When somebody extols that “winning is everything” in the sporting arena, perhaps these dark secrets will give them pause. The desire to succeed in pro sports is accentuated by the press, by the multi-million dollar contracts and personal drive that elevates these athletes and officials to make the top level. But making an omelette requires cracking a few eggs and individuals will easily cross the line if a scandal can be hidden and their reputation remain in tact.
Reflecting on the disturbing history of sports cover ups, it’s disparaging to think the games that give millions of people around the world joy are eaten up and spat out by the naïve, the greedy and the downright evil people in society. Whether it is through neglected cases of sexual abuse, drug taking, throwing games, back-door dealings or murder, corruption can begin with one poor decision or lack of oversight.
No game has a squeaky-clean history when it comes to cover ups. Boxing, baseball, football, basketball, golf, tennis – every one of the them have skeletons in their closet that have either come out, are coming out or will be in the near future. Sports like athletics, soccer and cricket are touching the tip of the iceberg right now, with experts predicting a wave of new scandals to be revealed in the coming years.
These athletes and organizations who have disgraced themselves never considered how much the risk outweighed the reward. Lance Armstrong overcame cancer and raised millions to battle the disease, yet all anyone will remember is the cheating. Tiger Woods took golf to new heights, but most will immediately recall the scandal that engulfed his impressive career.
During the lifecycle of every scandal, a cover up ensued. This was before the press went digging for the information and before the public knew it to be true. These are the top 20 sports cover ups.
Click the button below to start this article in quick view
20 Maria Sharapova Drug Tests
Just now are we beginning to learn the truth behind Sharapova’s ugly secret. Her positive testing for a banned substance called meldonium at this year’s Australian Open completely obliterated the Russian-born stars public perception, going from talented role model to disgraced athlete after one press release. She tried to explain that it was to fight the possibility of diabetes but the stinging criticism from the tennis community has been scathing and telling, ranging from former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound calling her “reckless,” to former pro Jennifer Capriati stating outright that she is a “cheat.” All of her Grand Slam titles are under jeopardy and major sponsors are dropping her like a bad smell.
19 The 1919 World Series
The World Series is not just the pinnacle of the sport of baseball, it is an iconic run of games that draws in millions of people from all round the world, even if they are not diehard MLB supporters. But the legacy of the series was almost tarnished beyond repair before it really even started to get going in 1919, as the Chicago White Sox were paid off to throw the series against the Cincinnati Reds. The severity and scale of the scandal became a lightning rod for the sport with 8 of the “Black Sox” clan banned for life after a trial. The rumors and talk bubbled under the surface for a few months, but when the investigation led to guilty verdicts, it became the darkest chapter in baseball history.
18 Tim Donaghy NBA Betting Scandal
Of all the money and influence floating around the NBA, who thought it would ever be an official that would take the heaviest and most public fall from grace? In 2008, the now infamous referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to betting on games in the sport, even those he was directly involved in. He reportedly won between 70-80% of his bets as links to the mob eventually took their toll on his double life. If things couldn’t get any worse, it was revealed last year that he had buddied-up to a white gang to protect himself from being killed in prison. An undignified end for a once respected figure in the NBA.
17 Penn State
An ugly cover up that was truly disgraceful, Jerry Sandusky’s abhorrent conduct came to light in 2012 when he was convicted of pedophilia, accumulating 10 young male victims over the course of 15 years. The scandal opened up a series of systematic failures, from the College football fraternity, to the other coaches and peers that knew about the activity but said nothing. His 30 to 60 year sentence will mean Sandusky will spend the rest of his life behind bars, a small consolation for a man who cost the university $92 million in damages and had their reputation of caring for the youngest and brightest in absolute tatters.
16 Sandman Horse Murders
In the early 1990s, it was revealed that a sleazy operator by the name of Tommy Burns, aka The Sandman, went into stables across the country killing horses. The reason behind these sick acts? It was reported that the owners of these horses, as soon as their prized possessions were not performing to expectations in show jumping or races, called up the services of Burns to slaughter the animals in order for them to pick up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance compensation. The Sandman made the murders look like the horses perished of colic in order to get the checks, but in reality he used extension cords and alligator clips to electrocute them. The numbers ranged anywhere from 13 to 50 and when Burns started giving the names of owners who hired his services to the FBI, it uncovered an ugly secret rife throughout the industry.
15 Essendon Supplements Saga
Aussie Rules Football trades on the down under mantra of playing hard, but fair. Then in 2013 Essendon, one of the most prominent clubs in the AFL (Australian Football League) revealed they were investigating a supplements program that had been carried out during the entire 2012 season. Three years later and with the intervention of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), a total of 34 past and current Bombers players have been given a 12-month ban from the sport. The club in 2016 will reflect the Keanu Reeves motion picture The Replacements, having to bring in numerous rookies and recently retired players to make up the roster for the upcoming campaign. Essendon legend James Hird left his coaching post in disgrace as the supplements saga opened up a system of doping players with a hormone called Thymosin Beta 4 from a shady third party chemist. The club could have accepted a short term guilty verdict in 2013 but decided to fight for their reputation in the courts. Now the damage to their name is forever tarnished as professional cheats.
14 1999 Boxing Racketeering
Corruption in boxing has been one the worst kept secrets in sports for so long, it has become more of a punch line than a scandal. Just before the turn of the century, that secret was blown wide open when IBF President Robert W. Lee Sr., with a host of associates including his own son, were indicted on 32 counts of racketeering and conspiracy. The controversial Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield Geavyweight title fight came under severe scrutiny as the IBF reportedly pocketed $338,000 for deliberating manipulating rankings to draw in more profitable fights. Not only did the investigation open up a series of underhanded dealings, but Lee Sr. was put in prison two years later for tax evasion and money laundering. What a surprise.
13 Marion Jones Doping
The rumors were swirling around for a number of years, but when 2007 arrived, there was nowhere left to hide for Olympic Gold Medal track champion Marion Jones. The darling of the USA in 2000 cleaned up five medals in Sydney and was widely regarded as the supreme female athlete on the planet until she began fighting off accusations and an investigation in 2004 over her use of a steroid called “the clear.” The positive reading was the beginning of the end for Jones, as her appearance on Oprah to state that she would have won without doping left many infuriated. A subsequent check fraud case ended in a six-month prison sentence, capping off a tremendous fall from grace.
12 Pakistani Cricket Spot-Fixing
Athletes attempting to throw an entire game for their team or themselves to pocket a little cash has been widespread for years, but the notion of deliberately faltering at a particular moment within a match is a frightening prospect for those that want to fight corruption. The term in cricket is known as “spot-fixing,” a point typically where bowlers would overstep the crease to bowl a no-ball. In 2010, at the home of cricket in Lords, London, three Pakistani cricketers were exposed by a News of the World videotaping scandal to reveal the players who opted into a fix. The International Cricket Council gave bans ranging from five to ten years to Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt for their role. With rebel leagues and franchises starting across Asia in the Twenty20 cricket revolution, the lack of regulation and black market betting syndicates means the 2010 revelations are just the tip of the iceberg for cricket.
11 Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Ring
There are double lives and then there was Michael Vick’s depraved running of a dogfighting ring in his Virginia property. In 2007, quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons had his dirty secret brought to light as the footballer was charged with conspiracy to aid an unlawful animal fighting venture interstate. The Jets decision to sign him on a $4 million single-season contract drew the ire of broadsheet newspapers and supporters alike even after having a four-year stint in Philadelphia where he received similar criticism. 19 months in prison did nothing to completely repair his reputation after his involvement in a systematic process of overseeing dogs that were beaten, electrocuted and drowned. In fairness to Vick, and not todowngrade his terrible crimes, but he's been doing his best to give back ever since and has been extremely remorseful for his crimes.
10 Tiger Woods’ Extramarital Affairs
With 79 PGA Tour wins, Tiger Woods is more than just a brand in the sport of golf, throughout the 2000s he was the sport of golf. The icon from Cypress had the world at his feet until his then-wife Elin Nordegren came across a tabloid newspaper in a supermarket with the headline “Tiger Woods Cheating Scandal.” Hours later, his partner chased him out of their mansion wielding a golf club before crashing his Escalade into a fire hydrant in panic. As the scandal quickly built momentum, more and more women came out of the woodwork as the ladies he slept with on tour surpassed the 120 mark. He hasn’t been the same man since, on and off the fairway.
9 Michael Schumacher’s Crashes
Formula 1 is accustomed to a bit of controversy. The Motorsport's strange dynamic of racing against other teams with pairs pits supposed “teammates” together. The biggest name in the history of F1, Michael Schumacher, made something of a mockery of certain races in the mid 1990s. The 1994 Driver’s Championship opened up for his Ferrari team when he crashed into Damon Hill’s Benetton car while Jacques Villeneuve suffered a similar fate in 1997. Schumacher benefited directly from both “mishaps.” It didn’t fool the FIA though who disqualified him from the championship weeks after the 1997 incident. The issue of cynical racing still plagues F1 to this day.
Football is a brutal game of strength and endurance in a heated battle of contact, but even by NFL standards the cynical “bounty” program devised by head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams went beyond the pale. Payton was directly involved in a cover up of between 22 to 27 Saints players of sweeping their program under the rug, a program that saw Brett Favre and Kurt Warner targeted for deliberate injury during the 2009 season which ended in Super Bowl victory. The coach was suspended for 12 months while Gregg Williams, who was given an indefinite suspension at the time, was given another job at the Titans in 2013 where he came out to say that Bountygate was “nothing that hadn’t been done before.” Stay classy Gregg.
7 Russian Soccer’s Racism Epidemic
It’s the shameful practice that world soccer doesn’t want you know. Particularly with the 2018 FIFA World Cup set to be held in Russia of all places, the domestic competition continues to embarrass themselves with monkey chants and aggressive verbal assaults on non-white supporters in the grandstands. If you didn’t know any better, people would think they were attending a Donald Trump rally rather than a soccer match! Because Nazi salutes and racism are so prominent, Russia hired a man called Alexei Tolkachev in a specialized role to oversee the problem as an anti-racism inspector. But when pressed by a New York Times journalist on the issue, he replied, “We don’t consider it as a serious problem.”
The NCAA’s complete lack of providing financial compensation to young athletes will always leave temptation on the table. This was abused to mass lengths by people at The Southern Methodist University, where 13 players were reportedly paid $47,000 during the 1985-86 season to cheat. SMU were then banned by the NCAA for the entire 1987 season. It was dubbed the “death penalty” for the severity of the punishment and is the only case in the history of college football where such a decision has been handed down.
2006 was a bittersweet moment for Italian football. On one hand, the national team beat France on penalties to win the FIFA World Cup. On the other, the domestic Serie A competition was brought to its knees by the infamous Calciopoli scandal. Four clubs were implicated for having deals with officials that would help them fix games. Champions Juventus were relegated a 30 point penalty, Fiorentia were relegated with a 12-point and Lazio joined them with a 7-point deduction. AC Milan walked away with 15 points less, though they'd go on to win the Champions League in 2007. Juventus’ 2004/05 and 05/06 titles were wiped from the history books, but after nine years of trying to pin responsibility on major figures, the investigation came to a close in 2015.
4 Lance Armstrong
For years he pleaded his innocence. The Lance Armstrong cover up was on the grandest of scales from one individual, putting his name and reputation up against those who would dare to link him to a systematic doping regime that carried him throughout a record seven Tour De France championships. When cycling writers David Walsh and Pierre Ballester wrote a book about Armstrong disposing of syringes on the circuit in 2004, momentum began to build. When disgraced riders Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis spilled the beans years later, there was nowhere to hide for the cancer survivor and cycling icon. In 2013, Lance fronted Oprah and admitted to doping, but qualified his excuses and never admitted complete culpability for destroying the legacy of the sport he loves. The drug taking was one thing. But lying fervently for so long is pathologically disturbing.
3 FIFA Corruption
Kickbacks. Golden handshakes. Bribery. Laundering. Slave labor. Turning a blind eye to poverty and racism for profit. Think of an outrageous sin a wealthy organization can commit and FIFA will match it. The reign of Sepp Blatter ended in disgrace amid an FBI investigation into fraud throughout the entire operation, brought about by a voting process that is as transparent as a darkened ally behind a nightclub. The awarding of World Cups in 2018 to Russia and 2022 to Qatar exposed FIFA for what it was – a posse of elitist cronies hell-bent on exploiting the sport for private gain, even at the expense of seeing imported workers die of exhaustion in Doha. Incoming president Gianni Infantino is talking a good game publicly since his election win last month, but soccer fans have every right to remain highly skeptical of true reform.
Like most pop culture references that need social commentary sprinkled on top, South Park’s eloquent scene with Eric Cartman imitating Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Roger Goddell sums up DeflateGate as well as any commentator or writer could hope to do. With egos and reputations on the line, the New England Patriots deflating of footballs against the Colts in the 2015 AFC Championship game divided opinion and saw every party involved pass the buck of responsibility. American audiences became familiar for the first time with regulation PSI levels – i.e. how much a football should be pumped up. The saga enveloped a cover up of sorts, although Brady’s successful appeal of a 4-game suspension meant that he can officially say he is innocent in the eyes of the law. A subsequent $1 million fine and loss of their first pick in the 2016 Draft was akin to a slap on the wrist from the NFL, and no one is the wiser as to which locker room attendant, player or coach deflated those damn balls!
Many of these cover ups have involved cheating spouses, drugs or footballs that aren’t as heavy as they should be. But the Hillsborough cover up is of unspeakably horrendous and epic proportions that is hard to put into words. In 1989, Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in the semi final of the FA Cup away at the neutral territory of Sheffield Wednesday’s home ground, Hillsborough. But 96 Liverpool fans never came home. They were all crushed to death when stadium officials and police failed to plan for the influx of supporters that flooded into one end without any control measures put in place. With rows of dead patrons bagged in an adjacent school across the road, the authorities and government created a narrative that Liverpool fans were ultimately culpable for the deaths. The incredible ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the tragedy and cover up will leave viewers in tears and outraged beyond belief, outlining how victims families have had to fight for decades in the courts to clear the names of their dearly departed. A heartbreaking the tale the likes sport has never seen, nor never wishes to see again.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!