1925 season with a supposed venereal disease, these theories can be just as troubling as they are utterly ridiculous. 

    This list examines the theories that are equal parts soap opera and Tom Clancy novel. While we make no claims to there being an ounce of truth in any of these stories, they're crazy enough to warrant your time, particularly if you're writing a Nicolas Cage movie.

Curt Schilling’s Not-so-Bloody Sock?

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    WINSLOW TOWNSON/Associated Press


    Baltimore Orioles play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne suggests that the red material on Curt Schilling's sock during Game 2 of the 2004 World Series was in fact paint, not blood. The media runs wild with the story and, before you know it, substances ranging from ketchup to ink are fingered as the splatter.

    Is It Plausible?

    LOL. Professional sports are shamelessly romanticized, but no marketer or athletes is pathetic enough to spill nail polish on a sock and call it a crime scene. And, by the standards of bloodied garments, Schilling's ankle offers a fairly lackluster performance.

    If this were really a hoax or attempt to exaggerate Boston Red Sox lore, Schilling would be wearing a hospital gown and have his whole right leg soaked in red wine. 

Sonny Liston and the Phantom Punch

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    Associated Press


    During a fight in 1965, Sonny Liston takes a dive against Muhammad Ali as a direct result of his mob ties. Adding fuel to the conspiracy-theory fire is video that shows Liston reacting awkwardly to a hard right from Ali. 

    Is It Plausible?

    Definitely. Liston's mob ties are well documented, and boxing is a sport that's as pure as Sochi hotel tap water. Also, if you look at the tape, Liston falls like a disgruntled factory employee trying to feign a workers' compensation lawsuit. Ali probably would've won anyway, but this theory actually holds some water.

The NFL Uses Beyonce to Black out the Super Bowl

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press


    During Super Bowl Super Bowl XLVII, the NFL intentionally stuns the Baltimore Ravens by triggering a power outage moments after Beyonce's halftime performance. With the Ravens' momentum disrupted, the San Francisco 49ers get back in the game.

    Is It Plausible?

    Ray Lewis certainly thinks so. In the documentary America's Game, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker says, "You’re a zillion-dollar company, and your lights go out? No. No way."

    Teammate Terrell Suggs echoed a similar sentiment during an episode of ESPN's E:60 by adding, "I was like, ahh, Roger Goodell, he never stops, he always has something up his sleeve. He just couldn’t let us have this one in a landslide, huh?”


Kevin Costner Supposedly Sleeps with Cal Ripken Jr.’s Wife, Threatens Streak

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    David Hecker/Associated Press


    While staying at the home of longtime friend Cal Ripken Jr., Kevin Costner gets caught sleeping with the legendary shortstop's wife. After purportedly beating up Costner, a distraught Ripken is unable to rally for the evening's game at Oriole Park, effectively ending his consecutive-games streak.

    However, a choreographed "blackout" of stadium lights forces the game to be postponed, thus giving Ripken time to recover.

    Is It Plausible?

    If you think this scenario is plausible, then I have a beach house in Idaho that I'd like to sell you. It's a tremendous investment opportunity.

    This story is so salacious that it makes The Young and the Restless look like Father Knows Best. Besides, if Ripken can play through a sprained left ankle, he can ball on a broken heart.

Roger Goodell Covers Up Spygate

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press


    Not wanting to further incriminate one of his marquee franchises, Roger Goodell orders that the Spygate tapes be destroyed. From film that may have affected the outcome of a Super Bowl to a ritualistic sacrifice performed by Tom Brady on behalf of The Illuminati, the contents of those tapes are a total mystery. 

    Is It Plausible?

    Did Roger Goodell destroy the Spygate tapes to conceal some untold, evil secret in the film? It certainly seems that way.

    According to an article by ESPN, Goodell cites "keeping [the tapes] out of competitors' hands" as a reason for destroying them, which sounds flimsier than a house made out of foam fingers.

    What was on those tapes, Roger!?

Bobby Thompson Steals Sign Before Legendary Home Run

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    Anonymous/Associated Press


    A stolen sign, which was systematically derived by a telescope in center field, aided Bobby Thompson’s pennant-clinching home run in 1951.

    Is It Plausible?

    Of course it's possible, but that doesn't mean it happened. And, even if a clubhouse assistant signaled the catcher's sign over buzzerwire, Thompson still had to smack a fastball over the fence.

    This is one of the most distinguished moments in baseball history, which is why it has a place on this list. Otherwise, this is a total non-story.  

Manti Te’o Concocts Lennay Kekua Story to Win Heisman

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press


    Manti Te'o, along with his friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, orchestrate the existence and ultimate death of a phony girlfriend. The tragic storyline will make Te'o more sympathetic and likable to Heisman voters.

    Is It Plausible?

    It definitely seemed that way at first, but the all-night phone calls are a taxing and totally unnecessary way to perpetuate a hoax.

    In sum, if Tuiasosopo and Te'o were in cahoots, the effort would've been much less labor-intensive on Te'o's end. The former Notre Dame linebacker has denied any involvement of a nefarious nature, and there's not a lot of evidence to the contrary.

    Bottom line: This looks like a clear-cut case of next-level "catfishing." 

Bobby Riggs Throws the “Battle of the Sexes” to Settle a Gambling Debt

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    Anonymous/Associated Press


    With a mob debt looming over his head, Bobby Riggs throws the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match against Billie Jean King to satisfy creditors.

    According to an article by ESPN's Don Natta Jr., the long-held rumor is corroborated by a country club employee, who purportedly overheard mob bosses saying that "Riggsy" was prepared to "set up two matches…against the two best women players in the world."

    Is It Plausible?

    Yes, but it's also plausible that Billie Jean King—who was in the prime of her career—was capable of beating a 55-year-old man in a game of tennis.

    However, if you trust the four-decade-old account of a golf pro and his testimony on an ad-lib conversation between mobsters, this scandal has O-M-G written all over it.

MJ Plays Baseball to Save Face During a Year-Long Suspension

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    JOHN SWART/Associated Press


    In 1993, Michael Jordan is suspended by the NBA for a year as a result of his rampant gambling. To avoid sullying his brand, No. 23 and the league orchestrate a scenario by which Jordan unexpectedly retires and switches sports. 

    Is It Plausible?

    Nope. If Jordan wanted to avoid damaging his brand, he wouldn't spend a summer grounding into double plays in Birmingham, Alabama. That would be like LeBron James leaving the throne right now to coach high school football in suburban Akron and open a Nissan dealership. It doesn't make any sense.

    If David Stern and the league are Machiavellian enough to fix drafts and cover up suspensions, they'd hatch a more sinister plan than, "Um, what about minor league baseball?"

Officials Rob the 1972 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team of a Gold Medal

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    Associated Press


    Corrupt officials and suspect clock issues rob the U.S. men’s basketball team of a gold medal during the ‘72 Olympics. 

    Is It Plausible?

    Yes, sir. At best, the closing seconds of the gold-medal game were botched. At worst, the game was full-on rigged.

    The U.S. team was actually called back to the floor during its postgame celebration to replay the game's final three seconds, a decision that was apparently made at the whim of a “high-ranking international basketball official."

    You don't need to work at Long John Silver's to see that there's something fishy going on here.

The NBA Fixes the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals

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    MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press


    The NBA fixes the 2002 Western Conference Finals to ensure that the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers get a shot at the title.

    Is It Plausible?

    Numbers don't lie. And, in the series' infamous Game 6, the Los Angeles Lakers attempted 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. In the final 13 seconds, Kobe Bryant busted Mike Bibby's nose open with an elbow and, inexplicably, a foul was called on Bibby.

    It's certainly possible that the game was just poorly officiated, but—with many of the allegations against Tim Donaghy hinging on that game—the conspiracy theorists have a lot to crow about.

The NBA Rigs the 1985 Draft Lottery

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    MARTY LEDERHANDLER/Associated Press


    The NBA Draft Lottery is introduced in 1985. And, rather conveniently, there is a hulking center from Georgetown with the potential to turn around the fledgling New York Knicks. David Stern knowingly pulls New York's envelope from the spin cage first, thus creating a formidable title contender in the country's biggest media market.

    Is It Plausible?

    Sure. But, if you watch the tape, David Stern grabs New York's envelope with the reckless abandon of a charging rhinoceros. He doesn't feel around for a "crease" or "frozen envelope," he just grabs a pick from the middle of the globe.

    For a guy purportedly orchestrating a major sports scandal, Stern is remarkably composed.

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