Special Report

Scandals That Rocked the Sports World

Pool / Getty Images

We think of sports as a refuge from the stress of the everyday. Yet even in sports, the worst of the real world can intervene.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which players on the Chicago White Sox, in cahoots with underworld figures, rigged the World Series. To mark the anniversary of perhaps the most famous sports scandal in history, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of scandals that have rocked the sports world. We created our list from reports from sources such as ESPN, CNN, and The New York Times.

Click here to see the scandals that rocked the sports world

Scandals have roiled amateur and professional past-times since sports became part of the fabric of American society, with incidents including point shaving, doping, bribery, betting, judges altering votes, sexual indiscretions, physical altercations, sexual assault, and even homicide. These are the worst corruption scandals in each state.

College basketball has been plagued by periodic point-shaving transgressions for about 70 years, and overzealous boosters have made payments to college football players. Doping scandals have tainted track and field and professional bicycling. Olympic competitions were stained by judges taking bribes to alter results. Betting and drug abuse have damaged the reputation of Major League Baseball, while uncontrolled violence has marred professional football and hockey. These are among the most talked about scandals of the decade.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1. Thorpe stripped of Olympic medals
> Sport: Olympic Games
> When it happened: 1913
> Who was involved: Jim Thorpe, International Olympic Committee

Jim Thorpe was one of the first American athletes mythologized by sportswriters and fans for his athletic prowess in all sports. The Native American became the first person to win both the pentathlon and the decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. A year later, an investigation by the Amateur Athletic Union discovered that Thorpe had played semi-professional baseball in 1909 and 1910 that should have disqualified him from Olympic competition. He was stripped of his medals. It would take almost 70 years, and almost 30 years after his death, before Thorpe’s medals were restored in 1982.


Source: APA / Getty Images

2. 1919 Black Sox scandal
> Sport: MLB
> When it happened: 1919
> Who was involved: Members of White Sox, gamblers

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the notorious Black Sox scandal in which members of the heavily favored Chicago White Sox fixed the 1919 World Series to lose to the Cincinnati Reds. Rigging games had been going on in baseball for decades, but the fixed World Series was such an egregious attack on the integrity of the game that team owners created a commissioner’s office to crack down on corruption. They named Kennesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner. The iron-fisted ex-federal judge had a reputation for battling corporations. He banned eight White Sox players from baseball for life for their involvement with gamblers.

Source: Daily News

3. CCNY point shaving
> Sport: College basketball
> When it happened: 1951
> Who was involved: CCNY, Kentucky, various schools

City College of New York became in 1950 the only college at the time to have won both the National Invitation and NCAA Basketball tournament championships in the same year. But a year later, the school’s reputation was besmirched after players from the team were indicted for their role in fixing games by intentionally holding down the score. CCNY was not alone — players from three other New York colleges were indicted, and the wide-ranging probe into point shaving eventually pulled in players from Kentucky and Bradley University as well. The point-shaving scandals tainted college basketball for years.

Source: Photo by Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

4. Molinas point-shaving scandal
> Sport: College basketball
> When it happened: 1961
> Who was involved: Jack Molinas, players from 22 colleges

Point-shaving scandals continued to haunt college basketball in 1961, when 37 players from 22 colleges were arrested in connection with the misconduct. The schools involved included Columbia, St. John’s, New York University, North Carolina State, and Connecticut. Fixers Jack Molinas, an All-American basketball player at Columbia, and Joe Hacken, who had been involved in earlier college point-shaving transgressions, that affected 476 players in 43 games from 1957 to 1961. The point-shaving scheme also included direct involvement of organized crime.


Source: YouTube

5. Boston College point shaving
> Sport: College basketball
> When it happened: 1978-79
> Who was involved: Boston College players, organized crime

The Boston College point-shaving scandal in 1978-79 was referenced in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas” and was the subject of an ESPN documentary “Playing for the Mob.” BC players Ernie Cobb, Richard Kuhn, and Jim Sweeney were named by mob associate Henry Hill for their role in the scheme. Kuhn was the only player convicted, and was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Source: David Madison / Getty Images

6. Rosie Ruiz cheating
> Sport: Track and Field
> When it happened: 1980
> Who was involved: Rosie Ruiz

Rosie Ruiz made winning the 1980 Boston Marathon look easy. Maybe too easy. The 26-year-old New Yorker had barely broken a sweat upon completing the 26-mile course in just over 2½ hours. Race officials were skeptical of the achievement, and competitors were as well, since they could not remember her running in the race. Days later, witnesses said they saw Ruiz jump into the race one mile from the finish. Eventually, she was disqualified. Ruiz had used similar tactics when she competed in the New York Marathon, taking the subway instead of running the race.


Source: chapcavi / Flickr

7. MLB players drug use
> Sport: MLB
> When it happened: 1980s
> Who was involved: MLB players

Drug use in Major League Baseball was a problem during the 1970s, but the scandal involving the Pittsburgh Pirates in the mid-1980s was the most serious episode to that point. Dale Shiffman, a freelance photographer, and Kevin Koch, who was the Pirates mascot, a parrot, were the cocaine connection for two-thirds of the Pirates’ 25-man roster, according to an interview Shiffman did later for HBO. The resulting trial led to the disclosure of drug use among many marquee players in the game.

Source: Brian Harkin / Getty Images

8. SMU pays football players
> Sport: College football
> When it happened: 1987
> Who was involved: SMU football team

Southern Methodist University had been a powerhouse in college football in the early 1980s, led by the so-called “Pony Express,” running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The school was undefeated in 1982 and was second in the nation. But that success came crashing down in 1986 when it was found that SMU had violated recruiting rules for 16 years. The school got the so-called “death penalty” from the NCAA in 1987 — or repeat violators rule — and was forbidden to play football that season, and the 1988 season was canceled because of a lack of players. The impact of the penalty on the program would be felt for years afterward.

Source: Steve Grayson / Getty Images

9. Boxer robbed of gold medal
> Sport: Olympic Games
> When it happened: 1988
> Who was involved: Roy Jones Jr., Park Si-hun, Olympic boxing judges

American middleweight boxer Roy Jones Jr. had breezed through preliminary contests during the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He was seemingly on his way to a gold medal in his bout with South Korean fighter Park Si-hun, who took two standing eight counts during the fight and was being pummeled by Jones. Yet three out of five judges scored the fight in favor of Park Si-hun. The absurdity of the verdict was underscored by the fact that Jones would later be awarded a trophy as the outstanding fighter of the Seoul Olympiad. Jones would eventually become a world champion. It was eventually discovered that the host nation was involved with bribing the judges at multiple events, including boxing. The episode led to the introduction of an electronic scoring system at the Olympics.


Source: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

10. East German doping
> Sport: Olympic Games
> When it happened: 1974-1989
> Who was involved: East German athletes

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the eventual dissolution of East Germany, it was revealed — and what many in the West had long suspected — that the formerly communist nation had conducted a state-run doping program to win championships in sports. The program was begun in 1974 under the auspices of East Germany’s sports federation. Female athletes were given untested steroids and male hormones without their knowledge. The results were stunning, particularly at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, when East Germany’s women’s swimming team won 11 of 13 events. Some women paid a high price for steroid use, with terrible side effects such as liver and heart disease, depression, infertility, miscarriages, and even death.

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

11. Pete Rose betting
> Sport: MLB
> When it happened: 1989-1990
> Who was involved: Pete Rose

Pete Rose, MLB’s all-time hit leader and a shoo-in for baseball’s Hall of Fame, was permanently banned from baseball by then-league president Bart Giamatti for betting on baseball games. Rose never admitted his guilt until 2010, on the 25th anniversary of his breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record.


Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

12. Steinbrenner seeks dirt on Winfield
> Sport: MLB
> When it happened: 1990
> Who was involved: George Steinbrenner, Dave Winfield

One of MLB’s more sordid chapters involved New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, player Dave Winfield, and gambler Howard Spira. Steinbrenner, who wanted to get rid of Winfield, a free agent, hired Spira to dig up dirt on the player in January of 1990. Eventually, MLB found out and Steinbrenner was banned from the game for consorting with a known gambler, though he was allowed to return. Winfield would be traded to the California Angels, and Spira would serve 22 months in jail.

Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images

13. Attack on Nancy Kerrigan
> Sport: Figure skating
> When it happened: 1994
> Who was involved: Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly

Figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tony Harding were competing for spots on the American Olympic team in 1994 in Detroit when a man hit Kerrigan in the back of her knee with a club, sidelining the Olympic hopeful with an injury. That helped Harding make the Olympic team. Later it was discovered that Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hired the man who hit Kerrigan. Harding initially denied her involvement, then changed her story, saying she learned about Gillooly’s involvement in the bizarre incident after the Olympic trials but did not tell the authorities.

The U.S. Olympic Committee tried to keep Harding off the team but failed, and both she and Kerrigan competed. Kerrigan won a silver medal and Harding finished eighth. Harding eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy. She was fined $100,000 and performed community service.

Source: Pool / Getty Images

14. Simpson homicide, memorabilia theft
> Sport: NFL
> When it happened: 1994-1995, 2007
> Who was involved: O.J. Simpson, Nicole Simpson, Ron Goldman

In 1995, football and movie star O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, a friend of Nicole Simpson, in a verdict that divided the nation along racial lines. Though Simpson was acquitted, his image and career were permanently damaged. He would run afoul of the law in 2007 when he was convicted of robbery and kidnapping following an incident in a Las Vegas hotel in which he tried to retrieve personal sports memorabilia.


Source: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

15. Sandusky sexual assault
> Sport: College football
> When it happened: 1994-2012
> Who was involved: Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, underage boys

One of college football’s worst scandals exploded in 2011, when it was revealed that Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually molested 10 underage boys over a period of at least 15 years. The culpability of the university was called into question. Storied head football coach Joe Paterno was fired and died in disgrace in January 2012. Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child abuse and other charges and was sentenced to no fewer than 30 years in prison. In July 2012, the NCAA announces a $60 million fine against Penn State and banned the team from the postseason for four years.

Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

16. Ray Lewis murder probe
> Sport: NFL
> When it happened: 2000
> Who was involved: Ray Lewis

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with two counts of murder following a brawl outside of an Atlanta nightclub following the Super Bowl in 2000. Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against two of his companions that night, who were eventually acquitted. Lewis was sentenced to a year of probation, and the NFL fined him $250,000 for “conduct detrimental to the league.” Lewis was dogged by the incident and received death threats. But he continued to play and worked to rehabilitate his image. Lewis eventually earned a place in football’s Hall of Fame.


Source: Getty Images / Getty Images

17. Bobby Knight grabs player
> Sport: College basketball
> When it happened: 2000
> Who was involved: Bobby Knight, Indiana University players

Volatile basketball coach Bobby Knight had many run-ins with players, referees, police, and the media over the years. His success at Indiana University had sustained him — he won three national championships at the school — but that would not save him in 2000. That was when a video surfaced of the Hoosiers coach grabbing a player by the neck during practice that became a basis for an ESPN documentary. IU officials took on the university icon who had bullied school officials over the years and still enjoyed widespread support from the student body. Knight was eventually fired.

Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

18. BALCO drug scandal
> Sport: MLB, NFL, boxing, track and field
> When it happened: 2002-2015
> Who was involved: Various athletes, BALCO

BALCO, which stands for Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, supplied steroids to athletes such as MLB player Barry Bonds, football player Bill Romanowski, boxer Shane Mosley, and Olympic track and field star Marion Jones. The BALCO scandal emerged as a result of two independent investigations: federal agents in California looking into laboratory co-operative, and a probe by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice, a decision that was later overturned. Jones was sentenced to six months in prison for lying to federal prosecutors.

Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

19. Todd Bertuzzi hit
> Sport: NHL
> When it happened: 2004
> Who was involved: Todd Bertuzzi, Steve Moore

Vancouver Canucks hockey player Todd Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to criminal assault causing bodily harm and was sentenced to one year of probation and community service and suspended by the NHL after attacking Steve Moore from the Colorado Avalanche during a game on March 8, 2004. Bertuzzi claimed Vancouver coach Mark Crawford targeted Moore after the Avalanche player hit Canucks captain Markus Naslund in a prior game.


Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

20. USC sports scandal
> Sport: College football
> When it happened: 2004-2010
> Who was involved: Reggie Bush, Coach Pete Carroll, Tim Floyd

The USC sports program suffered a black eye in 2010, when the NCAA issued sanctions against the school for providing improper benefits such as money for the family to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. USC was hit with a two-year bowl ban, four years’ probation, loss of scholarships, and had to vacate its 2004 national championship. As a result of the indiscretions, university athletic director Mike Garrett lost his job. Football coach Pete Carroll and basketball coach TIm Floyd had already left USC when the scandal was revealed.

Source: Sara D. Davis / Getty Images

21. Duke lacrosse rape claim
> Sport: College lacrosse
> When it happened: 2006
> Who was involved: Duke lacrosse players, coach, stripper, prosecutor

Three members of Duke University’s highly rated lacrosse team were accused by a stripper of raping her at a team party. The stripper’s story was eventually discredited but not before Coach Mike Pressler lost his job. The three accused players were thought to have gotten $20 million each in a confidential settlement with Duke. Former prosecutor Michael Nifong’s overzealousness in the case got him disbarred, and he had to serve 24 hours for criminal contempt.


Source: Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images

22. Michael Vick dog fighting
> Sport: NFL
> When it happened: 2007
> Who was involved: Michael Vick

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick nearly scuttled his professional football career after pleading guilty over his involvement in dogfighting. Many of the dogs that were prodded into fighting suffered serious injuries, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vick was suspended indefinitely by the NFL and served 19 months in prison. Although he was contrite over his involvement, Vick was reviled by many members of the public and he never restored his reputation after he returned to the NFL.

Source: Andrew Redington / Getty Images

23. Tiger Woods infidelity
> Sport: Golf
> When it happened: 2009
> Who was involved: Tiger Woods, Elin Nordegren

By 2009, Tiger Woods was on his way to claiming the distinction as the greatest golfer of all time. Then, in November, reports surfaced in supermarket tabloids about an alleged affair between him and a nightclub promoter. Days later, Woods’ wife reportedly attacked his car with a golf club after an argument over the affair. Soon, other women came forward about other indiscretions involving Woods, who apologized for the infidelities on his website and announced he was taking a break from the golf tour. Sponsors abandoned Woods, whose marriage would eventually dissolve. Woods would later check into a clinic to be treated for sex addiction. After years of setbacks related to injuries, Woods accomplished one of the greatest comebacks ever in sports by winning the Masters in 2019.

Source: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

24. Bountygate
> Sport: NFL
> When it happened: 2009-2012
> Who was involved: New Orleans Saints players, coaches

An NFL investigation found that defensive players for the New Orleans Saints were awarded bonus money for intentionally injuring opposing players. Team members and Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, put the money together for bonuses in a scandal that became known as “bountygate.” The NFL fingered players Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, and Will Smith as the ringleader,s and all were suspended for various numbers of games.


Source: Rick Diamond / Getty Images

25. Brett Favre sexting
> Sport: NFL
> When it happened: 2010
> Who was involved: Brett Favre

In one of the more cringeworthy incidents of the last decade, quarterback Brett Favre, playing for the New York Jets, was snagged sending dirty texts as well as photos of his private parts to a woman who worked with the Jets. Favre was fined $50,000 for his failure to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation.

Source: Handout / Getty Images

26. Lance Armstrong doping
> Sport: Cycling
> When it happened: 2012
> Who was involved: Lance Armstrong

After denying that he used performance-enhancement drugs for years, bicycler Lance Armstrong admitted, during a January 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey, that he cheated. The International Cycling Union stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles for doping in 2012. There were reports that Armstrong had failed drug tests and succeeded in covering them up. There were also claims that Armstrong strong-armed other U.S. bicyclists into taking the drugs while he was leading the U.S. Tour de France team from 1999 to 2005.


Source: Jared Wickerham / Getty Images

27. Aaron Hernandez murder
> Sport: NFL
> When it happened: 2013
> Who was involved: TE Aaron Hernandez

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was becoming one of the most dominant offensive players in the NFL when he was arrested for his involvement in the homicide of Odi Lloyd, whose body was found a half-mile from Hernandez’ home in Massachusetts in 2013. Hernandez was eventually found guilty of murder and received a life sentence. He commited suicide in jail in 2017. It was later discovered that he was suffering some from the degenerative brain disease CTE that is associated with trauma suffered from playing football.

Source: Ricardo Stuckert / Wikimedia Commons

28. FIFA officials suspended
> Sport: Soccer
> When it happened: 2013
> Who was involved: Soccer bosses Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini

A corruption scandal at FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, led to the eight-year suspension of soccer executives Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Though they were not found guilty of corruption charges, FIFA’s ethics committee said the two were guilty of conflicts of interest. A FIFA appeals committee in 2016 reduced the suspension term to six years from eight.

Source: Photo by Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

29. Russia doping scandal
> Sport: Olympic Games
> When it happened: 2014
> Who was involved: Russian athletes

A doping scandal involving Russian athletes led to the team being banned from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The scandal broke in late 2014, when a German documentary said 99% of the Russian athletes were involved in doping. In May 2016, a whistleblower in Russia said Russian athletes were guilty of doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in Russia.

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