Top 20 Infamous Athletic Drug Scandals

One of the hot button issues in society since the 1960's is the "War on Drugs." While it was arguably started in the United States, it has spread throughout every continent of the world, as governments across the globe have spent decades cracking down (no pun intended) on recreational use. Many citizens are still on board for the war on drugs, some have started to see it as a waste of money, while others question the legal paternalism, arguing that government has no placing telling free people what they can put into their bodies.

But who really cares about social issues? The sports world has its own little war on drugs. This struggle has two goals. The first of these is to prevent athletes from getting unfair advantages through the use of performance enhancing drugs. The second is that athletic leagues are cracking down trying to prevent their athletes from using recreational drugs in order to protect their own images. Players found with drugs in their systems are often fined or suspended, but there seems to have been little impact.

While some have argued that drug scandals have made the world of sports more interesting, there is no question that it adds some frustration to the experience of being a sports fan. Cleveland Browns fans have had to watch the 2014 NFL season without their Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon, but he is just one example of an athlete who has been caught.

Moving away from the NFL and recreational substances, performance enhancing substances have been the hot button issue in baseball for over a decade now, as multiple home run records and big hitting seasons have been tainted by drama extending from PED scandals. Here are the twenty most notorious scandals in the history of sport. If your favorite isn't here, I do apologize and invite entries to be posted in the almighty comments section.

20 Tyson Gay

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

19 Ross Rebagliati: Dude Where's My Gold Medal?


For the second on the list we go all the way back to 1998 and the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Canada's Ross Rebagliati won the gold medal in the Giant Slalom snowboarding event and then had his medal taken away because he tested positive for THC (the happy/silly chemical in marijuana). Because THC was not yet on the list of banned substances, he was given his medal back.

18 Marco Pantani


One of the best of his tie in the cycling world, Pantani was a controversial figure to say the least. The Italian cyclist's career was pretty much one nonstop drug scandal towards the end, as commentators and opponents alike accused him of using various substances. In 1998, he won the Giro D'Italia and the Tour De France. The year after he tested for unusually high hematocrit, essentially, a high percentage of red blood cells in his blood stream. He was believed to have been taking supplementary erythropoietin. He was involved with several other drug accusations and received an eight month ban for being in possession of a syringe containing insulin, but the ban was later lifted.

17 Michelle Smith 


The 1996 triple gold medalist Michelle Smith was involved with two serious doping accusations during her career. When she first won her three golds in Atlanta, many called into question how she became a champion after years of being a non-contender. Her then coach, now husband, was under suspension for PEDs at the time, which reinforced the allegations.

16 1998 Tour De France


15 Dock Ellis


This may not be a notorious, or even true, scandal, but it is somewhat of a legend that he pitched a no-hitter back in 1970 after having dropped acid. He claimed that he had forgotten what day it was, dropped acid with his girlfriend and then gone to the game, only to find out he was scheduled to pitch.

14 Ricky Williams


I'm not a pothead, but I feel for Ricky Williams. The guy is known to have a few small personality disorders, and used marijuana to lessen the effects of these. The No Fun League (NFL) suspended him a few times for violating the league's drug policy.

13 Diego Maradona


Diego Maradona is one of the most revered and controversial Argentinian players of all time. He was a member of their national team from 1977 until 1994, winning one FIFA World Cup and captaining the team for several years.

Maradona frequently used cocaine between the early 1980's and 2004, when he reportedly quit. He was suspended from playing in 1991 after testing positive for cocaine, and a couple of years later missed the World Cup after testing positive for ephedrine.

12 Martina Hingis 

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In November 2007, the Swiss tennis player who's one of the best of all time, was under investigation for a urine sample that indicated possible cocaine use. She was suspended from participation in the sport for two years, after an unsuccessful appeal.

11 Michael Phelps

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After his famous 2008 Olympic performance, many argued that there was just no way he could have been so dominant without some "extra help." Phelps volunteered for a drug testing program through the US Anti-Doping Agency and was found to be completely clean. So, he is just a phenomenal athlete.

10 Operacion Puerto: 2006 Tour De France


Back in 2006, there was a massive investigation of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who had a network of cyclists and teams to who he supplied with drugs and doping techniques.

9 Justin Gatlin

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

American sprinter Justin Gatlin has been implicated in more than one drug controversy. In 2001, he was found to have amphetamines in his system but was reinstated after a brief ban, as it was found that the drug was taken for his ADD.

In 2006, however, he tested positive for a banned substance and was given an eight year ban that was later reduced to four years. He maintained his innocence and it has been suggested that his coach, Trevor Graham, may be to blame for the positive drug test.

8 Floyd Landis

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Floyd Landis was the initial winner of the 2006 Tour De France. His victory party was cut short when urine samples taken after stage 17 of the race indicated exceptionally high levels of testosterone. Landis offered many excuses for his levels of testosterone; ranging from alcohol consumption to claiming that his body naturally had high testosterone.

7 Biogenesis

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The most recent doping scandal to tarnish the reputation of Major League Baseball is the Biogenesis scandal which unfolded in 2013. In short, a hormone specialty clinic, Biogenesis of America, was found to have been supplying some MLB players with PEDs.

6 Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis


The 1988 Olympic 100 meter fiasco is one of the funniest on this list. Canadian Ben Johnson set a new world record in September at the Seoul Olympics, but tested positive for an anabolic steroid. Many sources argue that he should not have had his medal taken away for various reasons. These accusations range from his urine samples having been tampered with, to flawed testing techniques in the late 80's.

His world record was nullified and his gold medal was given to Carl Lewis, of the United States. Fifteen years later, many have tried to claim that Lewis was also in violation of doping regulations when he ran in 1988, but ultimately, it has never been conclusively proven, therefore Lewis remains the 1988 Olympic gold medalist.

5 Alex Rodriguez

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A-Rod was previously mentioned as the most notorious baseball player to have received a suspension after the Biogenesis scandal. But his lengthy suspension in 2013 was not the first drug controversy of his career.

Back in 2000, Rodriguez earned the most lucrative contract in sports history with the Texas Rangers for $252 million over ten years. He played three seasons with the Rangers before being traded to the Yankees. In 2008, he signed with the New York Yankees for $275 million over ten years. This is now the third largest contract in sports, as Miguel Cabrera signed for $292 million over ten years with the Detroit Tigers and Giancarlo Stanton signed for $325 million over thirteen years this year.

4 Jose Canseco: Juiced, Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big 

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This book is a great read, but, like all other media, it should be taken with a grain of salt, or an entire salt lick. Canseco's autobiographical work details not only his own career and personal life, but also discusses many issues surrounding PED use in sports.

He argued that many players around him took steroids throughout their career, and named several prominent baseball icons, tainting everyone's career and admittedly his own.

3 The BALCO Scandal

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In the early 2000's, the FBI investigated a San Francisco drug and supplement clinic that was reportedly supplying many athletes in multiple sports with steroids and other banned substances.

2 The Mitchell Report

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In December 2007, a report by Maine Senator George Mitchell was made public. He had spent years investigating PED use among professional baseball players.

The report essentially placed blame for the use of these substances on both the individual players, as well as the league and entire community. Additionally, it laid out steps that could be taken to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of PEDs in the sport (it hasn't worked yet).

Finally, a list of over eighty players was released in the report, many of who were prominent MLB players. Among them were Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Andy Petitte and Roger Clemens.

1 Lance Armstrong


Lance Armstrong was a seven time Tour De France winning cyclist, who was found to have used performance enhancing substances throughout his career. He denied use of any such drugs throughout his career, but, in 2012, there was a renewed attempt to discredit the former cyclist.

Ultimately, he refused to play the United States Anti-Doping Agency's game, which was considered an admission of guilt. Armstrong became a popular whipping boy for having spent much of his career denying allegations of PED use, and had his cycling records and victories revoked. He recently admitted to his usage, but it hasn't spared him much compassion.

There still remains the idea in cycling, among other sports, that all athletes use some kind of performance enhancing drugs. This accusation is very seldom spoken of seriously, but the fact of the matter is: for every athlete caught, how many are missed? With regard to Armstrong's situation, it may never be known whether, and how many of, his competitors used PEDs. Sadly, the cyclist and founder of the Livestrong Foundation now stands as a warning to other athletes that if they are caught using PEDs, the public is merciless.

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Top 20 Infamous Athletic Drug Scandals