Scandal attracts attention; it’s human nature. Nothing sells newspapers or emboldens headlines like a good scandal; whether political, sexual or sports-related. In the sporting context, salacious gossip spreads like wildfire because fans like to know that their role models are human beings, too. We like to know that they are flawed and imperfect, just like us, in spite of their incredible athletic prowess. The silver lining to all sporting scandals is that it humanizes the athletes involved. Just look at Tiger Woods. His swing may have gone to all hell since we read his juicy texts, but at least he isn’t the robot-like figure he used to be.
Scandal knows no bounds and all sports share in controversy, though the NFL may take the cake, with the sole exception of soccer. With the recent storm surrounding the New England Patriots' deflated balls, The Sportster is taking a look at the entire history of NFL outrages. It’s simply my opinion, but every ring the Deflatriots have won under Bill Belicheat deserves an asterisk next to it. Having said that, no team is immune from scandal, and that’s not to mention the humiliation the NFL front offices and commissioners have had to endure over the years.
The ever-quotable Richard Sherman recently stated that the Patriots will likely not be punished because of a “conflict of interest” between Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. But Sherman missed the point. The “conflict of interest” is within the NFL itself or any organization that must police itself- they struggle to simultaneously find justice and sweep scandals under the rug. These 10 incidents weren’t quite so easy to sweep up and forget.
P.S. Though I would have included O.J. Simpson on this list, his alleged crime is simply too despicable and does not belong in the same category as these scandals.
10 10. Controversial Calls’ Hall of Shame
From the Tuck Rule to the Calvin Johnson Rule to erroneous coin flips, boneheaded calls fill the annals of the NFL’s history. Referees are human and nothing is easier than criticizing officials with 20/20 hindsight. Having said that, these people are professionals and certain calls deserve the heightened scrutiny they have received in the past. The Tuck Rule and Music City Miracle top the list for the dramatic impact they had on two teams’ fortunes. After those two calls went against Oakland and Buffalo respectively, both teams not only lost those games, but haven’t been back involved in a single playoff game since.
The first Bounty Bowl occurred on Thanksgiving Day of 1989 when Philadelphia and Dallas squared off at Texas Stadium with an alleged $200 bounty placed on the head of Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas, who had been cut by the Eagles two weeks prior. The second game was played two weeks later in Philadelphia and was dubbed Bounty Bowl II. It became a media firestorm filled with wanted posters and bounty amounts and was attended by commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson needed an escort off the field after the match amid a flurry of snowballs. The game became such an unmitigated disaster that Philadelphia banned alcohol sales for the rest of the season.
8 Bountygate: These Saints Ain’t Saints
Let’s not pretend that bounties haven’t been offered before; it’s the NFL’s dirty, little, not so secret. However, the scale of the Saints' bounty program, which ran from the 2009 season when they won the Super Bowl to 2011, is an absolute disgrace. Many NFC players became suspicious during the Saints’ 2009 playoff run when Saints defensive players hammered Cardinals’ QB Kurt Warner and Vikings’ QB Brett Favre, appearing to be deliberately targeting them. Investigations later revealed that the bounty program began in 2009 with the arrival of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and may have reached up $50,000 and involved 22-27 players. Head coach Sean Payton would take the brunt of the punishment and miss the entire 2012 season due to suspension.
To this day, the Pottsville Maroons still claim NFL commissioner Joseph Carr robbed them. The rules at the time stated that the champion would be decided by regular season record and not a playoff tournament and Pottsville cemented the title with a December win over their rival the Chicago Cardinals. However, commissioner Carr suspended the team indefinitely after they played an unsanctioned game near Philadelphia that supposedly infringed on another team’s territory and, thus, he awarded the championship to the Cardinals. Though the Cardinals’ players refused to accept the title and Pottsville even made their own trophy in protest, the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame still recognize Chicago as the 1925 champion.
6 Vikings Boat Party
With massive pay cheques and a penchant for partying, football players are not all angels, but the Minnesota Vikings crossed the line in 2005. Engaging in a variety of lewd sexual acts and general rampant debauchery, 17 members of the Vikings (including starting QB Daunte Culpepper) were accused of renting out two yachts and flying in prostitutes from Atlanta and Florida. The alleged ringleader was cornerback Fred Smoot.
To be fair, not everyone was engaged in inappropriate behaviour and no minors or drugs were ever discovered on board. On the other hand, that’s setting the bar pretty damn low.
5 Ongoing Redskins’ Racism
Dan Synder may be the most reprehensible owner in the NFL. The Redskins name has got to go, plain and simple. It is a slap in the face to North America’s aboriginal communities, who have long endured pain, suffering and humiliation at the hands of governmental and non-governmental organizations alike, and is especially disgusting given the team’s location in the nation’s capital. ‘Redskins’ is not a term of endearment by any stretch of the imagination and is a racist relic that belongs in the past. Thankfully, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is finally pressing the issue, canceling the team’s trademark registration due the disparaging nature of the name. Change the name, Snyder. Change the name.
4 Michael Vick in the Doghouse
You just don’t mess around with man’s best friend. Michael Vick possesses dynamic and unique talent at the quarterback position, but his off the field behaviour saw him quickly fall from super stardom to the penitentiary. Vick actually served no jail time after his three-year charge was eventually suspended and he has lobbied against dog fighting, though he did have to file for bankruptcy protection in July of 2008. Having said that, his career has turned back around in Philadelphia and New York and Vick still leads the NFL in career rushing yards by a quarterback.
3 Ray Rice & Domestic Abuse
It was the shot heard around the nation. After spending the night in an Atlantic City Casino (I doubt he was up on the house), Rice appeared to take his frustration out on his then-fiancée. The image of the former Ravens’ running back dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator left an indelible mark on the nation. Rice was banned for the entire season and though his suspension was eventually lessened upon appeal, his image will forever be tarnished and linked to the unfortunate incident. The one silver lining of this sordid episode is that it did spark a national conversation of the unfortunate link between pro athletes and domestic abuse.
This may be my bitter, inner Dolphins fan lashing out; but Spy-Gate may be the dirtiest example of bending/breaking the rules in NFL history. The taping of the Jets is not what should concern us. It’s the allegations made by Matt Walsh, a former Pats’ video assistant, and then-Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector that New England coaches had been engaged in these dishonest tactics since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000.
If that’s the case, then every Patriots’ Super Bowl during the early 2000s deserves an asterisk next to it. Having a team’s signals undoubtedly helped the Pats slow down the ‘greatest show on turf’ in 2001. As former St. Louis Rams QB Kurt Warner asked at the time, “Even if they had our signals, how much would it help? If teams kept their signals the same, then you could get a bead on them and be able to have that information… It would be a distinct advantage."
1 The NFL’s Dirty Little Secret
Even the most rabid fan may not be aware of the fact that the average football game only contains about 11 minutes of actual football, but those precious seconds are incredibly intense. Football players rely upon their extraordinary strength and physical prowess to compete, but long-term injuries are the consequence of this force and speed. To be fair, the NFL has recently made some rule changes regarding kickoffs and hits to defenseless receivers that are steps in the right direction. However, the NFL must address issues after players have left the field as well, particularly following incidents like the suicide of NFL legend Junior Seau. But as long as the NFL continues to expand with relentless speed, concussions and injuries will continue to take a backseat to the boatloads of money steering the ship.