There have been some gigantic scandals throughout the history of sports, and the 21st century has not been immune to the scandalous happenings that can circle around the world of athletics. When rating the biggest sports scandals of this century, the nature of the illegal act, the media coverage it got, and its impact on the sports world all must be considered. Thus, some big names or horrible acts do not rate quite as high because they may be lacking in one of those areas. Still, the following list offers a look at the 21st century most scandalous sports stories.
15 Tom Brady Deflategate
The New England Patriots are no strangers to controversy. However, most of the suspicions of the franchise playing loose with the rules have focused on its micro-managing coach Bill Belichick. What made Deflategate different was the finger for wrongdoing was pointed squarely at New England’s future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. In the midst of trouncing the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, Indianapolis personnel noticed that some of the footballs the Patriots’ offense used seemed underinflated. This supposedly would give New England an advantage in the cold weather the game was contested in.
14 Danny Almonte Little League World Series
Danny Almonte, a thought-to-be 12-year old playing for the Bronx’s Rolando Paulino All Stars, was perhaps the most talked about name in baseball during the summer of 2001. Almonte was an unhittable pitcher that was sending opposing batters back to the dugout faster than a sudden rain storm. He struck out 86 percent of the batters he faced in three Little League World Series games with one perfect game. Almonte’s team finished as the U.S. runner-up, but won every game he pitched.
13 FIFA Corruption
12 Barry Bonds BALCO
Even before any credible discussion linked Barry Bonds’ name to performance enhancing drugs, some baseball followers speculated that the Major League’s all-time and single season homerun king may have had a little chemical boost. After hitting 40 homeruns in a season just three times over his first 14 years in the majors, Bonds started the 21st century with five straight seasons of more than 45 homeruns, including his record 73 in 2001. A probable Hall of Fame player before his surge in homers, Bonds became outright scary with his newfound power.
11 Kobe Bryant Colorado Case
While looking back at what Kobe Bryant achieved in his basketball career, it is hard to believe that at one point early in his career his playing future was in jeopardy. With three NBA Titles under his belt, the then soon-to-be 25-year old looked to have minor knee surgery in Colorado after a disappointing NBA Finals loss to Detroit. A worker at the hotel where Bryant stayed before the surgery accused the Los Angeles Laker of sexually assaulting her. Bryant admitted to consensual sex, but denied the rape.
10 Salt Lake City Olympic Figure Skating Judges
When figure skating dominates the news cycle, it is usually either for a super performer or a super scandal. The latter was the case in 2002 during the Salt Lake City Winter Games. In the pair skating competition, the Russian team of Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya edged the Canadian duo of David Pelletier and Jamie Sale for the Gold Medal, causing outrage from some of those broadcasting the event on T.V.
9 Reggie Bush, USC, and Agents
In the mid 2000s, no college football team had the aura of USC. Pete Carroll had built the latest rendition of the Trojan dynasty, and his players received notoriety that possibly made some NFL stars jealous. Chief among Carroll’s stars at USC was his elusive running back Reggie Bush. Bush’s highlight-reel runs helped USC win the 2003 AP National Title and 2004 AP and BCS Title, as well as helping him win the 2005 Heisman Trophy.
8 Aaron Hernandez Murder Case
Likely lost in the on-field dominance of the New England Patriots is that their last Super Bowl win after the 2014 season came without one player who was supposed to be a key cog in their offense throughout the decade of the teens. That player is Aaron Hernandez, and the reason the former tight end will not suit up for New England ever again is he is serving life in prison for murder. Hernandez averaged 58 receptions and six touchdowns over his three NFL seasons, and served as a great complement to fellow tight end and 2010 draft pick Rob Gronkowski.
7 Michael Vick Dog Fighting
It is challenging to find another athlete as polarizing as Michael Vick was during his heyday as quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. Super-fast with an amazing arm, Vick played the quarterback position like nearly no signal caller before in history and certainly like no contemporary. However, it was Vick’s fall that made his name even more synonymous with being a lightning rod for controversy. Headed into his seventh NFL season, Vick became a target of a federal investigation into dog fighting. Vick denied any such involvement, but public discussion continued to be heated as the investigation continued.
6 Jameis Winston Assault Accusation
In 2013, Jameis Winston took the college football world by storm. The redshirt freshman was the starting quarterback for the undefeated and highly visible Florida State Seminoles. After impressing with his play and personality, even those who did not like Winston or Florida State, likely would have loved having him as their team’s quarterback.
5 Duke Lacrosse Assault Charges
Lacrosse is another sport that does not come up in mainstream discussion that often. That, of course, is unless something scandalous off the field of play happens, and that was certainly the case in 2006 when members of the Duke University lacrosse team were charged with rape. Although only three players were charge with the rape of a stripper, the Blue Devils 2006 season was cancelled and their head coach resigned. The first reporting of the case sparked an intense national debate that went way beyond sports.
4 Jerry Sandusky Penn State Child Abuse Case
Though the Jerry Sandusky saga first commanded national headlines in 2011, the investigation into the former Penn State assistant coach’s illicit activities involving children went back a couple of years and those activities stretched back even further. Sandusky was charged and eventually found guilty of nearly 50 counts of sexually abusing boys over a 15-year period.
3 Tiger Woods’ Fall
At the end of the 2009 PGA season, and at age 34, Tiger Woods had won 14 major titles in his career – four behind Jack Nicklaus’ record 18. As of now, Woods still has 14 majors. What happened to one of the most dominant golfers ever can likely be traced back to one 2009 early November morning and Wood’s behavior that led up to that moment.
2 Russia’s Systematic Doping
A big part of any athletic competition is integrity. Competing under fair and equal rules is a must if sports are to be taken seriously. It is not out of the ordinary to see individual athletes use of PED’s alter sporting outcomes and records, but what if athletes’ use of PED’s was a state-sponsored all-encompassing exercise to dominate the known sports arena. While those words sound like some scary hyperbole worthy of a James Bond movie, that is precisely what Russia was accused of ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
1 Lance Armstrong
Other entries on the list have a name and explanation of why they are on the list. To most, the name Lance Armstrong needs no explanation. Once considered the greatest cyclist in history, Armstrong’s athletic career was an inspiration. A cancer survivor who out-raced every other cyclist in the world with ease, Armstrong pedaled his way to seven Tour De France wins. He was the athletic face to the phrase anything is possible. Armstrong was simply more than an athlete. He was a movement.
So, when allegations first hit the public of his possible doping in 2004, the pushback against those who believed them, let alone uttered such blasphemy, was brutal. Armstrong went out of his way to deny the allegations, often questioning the motives of the accusers. After years of arguing back and forth with his accusers, and a subsequent two-year federal investigation, Armstrong confessed to the world he was a cheater in January of 2013 in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
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