When competition is involved, controversy is sure to follow, but some dust-ups go far beyond bad behavior into illegal activity, cover-ups, and expansive cheating. Here's a look at 10 of the worst scandals to rock international sports.
The news cycle has not stopped this spring with different sports scandals, from deflated footballs to corruption and bribery in international soccer. But with all of the nonstop coverage, it becomes tough to distinguish what is a big deal and what is just a public relations mess.
When competition is involved, controversy is sure to follow, but some dust-ups go far beyond bad behavior into illegal activity, cover-ups, and extensive cheating. Not to mention the vast number of popular, unproven conspiracy theories out there.
Below, we take a look at some of the biggest scandals in sports history as a primer for your next controversial water cooler conversation.
10. Little League World Series Shenanigans
One would think kids playing America’s pastime would get a reprieve from scandal, but unfortunately adults behaving badly have infiltrated just about every sport. Danny Almonte pitched a perfect game in the 2001 Little League World Series, but 2 weeks after the tournament it was revealed his father lied about Danny’s age. He was 2 years older than allowed. More recently, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team was stripped of its 2014 national title because tournament officials said the team’s coaches recruited from outside of the team’s geographical boundaries.
9. Steroids in Baseball
In 1998, it seemed like nothing could tarnish the game of baseball ever again. Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put hard feelings about the 1994 lockout in the past for good while chasing Roger Maris’ long-held home run record. But even as the nation was entranced with the 2, hard-to-ignore questions were raised about their new strength (and physiques). When Barry Bonds crushed McGwire’s record in 2001, it was difficult to celebrate as a new wave of steroid allegations were levied against Bonds and many other of the game’s superstars. A Congressional hearing, proof of steroid use by star Rafael Palmeiro, a book by Jose Conseco, a federal investigation of BALCO, and numerous suspensions followed. From the late 1990s to now, any player who hits the long ball will be associated with the steroid era, whether fairly or not.
8. Lance Armstrong Doping
His story was miraculous; a testicular cancer survivor goes on to win 7 Tour de France cycling races. Lance Armstrong got America interested in cycling for the first time in decades, and raised millions upon millions of dollars for cancer research through the Livestrong Foundation. During his amazing run, he never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, despite it being known that the sport was filled with “dopers”. In 2012 it came to light that Armstrong was in fact using drugs, and he was stripped of his 7 titles. He has since distanced himself from the Livestrong Foundation so as to not prevent the charity from continuing its good work.
7. NBA Ref Tim Donaghy Gambling
Every super fan experiences that moment when they believe the referees have money on the game, and therefore are not calling it fairly. In 2007, the NBA’s worst fears were confirmed when ref Tim Donaghy was discovered to have been gambling on games he was officiating. He was sentenced to 15 months in jail for conspiring with gamblers, and then went on to write a book accusing fellow referees of other inappropriate conduct.
6. College Basketball Point Shaving
Here’s aother case of being on top of the world one minute, then being taken down from that pedestal the next. In 1950, City College New York won the NIT and the NCAA Tournaments (it was possible to pull off the double-championship for a few years). In 1951, seven CCNY players were arrested for taking bribes from bookmakers, and eventually 32 players from 7 schools were indicted in a huge game-fixing scandal. Since the 1950’s there have been several other alleged point-shaving scandals, including Boston College in the 1970’s and University of San Diego in 2009-2010.
5. Salt Lake City Olympics
Call this the precursor to the recent FIFA scandal. Once an untouchable organization, with layers upon layers of bureaucracy, the International Olympic Committee was discovered to have taken bribes by the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee in 1998 to secure the 2002 Winter Olympics. Ten members of the IOC were expelled, and 10 more were sanctioned. Term- and age-limits for IOC membership were instituted, as well as the addition of former Olympic athletes to the board. Thinking the scandals were over before the opening ceremonies began, during the 2002 Games it was fairly obvious that the pairs’ figure skating competition was rigged. French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne was heard to have admitted being pressured to vote for the Russian pair over the Canadian pair, no matter what occurred on the ice. In the end, 2 pairs were awarded gold medals, and scoring in figure skating was amended.
4. Pete Rose Gambling
Baseball’s leading hitter of all time is not in the Hall of Fame because, as a manager, Pete Rose gambled on his team’s games. He denied the charges for 15 years after receiving a lifetime ban, but in an interview in 2004 he admitted what everyone already knew. As manager of the Cincinnati Reds, in 1989, “Charlie Hustle” bet on his teams and others around the league and was banished, followed by a short stint in prison for tax evasion.
3. FIFA Corruption
While roughly $1.5 million was exchanged under the table in the Olympics scandal, nearly $150 million has allegedly been doled out in the past 20 years to officials in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). While the US is prosecuting several FIFA officials for bribes taken for previous World Cup awards, the Swiss and the FBI are now looking into the awarding of the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. FIFA President Sepp Blatter stepped down a few short days after being reelected for his fifth term. Time Magazine has a great primer on the scandal here.
2. Chicago Black Sox
The original sports scandal, the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series in exchange for money from criminal elements. Eight players were involved, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and they were banished from baseball for life. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was notoriously cheap, and the players who participated in the fix received $20,000 for each of the 5 losses needed to throw the 9-game World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
1. Penn State Sexual Abuse
The local paper The Patriot-News broke the story in March 2011, and it quickly grew into a national scandal. The long-time defensive coordinator for the storied Penn State football program, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of sexually abusing children on multiple occasions. Allegations also surfaced that the iconic football coach Joe Paterno and university administration official had been aware of the abuse. Sandusky allegedly used his charity that helped less fortunate boys to groom his victims, and in some cases used Penn State facilities to commit the acts. Paterno was removed as coach, and passed away soon thereafter. Sandusky was arrested and convicted of assaulting multiple young men over decades. The school’s vice president, president, and athletic director were also convicted of lying to investigators. The school is still feeling repercussions from fines, sanctions, and the nightmare of being associated with Sandusky.
There are scandals in sports, and then there is scandalous behavior by sports stars. It can be as personal as
to altercations between fans and players in Detroit during
Athletes are not above the law, as demonstrated by
But the most scandalous of moments are often tragic. Athletes accused of, convicted of, or associated with murder include O.J. Simpson, Ray Lewis, Oscar Pistorius, Aaron Hernandez, and Carlton Dotson. Rather than being scandals for sports, these instances are serious crimes allegedly perpetrated by people who happened to play a game for a living.