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.
After conducting an investigation, the NFL suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season. Brady, however, won an appeal of the suspension in federal court and the suspension was overturned. After an NFL appeal, Brady’s suspension was reinstated for the 2016 season. After being denied another hearing, Brady accepted his suspension.
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.
With New York, and America, buzzing, it seemed that the little hero had pitched himself into a lasting celebrity legacy. However, the legacy soon became infamy, as it was found out that the birth certificate of the Dominican Republic born Almonte was fraudulent, and maybe even unbeknownst to him, he was 14 years old and not 12. As a result, his and his team’s accomplishments were stricken from the record books.
13 FIFA Corruption
Football, or soccer as it is known in the States, is truly the world’s game. The leading distributor of soccer to the world is the governing body FIFA. FIFA puts on events like the World Cup and World U-20 and U-17 Championships. With so many opportunities to make money on a global scale, corruption has to be an enticing endeavor for those in positions of power at FIFA. So, when the FBI and IRS went after FIFA and its confederations in the Americas for fraud and bribery concerning the media and marketing of its games, many in the world community likely did not bat an eye. Members of the governing body and its confederations are suspected of taking bribes for votes concerning the selection of host nations for World Cups. For two U.S. agencies to go after FIFA shows the level of corruption that they believed they found in the governing body.
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.
Bonds’ possible link to PED’s surfaced officially in 2003 when he testified before a grand jury about his trainer Greg Anderson, who worked for the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative or BALCO. Anderson eventually pleaded guilty to supplying PED’s to athletes under his care, but not to Bonds specifically. Years later, Bonds had a mistrial concerning perjury charges involving the testimony he gave to the grand jury and also had an obstruction conviction overturned.
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.
Over a year later, with the cloud of doubt still hanging over Bryant’s head, prosecutors in Colorado dropped the charges, citing the accuser’s refusal to testify, but the damage to Bryant’s image was already done. A lot of the public went from viewing him as a squeaky clean basketball talent, and instead because of the charges and his police interview, saw him as person who cared only about himself.
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.
A subsequent investigation alleged that a French judge, at the request of the president of the French Ice Sports Federation, agreed to vote for the Russians in exchange for French ice dancers getting similar treatment later in the games. As a result, the Canadian pair had their silver medals upgraded to gold, but the Russians kept their gold medals as well. Eventually, more allegations put the Russian mob in the crosshairs of organizing the scheme and the International Skating Union adopted a new judging system.
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.
After being selected second overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, allegations that Bush’s family received nearly $300,000 in gifts from sports agent Lloyd Lake soon dominated the discussion about him and the Trojans. A year later, Lake sued the Bush family for not repaying the gifts. The NCAA conducted its investigation and eventually stripped USC of its 2004 BCS National Title, Bush returned the Heisman, and Carroll moved on to the Seattle Seahawks. USC has not been the same since.
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.
It all unraveled for Hernandez in June of 2013 when he became a prime suspect in the murder of an acquaintance, Odin Lloyd. Hernandez maintained his innocence as the police in Massachusetts investigated the crime, even accusing him of destroying evidence. Hernandez was eventually charged and found guilty.
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.
Finally, Vick was indicted in July of 2007 and he pled guilty a month later. He would end up serving two years in prison, before coming back to the NFL in 2009 with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2010 he had a career-revival in leading Philadelphia to the playoffs, but his detractors, like his supporters, still remained.
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.
As the 2013 season wound down, and Winston had a Heisman Trophy in his sights and Florida State was in prime position to play for a BCS National Title, a report emerged that Winston was accused of a rape that had occurred in Tallahassee nearly a year earlier. State officials investigated the accusation, but decided not to bring any charges against Winston to the dismay of some, though others thought it was the right decision to make. Winston went on to win the Heisman, Florida State won the national title, and the quarterback is now starting as a second-year NFL pro in Tampa Bay.
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.
However, what made the Duke case a little different than some of the other similar cases is that the players accused of rape were eventually exonerated by the authorities as the accuser’s story started to unravel. Though, by that time, the damage was done. So, what had been initial outrage over the supposed acts of the players turned into outrage over the authorities and school officials’ rush to judgment.
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.
As bad as the Sandusky case was on a human level, it also had a sizeable impact on the sports world. Though, Sandusky last coached at Penn State in 1999, the revelation of his conduct led to the dismissal of legendary Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno would die a couple of months later, weeks after his 85th birthday. Also, the Penn State program was put on probation for five years, including a four-year bowl ban, though the NCAA repealed the sanctions after the 2014 season.
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.
Woods drove his vehicle off the road that morning, and suffered minor injuries, but those injuries were only a small part of a media storm that was about to engulf him. Numerous women came forward to say they had been involved in affairs with the then married Woods, and Woods eventually admitted to his indiscretions. With his public image tarnished and more physical ailments popping up, Woods would win none of the 21 tournaments he played over the next two seasons. Though he rebounded in 2012 and 2013, the invincible Woods was now mortal.
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.
Russia’s track and field team was banned from the Olympics on the heels of the allegations that Russian officials covered up positive tests from athletes who competed in the 2012 London Olympics. Russia also has been accused of widespread doping in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In addition to Russian track and field athletes being banned from Rio, Russian athletes from rowing, weightlifting, cycling, and canoeing were also banned.
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.