It seems like almost all the time, celebrities, athletes and other “big-shots” are reminded that fame and money are not magical protective blankets that shield a person from the repercussions for their actions. Ray Rice and Josh Gordon are two recent examples in the NFL of players who were suspended, for reasons that have been talked about at length.
Much rarer than athletes being arrested, fined or suspended is such a penalty being levied upon a team owner. Sports franchise owners are in a completely different class than their athletes. If you think a baseball or football player makes good money, take a good long look at the people who cut their paycheques. Teams are worth hundreds of millions (some are worth billions, depending on who you talk to) and the owners are generally some of the wealthiest people on Earth.
However, now and again, a team owner is reminded of his or her own humanity and is punished for actions or words. While sometimes an owner may only get a small fine of a few hundred thousand dollars (pocket change to them), other times they may be suspended from operating with their team and other times they have been forced to sell their teams in the face of overwhelming disgrace.
Here is a list of sports team owners who have been in serious trouble with their league. For the sake of packing as much information as possible, similar cases (such as under the table contract negotiations) have been placed together as one entry. Atlanta Hawks’ former owner Bruce Levenson gets a dishonorable mention here as he was never actually formally punished by the NBA. He gave up his part of team ownership rather than waiting around for the league to carry out its discipline. He also mentioned the prevalence of rap music being played at games and an abundance of black cheerleaders. In the same type of unnecessary comment, Hawks' General Manager Danny Ferry made racist comments regarding Luol Deng, including Deng being "a little African" and seeming like the kind of guy who "had a nice store out front and sold counterfeit stuff out the back." Welcome to face-palm city.
15 Jay-Z: Entering Kentucky Wildcats' Dressing Room
It may be new information to some that it is a violation of NBA rules for a team owner to have any contact with basketball players who have yet to enter into the draft. Jay-Z, an owner of the New Jersey Nets, entered the Wildcats' dressing room back in 2011 and was fined $50,000 for it. He's a billionaire rapper, I doubt dropping 50K over some pictures and handshakes with college players even found its way onto his radar.
14 Ted Turner and Glen Taylor: Shady Contract Dealings
Although these two man owned their teams in different decades (Turner owned the Atlanta Braves in the 1970’s and Taylor has owned the Minnessota Timberwolves since 1994), their offenses were similar. Turner ruffled feathers back in 1977 when, as the owner of the ailing Braves, he started to run the day to day operations of the team like a general manager. National League President Chub Feeney ordered him to stop, as such action was in violation of league rules. Turner was suspended for a year, however, for contacting and trying to negotiate with Gary Matthews prior to the set free agent period.
Glen Taylor was suspended in 2000 for making a deal with forward Joe Smith that was in violation of salary cap violations. This scandal earned the team a $3.5 million fine, three lost first round draft picks and Taylor himself was suspended from December 2000 until August 2001.
13 Michael Jordan, Ted Leonsis and Micky Arison: Tweets/Comments about NBA Lockout
Prior to the NBA’s shortened season back in 2011, both of these owners were fined because they openly commented about that lockout. Michael Jordan made comments to an Australian newspaper, in which he described the need for revenue sharing and specifically mentioned Andrew Bogut. These both went against NBA regulations during the lockout and His Airness was fined $100,000.
Arison, the owner of the Miami Heat, was disciplined for comments made via Twitter, which detailed his views on the ongoing discussions between players and owners. He was fined $500,000 for his words.
Ted Leosis, the Washington Wizards' owner, publicly spoke out against the NBA salary cap and was fined $100,000. Freedom of speech?! What's that?
12 Jim Irsay and Jerry Buss: DUI
Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, was disciplined earlier this month for his DUI which occurred earlier in 2014. Commissioner Goodell fined Irsay $500,000 and suspended him from the first six games of the 2014 NFL season. Irsay was found to have driven a vehicle while intoxicated and pled guilty to the offense. He and many people around him have indicated that while it does not make up for his crime, he has had drugs issues on and off for years and is in the process of eliminating such things from his life.
Jerry Buss, the late owner of the LA Lakers, was punished by the NBA for a DUI years ago as well. He was suspended for two games and was fined $25,000.
11 Dan Gilbert: Letter about LeBron James
The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers was fined $100,000 back in 2010 for criticising LeBron James’ decision to sign with the Miami Heat. He described James as selfish, and as a betrayer, and argued that any team he played for in the future would suffer due to his narcissism. Some of Gilbert’s comments probably went a bit too far, but I’d be willing to bet that they described the disappointment of many Cavaliers fans.
Reverend Jesse Jackson weighed in on the letter comparing Dan Gilbert’s team to a slave plantation. That escalated quickly.
10 Ted Leonsis: Assaulting a Fan
Ted Leonsis makes another appearance on this list for something that is arguably more serious than unauthorized comments. Along with his ownership of the Wizards, he also owns the Washington Capitals of the NHL. After trading Jaromir Jagr in 2004, he was involved in an altercation during which he shoved a fan, who fell. He was fined $100,000 and suspended a week.
9 Bud Adams: Offensive Gesture
Back in 2009, Tennessee Titans’ owner Bud Adams was seen in his luxury box giving the middle finger to Buffalo Bills fans after a 41-17 victory. After his gesture drew quick media attention, he apologized to fans and the organisation. His excuse was that he just got caught up in the excitement of a win, but that wasn’t enough for Roger Goodell, who fined him $250,000.
8 Frank McCourt: Extreme Financial Mismanagement
This one really depends on who you want to listen to. Frank McCourt was the owner of the LA Dodgers back in 2011. According to McCourt, Commissioner Bud Selig tried to micromanage the Dodgers, and essentially "treated them differently" than the other teams in the league, pushing McCourt out as owner. Of course, Selig argued that McCourt had managed the team so poorly that they were completely bankrupt.
In the end, McCourt was forced to sell the team and did so in spring of 2012. The team sold for $2.15 billion dollars; in a deal that was finalized on May 1st of that year. The buyers were a group of businessmen led by current President Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson.
7 Horace Fogel and Robert Sarver: Comments on Officiating
Horace Fogel was the owner of the Philadelphia Phillies and was banned from baseball back in 1912. He strongly implied that umpires and league officials were corrupt.
Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns, also criticized referees, but was only fined $25,000.
These guys totally got it wrong. New Orleans Saints general manager Jim Finks nailed criticizing bad refs, saying: "I'm not allowed to comment on lousy officiating." Pure gold.
6 Eddie DeBartolo: Failing to Report a Felony
He was the owner of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990’s. DeBartolo got himself in hot water back in 1999 and 2000. Former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards (who clearly had creative parents), was caught in a corruption scandal in that year, due to allegations of extortion. Edwards had made DeBartolo drop $400,000 to obtain a licence for a riverboat casino. His crime was failing to report the crime being committed by Edwards. DeBartolo was suspended for the season, fined $1 million and would later give up control of the team to his sister, moving to work on other aspects of the family-owned Simon DeBartolo Group.
5 Mark Cuban: A Few Fines for a Few Things
The less-than-subtle owner of the Dallas Mavericks has been fined many times by the NBA. He barely eve seems to care anymore and has started matching his fines with charitable donations in recent years. Cuban has directly criticized leading officials in the NBA, has been fined for yelling at opposing players, and has used foul language more than once against NBA refs. He is somewhere just over $2 million right now in career fines.
4 George Steinbrenner: Suspended Twice for Shady Behavior
During his ownership, the New York Yankees won seven World Series Titles. While he proved time and time again to be a more than capable owner, George Steinbrenner had the reputation of being a difficult man for whom to work, and got into trouble with the MLB on more than one occasion.
He made contributions to Richard Nixon’s campaign in the early 70’s but these were later to be found to have been made illegally. He was fined $20,000 and was suspended for two years, only serving nine months, however.
Later, in 1990, Steinbrenner was banned from baseball by Fay Vincent following a dispute with Dave Winfield. Steinbrenner had hired someone to dig up dirt on Winfield and his handling of the situation caused the ban. His suspension lasted only until 1993.
3 John Spano: Being a Total Fraud
This one falls halfway between impressive and hilarious. John Spano briefly bought the New York Islanders back in 1996. He incredibly tricked investigators and the entire league into thinking he had the wealth to own an NHL franchise, while in reality he barely had a fraction of the money that he had indicated. Spano spent a few years in prison, and went on to defraud more companies upon his release in 2004. He was incarcerated again and was released yet again in 2009. Has the sporting world heard the last from John Spano? For entertainment's sake, I hope not.
2 Donald Sterling: Racism
Donald Sterling may well become the sports story of the year for 2014. Back in April, Sterling’s “friend” (quotation marks used for multiple reasons) released a recording of Sterling making disparaging comments about African Americans through TMZ. Sterling was banned from the league and received a $2.5 million fine for his racist remarks. I’m not sure whether this is a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Sterling wanted to make money from a basketball franchise but did not want African Americans at the games? If your brain hurts, so does mine. Let’s move on.
He has stated time and time again that he is not a racist. Sounds like a case of “I said something racist, but that doesn’t make me racist.” On that note: I stand in front of hockey nets in pads, with a glove, blocker and a funny shaped stick, but I’m not a goalie.
1 Marge Schott: Racism and Antisemitic Comments
Some may want Sterling placed higher than Schott on this list, but her remarks include kind words about the genocidal maniac who caused World War II. In the early 1990’s, the former Cincinnati Reds’ owner was suspended from MLB for racist remarks. She essentially stated that she was against hiring black people to work for the team, whether as support staff or players.
After serving an eight month suspension, she behaved herself until 1996 when she made comments praising the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler. She was suspended for two years and sold the team in 1999 while facing yet another suspension.