The 20 Biggest Scandals in Sports History

Bell Malley@milesmalleyAnalyst IIISeptember 28, 2011

The 20 Biggest Scandals in Sports History

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    Call it a blessing or call it a curse, but star athletes are put on a pedestal. They are regarded as above humans, their accomplishments are expected and their mistakes are scrutinized to no extent.

    A year and a half ago, perhaps the athlete most put on a pedestal, Tiger Woods, had his own fall from grace, and one of the most magnificent of them all.

    When it came out that he had several affairs, he received more straight headlines in the newspaper than on the days following 9/11 (this is true).

    Though it may have been the biggest scandal, it is evidently not the only one in sports history. A scandal in sports can be huge, and these are magnified another 10 times because of the athlete's place in society and because of the fact that, to many children, they are considered role models.

    Thus, I thought it would be amusing to look over the 20 biggest scandals in sports history.

    Let's begin...

Black Sox

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    This baseball scandal, known now simply as the "Black Sox Scandal," took place during the 1919 World Series, where the White Sox were playing against the Cincinnati Reds.

    It featured eight players banned for life from MLB for purposely losing games during the World Series with the benefit of large amounts of money.

    Arnold "Chick" Gandil orchestrated the throwing of the games, and it was he who convinced his teammates to take the money as well.

    This scandal is the story behind the fantastic movie Eight Men Out and is still a common topic when discussing the right of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (a player on the White Sox at the time whose involvement has been widely disputed) to be in the Hall of Fame.

Nelson Piquet Jr. Crash

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    Also known as "Crashgate," Nelson Piquet Jr.'s crash didn't become scandalous until a while after it occurred.

    In a race in 2008, Piquet had somewhat of a large crash with an opponent. It didn't seem like such a big deal, because, in Formula 1 (where Nelson raced), crashes were anything but a rarity.

    However, a while later, after Nelson pulled out of his team (Renault F1), allegations surfaced that the crash was on purpose, solely for the purpose to get Fernando Alonso a victory in the race.

    Nelson came out and spoke to the FIA and claimed that, indeed, he had been asked by his coach to stage the crash.

    The case was intense for a while, with lots of charges from the team against Piquet and vice versa. Since then, though, it has simmered down, and now Nelson is a certified NASCAR racer.

Danny Almonte

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    Now a simple assistant coach at James Monroe High School, Danny Almonte used to be the subject of much criticism. 

    In 2001, he absolutely dominated the Little League World Series. He was out of their league; unfortunately, this was literal.

    Amidst much speculation, it was finally revealed that Almonte was actually three years older than he should have been and claimed to be. 

    Though this may not sound like much, it is the single biggest scandal in Little League baseball history and may have cost him a career in MLB.

Floyd Landis

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    In 2006, Floyd Landis, an American cyclist, was racing in the Tour de France and was far behind in stage 16. Yet, astonishingly, he came back unbelievably in the next round. This is when the first speculation about doping first arose.

    Doping and cycling weren't synonyms back then, and it had rarely been the case that any sort of steroids had been used. Yet Landis' urine samples came back three times over the amount of testosterone was in his body, and it was an evident case of doping.

    The scandal was already large, yet it also uncovered a huge number of other cyclists who had used steroids or some other sort of performance-enhancing drug.

    Furthermore, Landis accused Lance Armstrong of doping, a scandal we still see present today in court.

Harding Attacks Kerrigan

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    This is perhaps one of the more unethical, unsportsmanlike and disgusting moments in sports history. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were both great ice skaters, rivals on the rink evidently, but it was never suspected that they had less than full respect for each other's achievements.

    Yet in 1994, a man struck Kerrigan with a metal pole on her leg right before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The video is dreadful, with her crying and screaming, obviously in an unbelievable amount of pain. 

    It wasn't suspected at all, at first, that Harding had had anything to do with the attack, and she performed in the championships. Yet amid suspicion, she came out and declared that Harding, her now ex-husband and her bodyguard had conspired together and hired the man to break her leg. 

    At first, Harding was banned from skating, but after threatening to sue them, they accepted her back. In the following Olympics, Harding placed eighth as the rehabilitated Kerrigan secured a silver medal—a feel-good moment in sports.

Rosie Ruiz

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    Sorry if the picture is blurred; you can't quite see all the details. Ironically, this mirrors Rosie Ruiz's Boston Marathon in 1980.

    At first, she was the clear victor, and not by a little amount. Yet later witnesses and different testimonies and finally her admittance clarified that she had, in fact, not run the course and instead taken a gigantic shortcut to finish the race.

    Though this obviously wasn't a big sporting event compared to others, in many ways it still shocked the sporting world that this could have gone unseen and that it wasn't that hard for her to do.

2000 Paralympic Spanish Basketball Team

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    Cheating at the Paralympics is a disgraceful thing to do, yet I think many a fan would be astonished at how often it happens. Perhaps none were as shocking as the 2000 Paralympic Spanish basketball team.

    The Spanish team had won the gold medal in the basketball tournament, and for a while it was deemed an honest and good victory. Yet a Spanish journalist revealed to the managers of the tournament that most of the players on the Spanish team had not been checked for a mental disability.

    In fact, after further investigation, it was revealed that 10 out of the 12 players were in fact not mentally disabled; Spain had just wanted to win a gold medal.

SMU Faces Death Penalty

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    Southern Methodist University, SMU, had been found in 1986 to have had 16 years of continuously violating NCAA rules.

    Players had been given enormous sums of money from boosters and from the college itself, and coaches and management being aware and not admitting it made matters even worse.

    The NCAA decided that it was too much and for the only time in history gave SMU the death penalty for the '87 season. They weren't allowed to play any games. This did not only affect one season though; the next year SMU didn't have the players to form a team and sat out that season as well.

    In the following 20 years, Southern Methodist University had one winning season.

Rugby Player Uses Blood Capsule

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    For any of you who saw the New York Giants game on Monday and were convinced that they had faked injuries to stop the time, I present to you an extreme case of faking an injury.

    During a rugby game several years ago, Tom Williams started bleeding on the field from his mouth. By no measure is this rare in rugby, but accusations that it was fake blood started flooding the papers.

    Here's the whole story:

    Club manager Dean Richards had promised Williams a lofty increase in pay if he agreed to keep a blood capsule in his sock and insert it in his mouth and then bite upon contact to make it seem like he was bleeding, and thus stop the time.

    The first problem ensued when, in front of live cameras and hundreds in attendance, Williams dropped the capsule and had to pick it up and then start all over again.

    He later admitted that it was indeed a blood capsule and suffered a four-month suspension, yet luckily nowhere near the four-year suspension of Richards.

Pete Rose

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    Pete Rose was undoubtedly one of baseball's best players of all time. Thus, he had made a lot of money. Yet he still felt the need to bet, which eventually led to his demise, and to the fact that he is permanently banned from MLB and the Hall of Fame ballot.

    After years of saying the accusations were senseless and false, more and more evidence piled up until, in the '80s, commissioner Peter Ueberroth asked Rose to take a voluntary ban from MLB if he promised to cease investigations on how much Rose gambled.

    What made Rose's gambling worse was the fact that was later revealed that stated he bet on Reds games while being their manager.

    His legacy has not been completely tarnished (he still gets unauthorized write-ups for the Hall of Fame ballot every year), but his name will forever be synonymous with gambling.

Reggie Bush

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    In the picture to the left, Bush is taking a free fall to the ground. In many ways, that represents his football career as a whole.

    After completely and utterly dominating the football world as the USC Trojans running back, Bush was drafted No. 2 overall in the NFL, and many thought he should have easily been picked No. 1. Many thought he would revolutionize the position of running back as we knew it.

    Yet soon after the draft, allegations started coming out that Bush had received more than a bit of money from boosters.

    It was a debate for several years before, last year, he "voluntarily" gave up his Heisman Trophy.

    USC's championship trophy, and wins as a whole, were taken away by the NCAA for the 2004-2005 season.

    Furthermore, Bush has never really enjoyed any success in the NFL, his stats slowly diminishing season after season.

Salt Lake City Buys 2002 Olympics

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    Salt Lake had wanted to host the Winter Olympics four straight times and was getting increasingly frustrated. It felt as if it had a perfect place and that it wasn't getting its due because other American cities had hosted years prior.

    In 1998, though, in the bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics, IOC members had a drastic change of mind, and Salt Lake won the voting by a landslide. Though somewhat weird, Salt Lake City has very nice ski slopes and seemed like an ideal place, so many ignored the change of minds.

    Yet it was later revealed that the spokespeople for the Salt Lake City Team had bribed several highly ranked IOC members into voting for them. 

    The Olympics, perhaps the sanctuary for all things sports, doing this left a mark on a number of people.

The Hand of God

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    During the 1986 World Cup, Argentine Diego Maradona scored the most controversial and scandalous goal in soccer history. This match was a quarterfinal encounter between Argentina and England.

    At 0-0 in the 51st minute, Maradona, arguably the greatest footballer ever, received a pass in front of goal—he proceeded to tap the ball in with his hand.

    The ref, Tunisian Ali Bin Nasser, did not blow his whistle, and the goal stood.

    Diego went on to score another, and Argentina won the match and eventually the tournament for the second time in three Cups.

    Maradona later admitted to cheating and gave his hand the name "Hand of God."


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    Bill Belichick and the Patriots seemingly have ways of always getting back to the Super Bowl. Sadly, some of those ways are highly illegal.

    In 2007, the Jets sent a complaint to the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, that stated the Patriots had filmed their defensive coordinators' signals during a game. Goodell later spoke with the Patriots, and it was found out that, indeed, the Patriots had filmed their signals.

    Belichick explained to Goodell, and to the public, how he had misinterpreted the rules, but he was still docked a pretty huge $500,000.

    The situation's tenseness increased when it also found out they had taped a Rams practice in 2000. It went on for quite a while and in many ways was disastrous for the Patriots and the NFL, thus the name Spygate, yet both have evidently bounced back quite well.

Kobe Bryant

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    There was a time before now, where Kobe Bryant is viewed as the sage, skilled veteran of the NBA, one of the smarter, more mature players out there.

    Before, he was quite the opposite. He was immature and selfish on the court and regularly crossed the line with celebrations and speaking about teammates to the media.

    This immaturity sadly transcended the court. 

    In 2003, it was reported that Kobe Bryant had been arrested for sexually assaulting a hotel employee in California. If this was true, he faced probation to life.

    The woman refused to testify in court, so it was settled outside, but Bryant adamantly stated that, though he was married, he never assaulted her and the sex was purely consensual. His wife sat next to him during this teary admittance, and it will forever be remembered as something that badly hurt his image and restored the NBA's "thug" reputation.

Baseball's Steroid Era

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    Records were falling left and right—and left and right arms were getting bigger.

    At first it wasn't obvious. Then it became obvious, but players, league managers and especially audience members were in denial. Then the Mitchell Report came out, and it was too obvious to miss.

    Now, it's simply remembered (though some fear it isn't fully over) as the infamous Steroid Era.

Tim Donaghy

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    Two gamblers in one picture. The difference? One confined himself to the legal stages of gambling; the other bet on games in which he participated.

    The culprit? Unless you've never followed the NBA you know that Tim Donaghy, now the most notorious ref in the history of sports, bet on many games in which he reffed, and undoubtedly calling the game according to where he had money to gain.

    Wikipedia explains it perfectly:

    Sports gambling expert R.J. Bell, president of sports betting information site, tracked every game Donaghy worked from 2003 to 2007. He discovered that during the two seasons investigated by the NBA, the teams involved scored more points than expected by the Las Vegas sports books 57 percent of the time. In the previous two seasons, this only happened 44 percent of the time. According to Bell, the odds of such a discrepancy are 1 in 1,000, and there was "a 99.9 percent chance that these results would not have happened without an outside factor." He also found 10 straight games in 2007 in which Donaghy worked the game that the point spread moved 1.5 points or more before the tip—an indication that big money had been wagered on the game. The big money won every time—another indication that "something (was) going on."

    David Stern later showed just how serious the situation was, claiming, "We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again."

Michael Vick

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    Vick is now one of the flashiest players in the league, but just two years ago he was finishing off his 21-month sentence in federal prison.

    In 2007, Vick was implicated in a dog fighting ring scandal that had apparently been going on for five years. Numerous dogs of Vick's were killed, and many more harmed and destroyed mentally beyond belief.

    It was huge when Vick was arrested, and it shocked the NFL world. When he was eligible to play again, his former team, the Falcons, like many others, refused to take in the convict.

    The Eagles were one of few that accepted him, and though he started as a third-stringer, he came into the season as an MVP favorite.

    He still poses the question every day amongst Eagles fans and even just general fans: Forgive and forget, or shouldn't even be playing in the NFL?

Tiger Woods' 12 Mistresses

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    We can safely assume that Tiger Woods did not spend a very happy Thanksgiving in the fall of 2009. When your wife chases you out of the house with a golf club as you speed away in the car, and every human being in our country knows about it, even turkey, stuffing and apple pie can't cheer you up.

    At first, people thought that Woods had merely crashed his car, perhaps drunk, and that his wife smashed open the window with the golf club to get him out.

    This actually was the case for quite a while until details started leaking out. She had chased Woods after reading his text messages and finding intimate ones between him and a lover.

    It was bad, but it became 12 times as bad with the 12 following women who admitted Tiger's infidelity and said they had had an affair with him at a certain time in his marriage.

    In December, after having his personal life on the cover of a newspaper for seemingly weeks on end, Woods announced he would take an indefinite leave from golf; remember, this was in the midst of his prime.

    Woods divorced, lost custody of his kids and has never truly returned to being the best in the golf world that he once was.

O.J. Simpson

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    The most infamous scandal, by far, in sports history had very little to do with sports itself, apart from the fact that a very known former athlete was heavily involved.

    I actually debated putting it on this list, but it rocked the sports world in every dimension and had the biggest effect on the American people of any other news in sports.

    In 1994, Simpson was accused of killing his wife and another man, and what followed was too crazy for even theaters to come up with.

    On live TV, Simpson drove away from the cops for an inordinate amount of time in one of the most insane moments in television history.

    I, for one, couldn't believe I was truly seeing what I was watching.

    No one can run away forever, and once O.J. was caught, it was declared he would go to federal court. There, after nine months of trial, Simpson, in one of the more notorious court rulings in recent history, was found not guilty. This is after numerous DNA samples had made it seemingly evident that he was at fault, as well as holes in his story.

    Perhaps the most known part was when the court asked Simpson to put on a glove, the one whose prints were found on the gun, and though it obviously fit, he faked a struggle to put it on.

    There are few people in America who would deny that he was guilty—yet he was found not guilty in a moment of disbelief for audiences everywhere.

    Truly the most insane moment in a list of insane moments.


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