Top 10 Professional Sports Scandals

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At their best, sports are a tribute to the human spirit and an honorable competition between two athletes or teams. At their worst, however, they can expose sports figures as unethical, filled with greed and willing to anything it takes to win. Here’s a look at the worst incidents in professional sports history. Keep in mind, however, that this list is dedicated solely to professional sports scandals, so you won’t see anything involving college sports, the Olympics or even Little League Baseball here.

10. Operation Slap Shot

In February 2006, professional hockey was rocked when New Jersey law enforcement officials uncovered a multi-million gambling ring involving former NHL player and then Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, as well as Janet Jones, the wife of the legendary Wayne Gretzky. Tocchet was one of three men accused of organizing a betting operation centering around NCAA football and the Super Bowl, but reportedly not hockey itself. In May 2007, Tocchet reached a plea bargain and was placed on two years of probation, and despite rumors to the contrary, no other NHL personnel were ever connected to the investigation, not even Gretzky.

9. NFL Players Gone Wild

When it comes to professional football scandals, there are simply too many to choose from. There’s former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and his dogfighting ring. There’s Pacman Jones and multiple off-the-field incidents. There’s the Cincinnati Bengals and the fact that members of the team were arrested 13 times between December 2005 and June 2007. There’s Tank Johnson and his weapon charges and DUI allegations, as well as Cedric Benson’s alcohol-related incidents. Is there any wonder why NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to institute a personal conduct policy?

8. Mike Tyson Rape Conviction

Mike Tyson has been at the center of many, many controversies during his career. After all, this is a man who once said he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’s children and bit the ear off of Evander Holyfield. However, no incident was as serious as Tyson’s 1992 conviction for the rape of Rhode Island native Desiree Washington. Washington accused Tyson of raping her in an Indianapolis hotel room in 1991, and after a lengthy trial, Tyson was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. He would serve only three before being released and returning to the boxing ring.

7. Pete Rose Bets on Baseball

It was in 1989 that baseball first questioned then Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose about rumors he had bet on baseball. He denied the charges in February, but new commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti hired a lawyer by the name of John Dowd to investigate Rose and the accusations against him. Dowd uncovered information that claimed Rose had bet on more than 50 Reds games in 1987 alone. Rose denied the allegations until August 1989, when he agreed to an indefinite ban from baseball. He has since admitted to betting on baseball and specifically on the Reds, and has applied for reinstatement to Major League Baseball, but remains banned from the game to this day. As it is, Rose is ineligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a controversial situation in and of itself that many fans and sports journalists feel should be rectified.

6. The Kobe Bryant Sexual Assault Case

During the summer of 2003, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Colorado woman. Bryant had been staying at a hotel in the Eagle, Colorado area in preparation for knee surgery when the incident took place. Charges were dropped after the accuser refused to testify, and a civil lawsuit was settled out of court. Bryant would later admit that he had indeed had sexual relations with the woman, but claimed that it was a consensual affair. As a result, Bryant lost several of his endorsement deals, including a lucrative one with fast food giant McDonalds. The Bryant case was voted the top sports story of 2003 by the Associated Press.

5. Tim Donaghy

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy set off a firestorm of controversy in 2007. That summer, an FBI investigation found that Donaghy had placed tens of thousands of dollars worth of bets on games that he officiated. Worse yet, he admitted that he made calls that affected the outcome of the game, so that he could manipulate the point spread and win his wagers. Donaghy also went on to say that he was not the only NBA referee involved in such behavior, and that the league themselves sometimes ordered officials to extend playoff series to help increase TV ratings and ticket sales. Commissioner David Stern has denied this charge, and while the furor surrounding this scandal has died down in recent months, it nonetheless called into question the integrity of an entire sports league.

4. Tour de France Doping Allegations

Doping scandals at the Tour de France date back to the early 1900s, but it was in 1998 that the first major doping scandal erupted, complete with hotel-room raids by French police and a sit-down strike by riders on the 17th stage. Stricter drug testing requirements followed, as well as the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Nonetheless, doping allegations remain a constant at the Tour de France, with seven-time former champion Lance Armstrong being a favorite target. Despite relentless accusations, Armstrong has never been found guilty of using illegal performance enhancers, although several others have, including Jan Ullrich and Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alexander Vinokourov and Cristian Moreni in 2007.

3. The Black Sox Scandal

The subject of the excellent book and movie Eight Men Out, the Black Sox Scandal involves the involvement of several members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox in a conspiracy to fix the World Series. As the legend goes, it was Sox first baseman Arnold Gandil who first came up with the idea to throw the Series, and used his underworld connections to set things up. He played on his teammates’ mutual distaste for Chicago owner Charles Comiskey. Gandil and seven other players (Eddie Cicotte, Oscar Felsch, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Fred McMullen, “Buck” Weaver, Charles Risberg and Claude “Lefty” Williams) were banned from baseball for their part in the fix, which led baseball owners to create the new office of Commissioner of Baseball to oversee league activities.

2. MLB and Steroids

From BALCO to the Mitchell Report and everything in between, baseball and steroid scandals have become inexorably linked. Several players, such as former stars Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti as well as Yankees DH Jason Giambi, admitted to using steroids during their careers. Several others, including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada, were named in the Mitchell Report, filed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell following a lengthy investigation. 500-home run hitter Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, while unsubstantiated allegations continue to surround all-time home run king Barry Bonds. There is no doubt that few scandals have has as much on a impact on a sport, both in perception as well as in reality, as the steroid scandal that has touched Major League Baseball.

1. The O.J. Simpson Trials

Never has a professional athlete fallen from such heights to such depths as O.J. Simpson has. Simpson, a former Heisman Trophy winner, a longtime NFL star running back and a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. In 1973, he became the first running back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. After his career was over, he became a football analyst, an actor and a commercial spokesman. Then, shockingly, he was arrested in 1994 and charged with the murder of former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The trial was one of the most publicized legal proceedings ever. Simpson was acquitted of the murder charges but was later found criminally liable for Goldman’s death by a civil jury. He and a co-defendant were also recently found guilty of multiple felony counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery. The former football star now faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Of course, by no stretch of the imagination could we include all of the major scandals to ever cast a pall over professional sports. Among those that were close, but just couldn’t make the cut, include the fixed fight between Jake LaMotta and Billy Fox in 1947, the Minnesota Viking’s Party Boat incident in 2005, the 2007 Formula One espionage scandal and, of course, the New England Patriots’ Spygate scandal. Any other notable sporting scandals you think should have been included on our list? Post your comments below and let us know about them!

by Chuck Bednar


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19 Comments

  1. For me the worst was Michael Vick and the atrocity of executing dogs and fighting dogs. I hope he suffers for all eternity.

    Another good list. I hadn't previously known of the Sox Scandal. Here in GB I believe this is a little known story!

  2. Jonathan Hopkins on

    I think that Pete Rose should be much higher on the list, at least number 4. And BritishBeauty, to desire that a man should suffer for eternity for his particular crime is a bit harsh, don't you think? There is no doubt that what he did was criminal, but to warrant the sentence you are advocating is unreasonable. As atrocious an act as it was, they were animals that he killed, not humans. I am certainly not excusing his acts, they were awful, but let us put a little perspective on it before we condemn a man.

  3. How about the Hanse Cronje betting scandal in cricket? The South African captain and devoted christian and role model (!) eventually admitted his role in match-fixing causing shock to millions of cricket fans around India, South Africa and the world. Equally shocking was his death in a plane crash shortly after.

    Also an investigation into Italian domestic soccer matches confirmed matches were fixed, with major clubs guilty of bribing referees.

    And just to be topical, Semenya winning the woman's 800m in Berlin when "she" is incredibly obviously a man will eventually be one of professional sport's greatest ever scandals.

  4. It may belong under 9. NFL Players Gone Wild, but how can you not mention Leonard Little's involuntary manslaughter conviction for killing Susan Gutweiler while driving drunk? This situation was even more noteworthy for the fact that he only spent 90 nights in jail on a work release program. Then six years this idiot gets arrested again for DUI!

    • Joshua Taylor on

      Yeah, the Hawks did get screwed over in the super bowl vs. The Steelers, totally matched on paper i do look at that game and scratch my head because Seattle was just as good as Pittsburgh, one good example of a scandel is the new orleans saints bounty scandel, they did get caught red handed. And now the fallout from it will affect the other teams in the league.

  5. Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver (both innocent) should be in the hall of fame Landis (racist) and Comiskey(cheap) should'nt.

  6. whattheheck on

    wait. how do ANY drug-related instances top fixed games? or gambling rings? of course nothing tops murder, and OJ deserves his own special list of "number one top stupidest former sports figure ever"…. but otherwise? the Black Sox, Tim Donaghy and his SCREWING of the whole 07 NBA season, good ol' Pete Rose (always a good bet, to lay money on yourself! talk about incentive to play your best….)…now those are scandals. drug use, eh. we know it is going to happen. steroids, doping, whatever. it's nothing new. and the rape/sexual assault scandals, yeah, they are scandalous but in the great scheme of things i really think the Black Sox are the top, followed by Timmy and Mr Rose.

  7. The Blackbird on

    In the years preceding the 1982 World Cup of soccer, Paolo Rossi was the finest striker in Italy. He played for Perugia, a middle of the pack Seria A team with whom he became the league's leading goal scorer. Like a lot of young athletes in the early 1980s, Rossi enjoyed the nightclubbing lifestyle his new wealth afforded and was eventually caught using cocaine. The World Cup was about a year away, but the league's governing body slapped Rossi with a two year suspension. As the WC approached, it became clear that no other Italian players had found their scoring touch and Italy's chances looked unpromising. Desperate for a goal scorer, the governing body lifted the suspension shortly before the tournament which Italy won. Rossi scored 6 goals to win the golden boot, including 3 against Brazil in the semifinal. I'd say it's scandalous when a league breaks its own policies.

  8. As a sports fan I'm outraged and saddened by these scandals. I personally want to see fair play in sports. I don't have to see records being broken. I also want the best athlete/team to win by playing within the rules.

  9. How about Formula 1’s “Crashgate”? The Renault team purposely put track marshals’ and spectators’ lives at risk by intentionally crashing a million dollar racing car to manipulate the outcome of a race. If you make another Top 10 Sports Scandals list, definitely include this one.

  10. Marion Jones is a bigger fall from grace than ‘Iron Mike’. She was vocally anti drugs but turned out to be a MASSIVE hypocrite. Surprised this didn’t make the list.

  11. Depakote Lawyer on

    I think this list is missing one of the biggest scandals in the world of sports ever, albeit a recent one, Tiger Woods! He is looking like his career as the best golfer in the world has come to an end, after being publicly caught in affairs with multiple other women.

  12. I have two scandals one that is omitted from your list and one that should really be taken under consideration. The omission was that of Alan Eagleson, the professional Hockey Agent who duped Bobby Orr out of owning the Boston Bruins. He was stripped of his being in the Hockey Hall of Fame and spent 18 months in a Canadian federal Penitentiary. The other is why Pete Rose has not been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. For God’s sake people. He had 4256 hits in his career. If you prorate that, it means a Baseball player would have to have 21 consecutive seasons of 200 hits plus another 56 to go along with that. I have gone to the point of boycotting any movie that stars the actor Paul Giamatti because his old man Bart was commissioner at that time. He subsequently died early and the job was replaced by that asshole Bud Selig. So long as Selig is commissioner of Baseball, Rose will never get the accolade of being in the Hall of Fame. Lets give some consideration to this people. Pete Rose should be required to be in the Hall of Fame !!!

  13. A ludicrous list, obviously written by someone who is only a casual sports fan.

    1. The O.J. Trial WAS NOT A SPORTS SCANDAL. O.J. Simpson was a retired athlete and media personality, and neither the crime nor his trial had anything to do with his former profession. The same is true for #6, #8, and #9 on this list, as none of them had anything to do with sports other than the fact that the people involved were athletes. Their transgressions would be exactly the same if they were plumbers.

    2. MLB’s steroid issue is nowhere near the biggest scandal in MLB history. The Black Sox gambling scandal nearly destroyed the sport. Ray Chapman’s death (a result of a now-illegal spitball to the head) was the ultimate price. The actions of Cap Anson and Kennesaw Mountain Landis kept black players from playing alongside whites for 60 years.

    Steroids? MLB actually got more popular as a result. Seriously: MLB revenue has gone up every year since 1995, and attendance went up every year from 1995 until the post-recession 2009 season.

  14. as much as i love these top ten articles the writers should try to add more variety as opposed to just american sports..i dnt thnk a sports related article is complete without atleast talking about football(soccer)which is arguably the most popular sport in the world for example for this article the juventus match fixing scandal of 06′ which led to their demotion to serie b should have been considered..

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