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5 Biggest Scandals in Sports History

We could very well be in the midst of one of the biggest scandals in sports history with this whole Houston Astros stealing signs situation. Over the next few days, we’re going to hear a lot of rumor and innuendo and a lot of commentary on what people think should happen to the Houston Astros.

“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t trying” is a quote I’ve heard many people say, most notably Richard Petty, Joe Montana, and the late great Eddie Guerrero. It seems many teams and organizations have taken that cliche to heart and seem to do whatever they can to get the W. So with that being said, I decided to take a look at some of the most notable sports scandals to have hit our worlds.

5. Spygate (2007)
New England Patriots

USA Today
The Accusation

In 2007, former Patriots’ assistant coach and then Jets’ Head Coach Eric Mangini, had gone to NFL security and told them that the New England Patriots were recording from the sidelines. It was reported that Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick had authorized his staff to record the Jets’ defensive signals from an unauthorized location, which was a violation of the league rules.

Two days later, Belichick issued a statement to “apologize to everyone who has been affected”, also stating he spoke to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about Belichick’s “interpretation of the rule”.

The Investigation

Belichick’s position was that he believed if the footage collected wasn’t used during the game, then it was completely legal. However in late 2006, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson sent a memorandum to all teams stating  “videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.”

On September 16th, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had ordered the Patriots to turn over all notes, tapes, and other materials related to the incident. Goodell also threatened that if the Patriots decided not to, they could face further discipline. On September 20th, the NFL announced they had received the requested materials and went on to destroy them. Goodell went on to reveal that there were 6 tapes from late in the 2006 season, to the 2007 preseason.

The Punishment

For the “use of equipment to videotape an opposing team’s offensive or defensive signals”, Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, which was the largest fine ever imposed on a coach in the leagues 87-year history, and was also the maximum permitted under league rules. The Patriots organization itself was fined $250,000 and was stripped of their first-round selecting in the 2008 NFL Draft.

4. Deflategate (2014)
New England Patriots

New York Times
The Accusation

Going into halftime, the New England Patriots led the Indianapolis Colts 17-7. After the second-half kickoff, the officials replaced the 12 balls that were used in the first half, with 12 backup balls. The following day, KTHR Colts reporter Bob Kravits sent out a tweet that said the Patriots were to be investigated for reportedly deflating footballs.

Shortly after, Newsday reported the Indianapolis Colts players noticed something unusual after Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a ball in the second quarter. Jackson reportedly gave the ball to a member of the Colts equipment staff, who notified coach Chuck Pagano that the ball seemed underinflated.

The Investigation

On January 20th of 2015, ESPN Chris Mortensen reported that 11 of the 12 footballs that were used in the first half were “significantly under-inflated”, and the league was looking into it. Brady responded to the allegations saying, “I didn’t alter the ball in any way”, but had said he had not talked to the NFL yet.

FoxSports later reported that league investigators interviewed a Patriots’ locker room attendant who was seen on surveillance footage, taking the footballs from the referee’s locker room, into another room in Gillette Stadium, before bringing them out onto the field. It was also later reported that the attendant was captured carrying two bags of balls into the bathroom, and exiting the bathroom 90 seconds later.

On May 6th, 2015 the Wells report was released and stated the NFL found it “more probable than not” that Patriots personnel “deliberately deflated footballs” during the AFC Championship Game. The report also stated that quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” of the rules violations.

Evidence such as text messages between equipment assistant John Jastremski and locker room manager Jim McNally implicated Brady, and Wells said that Brady refused to provide him with his own emails, texts, or phone records. However, using Jastremski’s phone, Wells was able to find an increase in frequency of phone calls and texts between Brady and the equipment assistant shortly after suspicions had gone public.

The Punishment

Tom Brady was suspended for four games, and the New England Patriots were fined $1M and were forced to surrender two draft picks: a first-round pick in 2016, and a fourth-round pick in 2017. The Patriots, shortly after issued a lengthy rebuttal of the Wells report, saying the report’s conclusions were “incomplete, incorrect, and lack context”. 

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) announced that Brady would appeal his suspension, however said Goodell was to preside over the appeal, which the NFLPA did not want due to them planning on calling Goodell as a witness. Goodell did not recuse himself in the end.

Kraft later said the team was accepting the league’s punishment, but Brady was still appealing his suspension. Brady’s appeal took place on June 23rd, 2015, and five days later the NFL announced Brady’s suspension will not be reduced. Brady filed for an appeal in the Second Circuit U.S Court of Appeals and was denied. In July of 2016, Brady announced he wouldn’t appeal his suspension to the U.S. Supreme Court.

3. Mitchell Report (2006)
Major League Baseball

ESPN
The Accusation

In 2006, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig appointed former Senate Majority Leader, federal prosecutor, and ex-chairman of Walt Disney George Mitchell, to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in MLB.

During this time, investigative reporters Lance Willaims and Mark Fainaru-Wada had written a book called Game of Shadows, which chronicled alleged extensive use of PEDs including different types of steroids. In the book, names such a Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield were named. Selig appointed Mitchell after members of the U.S. Congress made negative comments about the effectiveness of MLB’s drug policy.

The Investigation

The Mitchell investigation focused on high-profile players without focusing on the role teams played. Mitchell had reported that the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) was “largely uncooperative”. According to Mitchell, the MLBPA discouraged players from cooperating with the investigation.

Former batboy and New York Mets clubhouse employee Kirk Radomski provided most of the names that the public did not know about. Brian McNamee was a personal trainer for notable players such as Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Chuck Knoblauch and was a former strength coach for the Yankees and Blue Jays. The report alleged that McNamee helped acquire PEDs for some or all of the players he personally trained. McNamee also admitted that he began injecting Clemens with steroids in 1998 through 2001.

Mitchell reported that during the random testing in 2003, 5 to 7 percent of players tested positive for steroid use. Players on the forty-man roster of major league teams were exempt from testing until 2004. According to the report, after mandatory random testing began in 2004, HGH became the substance of choice for players due to it not being detectable in tests. 

The report also noted that at least one player from each of the 30 MLB teams was involved in the alleged violations. In all, 89 former and current MLB players were named in the report including names such as Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Gagne.

The Punishment

While MLB didn’t necessarily punish players named specifically, the Mitchell report changed the way MLB handled drug testing. Following the reports, players and owners adopted Mitchell’s recommendations that the drug program’s Independent Program Administrator be appointed for a multiyear term, be removed only in narrow circumstances and issue annual public records. 

Even years after the Mitchell report, MLB continues to find ways to strengthen its drug testing. In  2012, Players and owners then agreed to add HGH blood testing during spring training, during the offseason, and for reasonable cause. In 2013, the players and owners then announced they agreed to HGH blood testing throughout the regular season, and to have the World Anti-Doping Agency laboratory in Quebec, keep records for each player.

In 2014, players and owners announced penalties will increase to 80 games for a first testing violation, and 162 games for a second and a season-long suspension will result in a complete loss of that year’s salary.

2. Bountygate (2009-2011)
New Orleans Saints

ESPN
The Accusation

Strap in folks, this one is a little long. Following the New Orleans Saints win over the Minnesota Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, several Vikings players and coaches made claims that the Saints were deliberately trying to hurt Vikings’ quarterback Brett Favre.

According to reports, the Vikings were particularly angered when Saints defensive end Bobby McCray and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele hit Favre with a high-low hit. The hit briefly knocked Favre out of the game with an ankle injury, and even though no penalty was thrown on the play, NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira said it was the “type of hit we don’t want”.

Vikings coach Brad Childress had stated he found 13 instances where he believed the Saints deliberately tried to injure Favre. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf even complained to the league about what took place, however, no action was taken at the time. Favre’s agent Bus Cook had later said he felt the Saints were trying to knock Favre out of the game, and also said that several hits on Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner crossed a line as well.

The Investigation

It was later found out the Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Willaims put together a system where players and coaches would pool money into a “slush fund”, and would pay players for injuring certain players on opposing teams.

Payouts were reported to be as little as $100 for pinning a kick returner inside the 20-yard line, to $1,000, $1,500 or $2,000 for knocking a player out of a regular-season game, and as much as $10,000 for knocking a player out of a playoff game. It was later reported that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had offered $10,000 to any player who knocked Favre out of the NFC Championship game.

Former Defensive Assistant Mike Cerullo had made an anonymous tip led to the NFL investigating in 2010, however, it wasn’t until 2012 that the league announced they knew it was Williams who was behind the bounty scandal. It was also learned that head coach Sean Payton not only knew about the scandal but tried to cover it up once the NFL began investigating. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis failed to shut down the program, despite orders from the Saints owner, Tom Benson.

The investigation led to the NFL finding out Favre was not the only target, and Bountygate wasn’t just one year. Kurt Warner was targeted during the 2009 playoffs, as well as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck during the 2011 season.

It was also reported that Head Coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, assistant head coach and linebackers coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and sports agent Michael Ornstein were all involved in the program.

The Punishment

Roger Goodell wasn’t playing around with this. He wanted to show that this kind of behavior was not going to fly and would not happen again. The ringleader, Gregg Williams, was suspended indefinitely and wasn’t eligible to appeal until after the 2012 season. Williams was defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams at the time.

He would return in 2013 and would become a senior assistant defensive coach for the Tennessee Titans. Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season and he became the first head coach in modern NFL history to be suspended for any reason.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 regular season. Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season and would serve as interim head coach once he returned, while Payton served his suspension.  The Saints organization was fined $500,000, the maximum fine allowed under the league constitution. The team also had to forfeit their 2012 and 2013 second-round picks. 

As for the players involved, on May 2nd, 2012, the NFL suspended Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove for 8 games, defensive end Will Smith for 4 games, linebacker Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland) was suspended for 3 games. However, the players’ suspensions were overturned by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who Goodell appointed to head their appeals.

1. Black Sox Scandal (1919)
Chicago White Sox

New York Times
The Accusation

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, was notably taking advantage of the reserve clause, which was a clause that said if a player rejects a contract from his team, he could not play professional baseball for another team. This led to Comiskey underpaying his players, which in turn led to them looking for other ways to make money.

The idea of the fix started when two gamblers, William Burns and Billy Mahrag went up to two White Sox players about the idea. The two players were pitcher Eddie Cicotte, and first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil. Gandil and Cicotte agreed to the fix, and even brought in other players, which included Lefty Williams, Buck Weaver, and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

After losing game one and game two of the 1919 World Series, Gandil demanded the gamblers pay them. Gandil demanded $40,000, but was only given $10,000. After this, the players began to think they were being tricked and started to play the game for real. The White Sox won game 3, but reports say the players were paid $20,000 after the game, and were promised another $20,000 to continue the fix.

After losing games 4 and 5 yet still receiving no money, the White Sox attempted to doublecross the gamblers. After winning games 6 and 7, threats were made to the players and the player’s families, the White Sox lost game 8, losing the World Series.

The Investigation

After the World Series, many newspapers ran articles about the game being fixed. Later in 1920, a Cook County jury was looking into reports that the Cubs had purposely lost to the Phillies. That investigation spread to the 1919 World Series, while new baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis was hired.

After gambler Bill Mahrag went public with an account of his involvement, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte admitted to their guilt in front of a grand jury. Over the next few days, players Lefty Williams and Oscar Felsch admitted their guilt as well.

The Punishment

In October of 1920 Gandil, Cicotte, Felsch, and Jackson, along with Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams were indicted on nine counts of conspiracy. The players were destroyed by the media for “selling out baseball”.

The players actually coasted through their trial due to all the paper records relating to their grand jury confessions vanishing. Many believe that Comiskey and gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein arranged for the papers to be stolen. The players involved, now dubbed “The Black Sox” were found not guilty on August 2, 1921.

Although they were found not guilty, commissioner Kenesaw Landis banned all 8 of the players from the game of baseball. Some of the players attempted to get reinstated, but Landis made sure that none of them succeeded, and none of them ever stepped foot on a baseball field again.

If you made it this far, congratulations! These scandals were a huge part of sports and changed the way the leagues involved operated. You can find so many other smaller scandals that may have done more damage, but these are 5 of the most prolific scandals in sports history.

Featured Photo Source: Pablo Martinez Monsivais – Associated Press

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