Match fixing. Doping. Assault. Gambling. Corruption. Adultery. In an industry where maintaining a squeaky clean image is tied directly to your earning potential, any one of the above can ruin an athlete’s career. This is especially true for superstars who earn much of their income through sponsorship deals. Athletes are only human, of course, and therefore not immune to temptation. Some are able to escape such incidents relatively unscathed, others not so much. Nothing, however, can wash away the damage done to one’s reputation.
Here are the top 15 sports scandals we’ll never forget.
15. Black Eye For White Sox
It was a plot that that shook the baseball world. In a match-fixing incident, which came to be known as the Black Sox Scandal, eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of intentionally trying to lose the World Series in 1919 against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for payouts from gamblers. The accused were Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg, George “Buck” Weaver, Claude “Lefty” Williams and the team’s star player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. The conspiracy led to the appointment of federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as Major League Baseball’s first Commissioner. One of his first acts in this role was to ban all eight players from playing professional baseball and from receiving any post-career accolades. This meant Jackson, who was one of MLB’s elite players at the time, was ineligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
14. Lance Not-So-Strong
Doping scandals had plagued cycling for quite some time, but no cyclist had as high a fall as Lance Armstrong. After years of allegations and even an inquiry by U.S. federal prosecutors, the seven-time Tour de France winner was suspended from competition in 2012 after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused him of doping and trafficking drugs based on blood tests and testimony from witnesses that included former teammates. Armstrong denied any wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent sanctions against him. The court ruled in favor of the USADA. Armstrong was banned from the sport, and all of his results after August 1, 1998, which included the Tour de France titles, were stripped from the record books. It wasn’t until the following year that Armstrong fessed up. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he admitted to using EPO, testosterone and to getting blood transfusions throughout much of his career, including all of his Tour de France wins.
13. Bryant case rocks NBA
One of the NBA’s biggest stars at the time, Kobe Bryant, was arrested in 2003 in connection with a sexual assault investigation. The complaint was filed by a hotel employee who accused the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard of raping her in his room. Bryant confessed to an adulterous encounter with the woman, but denied the sexual assault allegation. The charges were eventually dropped after the accuser refused to testify in court. A civil suit filed by the woman was settled out of court. Bryant issued an apology, acknowledging his accuser’s belief that the encounter wasn’t consensual, while maintaining his innocence. “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said.
12. Catch a Tiger by the Toe
A bizarre incident and a little (okay, a lot of) hanky panky led to the crumbling of an empire. Tiger Woods, the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes, and had a spotless reputation. He was on top of his game and had sponsors eating out of his hand. That all changed in 2009 after he crashed his car on his street, hitting a fire hydrant, a tree and some hedges. Speculation by the media about the crash led to Woods issuing a statement, calling the incident a “private matter.” That didn’t stop reporters from digging deeper. Days later, Us Weekly published a story about Woods, (who was married at the time) having a supposed mistress. He released a second statement, admitting to “transgressions” and apologizing to his fans. In the days that followed, more than a dozen women claimed to have had an affair with the world’s top golfer. In a third statement, Woods admitted to his adulterous behavior. He divorced his wife, Elin Nordegren, the following year. Sponsors dropped like flies. He was never the same golfer, and didn’t win a tournament again until 2012.
11. How Big Are Tom Brady’s Balls?
Deflategate was known for its longevity as a news story as much as it was for the controversy it caused. During their victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the New England Patriots allegedly purposely used under-inflated footballs on offensive plays. An under-inflated football is easier to grip and is therefore potentially easier to throw and catch. New England went on to win the game and subsequently the Super Bowl. After an investigation, the NFL suspended Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games, fined the team $1 million and took away two of their draft picks. But the scandal didn’t end there. The matter was brought before a federal court, which struck down Brady’s suspension, allowing him to play the entirety of the 2015 season. An appeals court, however, reinstated the punishment, and Brady missed the first four games of the 2016 season. It didn’t matter. New England won the Super Bowl again. At least we got one year of jokes about Brady and his balls.
10. Patriots? Cheaters? Never.
It seems the New England Patriots can’t stay out of trouble. Before Deflategate, there was Spygate. Head coach Bill Belichick and the Pats were disciplined by the NFL in 2007 for videotaping signals by New York Jets defensive coaches from the sidelines. Taping opposing coaches isn’t against the rules, per se, but must be done from designated areas. Recording from the sidelines isn’t allowed.As a result, Belichick was fined $500,000, the maximum allowed, which is the largest fine against any coach in league history. The team was also fined $250,000 and its first-round draft pick taken away.
9. FIFA corruption exposed
The world’s biggest governing soccer body, FIFA, had long been rumored to be rife with corruption. In May of 2015, 14 officials and associates of the organization were indicted in connection to an investigation (headed up by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation Division) into bribery, fraud and money laundering. The U.S. Attorney General also revealed that earlier guilty pleas were entered by four executives and two corporations. Simultaneous raids were conducted at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, and CONCACAF headquarters in Miami, Florida, on May 27, resulting in the arrests of FIFA officials. The investigation focused on collusion between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL and sports marketers, which allegedly included an estimated $150 million in bribes.
8. A Rose, Forever Tainted
Pete Rose is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. The three-time World Series champion and former NL MVP holds one of MLB’s most prestigious records: 4,256 career hits. But he will never be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Why? Rose was banned from baseball in 1989 after being accused of gambling on games while he was both a player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds, including making wagers on games his own team had played. He denied the accusations until 2004, when he finally confessed. He admitted to betting on games, including those involving the Reds, but claimed he never bet against them.
7. The Whack Heard ‘Round The World
Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were top of their class when it came to U.S. women’s figure skating as they headed into the 1994 world championships. An attack on Kerrigan at the event, however, nearly derailed her Olympic bid later that year. Following a practice session, Kerrigan was assaulted by a man with a club. As it turns out, Harding’s ex-husband (Jeff Gillooly) and her bodyguard (Shawn Eckhardt) hired the assailant (Shane Stant) to break Kerrigan’s leg and prevent her from competing in the Olympics in Lillehammer. Kerrigan was only bruised in the attack, and was able to recover in time for the Winter Games. She won the silver medal. Harding placed eighth. The matter ended up before the courts. In the end, Harding received three years’ probation, 500 hours of community service and was fined $160,000. The U.S. Figure Skating Association also banned Harding for life.
6. Bad Newz For Michael Vick
Known for his speed and mobility, Michael Vick wasn’t able to dodge the law after an elaborate dog fighting ring was discovered operating on property owned by the Atlanta Falcons quarterback in Virginia. The enterprise, known as Bad Newz Kennels, apparently abused and executed dogs who didn’t perform well. In July of 2007, Vick was indicted on federal and state charges. In a plea bargain, he admitted to financing the operation and participating in fights and executions. Vick served time in jail and was released in July of 2009. Although his reputation was forever tarnished, he was given a second chance to play football by the NFL, which had suspended him. He wound up resuming his career as starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles later that year.
5. Basketball’s official gambler
It was a scandal that shook the NBA and put the integrity of its officiating into question. Tim Donaghy, a referee for 13 seasons, retired in July 2007. A few weeks later, the New York Post reported the FBI was investigating allegations that an NBA ref had been betting on games that he was officiating and controlling the point spread. It was later revealed to be Donaghy, who had bet tens of thousands of dollars on games in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons and was part of a gambling scheme apparently set up by low-level mob associates who were also former high school classmates of his. Donaghy ended up pleading guilty to engaging in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to disclosing insider information he obtained as a referee to aid in wagering. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
4. Bio-Generate More Dingers
There have been a number of high-profile doping scandals in baseball, but perhaps none had more impact than the Biogenesis case. In January of 2013, the Miami New Times published documents obtained from an apparently disgruntled ex-employee of the rejuvenation clinic Biogenesis of America. The documents apparently showed the clinic’s actual purpose was the sale of performance-enhancing drugs, primarily a human growth hormone, and linked the company to MLB stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Bartolo Colon.
In total, 14 players were suspended by the league in July. Twelve were banished for 50 games. Braun was suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season, which had 65 games remaining. Rodriguez, who was the highest-paid player in MLB at the time, received the biggest punishment of them all; Originally suspended for the 2014 season, he was permitted to play in 2013 pending an appeal. A decision on the appeal was made during the off season, and Rodriguez was banned for all 162 regular-season games and the post-season in 2014.
3. These Are No Saints
Delivering big hits in football is one thing. Deliberately trying to injure opposing players is entirely different. Between 2009 and 2011, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams allegedly ran a bounty pool. Players would be paid bonuses if their hits knocked other players out of the game. They would also be “fined” if they made defensive mistakes. Payments increased during the playoffs and star players were specifically targeted.
After an investigation by the NFL in 2012, the league said it found irrefutable proof of a bounty scheme, Williams was suspended indefinitely (the ban was overturned the following year), head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games and assistant head coach, Joe Vitt, was suspended for six games. The team was also fined $500,000 and docked two second-round draft picks.
2. Penn State sex abuse scandal
In 2012, Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team, was convicted of multiple counts of child sex abuse. Many of his victims came through his charity, The Second Mile, which provided help for at-risk youth in Pennsylvania. The scandal broke out in 2011, when Sandusky was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation. He was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison, and maintained his innocence even after trial. It wasn’t just Sandusky who took the fall. An investigation commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees found that school president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, school vice-president Gary Schultz and long time head coach Joe Paterno were aware of allegations of sexual abuse by Sandusky as early as 1998. Curley and Paterno were subsequently fired. Spanier resigned. Originally, the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, issued a four-year playoff ban, reduced scholarship permissions and vacated all wins by the school’s football team from 1998-2011. All sanctions, with the exception of the fine, were repealed in 2014.
1. Trial Of The Century
It is without a doubt the biggest scandal involving an athlete in history. O.J. Simpson, former star NFL running back and Hollywood actor, was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. Simpson, who was asked to turn himself in, was arrested following a police chase. Apparently during the chase Simpson held a gun to his own head. Multiple television networks covered the chase, including NBC, which was simultaneously broadcasting an NBA playoff game between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.
The trial, which was televised, went on for 11 months. Simpson’s lawyers were able to convince the jury there was reasonable doubt about the DNA evidence presented in the case. He was found not guilty on both counts.