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Notorious Sports Scandals

Updated on February 19, 2016
Jaynie2000 profile image

With a degree in Sociology & concentrations in English & Religion, Jaynie has a keen interest in politics, social norms & mental health.

The recent trial and conviction of ex-Penn State Assistant Coach, Jerry Sandusky, has once again brought the illicit side of collegiate and professional sports to the surface. For many decades, coaches and players alike have been elevated to god-like status. They earn obscene amounts of money, have no shortage of potential lovers waiting in line, are offered lucrative endorsement contracts, and are recognized essentially everywhere they go. As a result, they often feel invincible, but as the following article will illustrate, even the mighty can fall, and fall hard.

Throughout history there have been countless scandals that have changed the face of sports and caused everyone to think about what good sportsmanship really means. Some of the most memorable scandals are reviewed below. There are many others that could surely have made the list. Which others might you include?

Jerry Sandusky's Child Sexual Abuse Scandal

Jerry Sandusky was once a revered assistant coach for Penn State. He was considered the most likely successor to one of football's most beloved coaches, Joe "JoePa" Paterno. He was not only a fantastic coach, but also revered founder and volunteer for the Second Mile Club. As it turns out, the golden boy of State College, Pennsylvania also had a dark side. Accused of sexual assault including rape and sodomy of ten young boys over a period of 15 years, Sandusky was charged in 2011 in a stunning case that brought down Penn State notables, including Head Coach, Joe Paterno, and university President, Graham Spanier. Sandusky allegedly used his positions at Penn State and the Second Mile organization to attract and groom at risk youth. Details of abuse by the victims and witnesses shocked and sickened the community and in June 2012, Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse. Though the accusations came too late to impact the trial, Sandusky's own adopted son accused the coach of sexually abusing him throughout his childhood as well. The 69 year old Sandusky is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. Coach Paterno died of lung cancer and, some believe, a broken heart, in January 2012.

Pete Rose Bets on Baseball and Loses

Pete Rose is a former player and manager, most notably with the Cincinnati Reds, who was accused of betting on baseball games, including games involving his own team. Rose initially denied the allegations against him before finally admitting his guilt in his 2004 autobiography, My Prison Without Bars. As punishment, Rose was banned from baseball for life, including ineligibility for the Hall of Fame that would otherwise have surely included him. Rose has been named one of the 100 greatest players of all time. Though he has applied for reinstatement on more than one occasion, no commissioner has ever felt it necessary to reconsider his punishment.

Tonya Harding's Ex Assaults Nancy Kerrigan, but it is Harding's Career that Implodes

Some athletes adopt a “win at all costs” mindset that can force them into unseemly situations. Such was the case of pro figure skater, Tonya Harding. Her murky role in the knee-bashing of primarily opponent, Nancy Kerrigan, before the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships dogged her for years. The incident was allegedly planned by her ex-husband and bodyguard. Harding claimed not to know anything about the plans, yet admitted helping to cover up their role in the incident. The public didn’t seem to buy her claims of innocence and in 1994 Harding pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution and was given three years probation and 500 hours of community service. She was also forced to give up her US Championship title and received a lifetime ban from participating in USFSA run events as either a skater or coach.

Reggie Bush Returns Heisman Trophy

In the long, illustrious history of the Heisman Trophy, no player had ever returned it, until Reggie Bush. Bush had won the trophy in 2005 but was soon plagued by allegations of receiving improper incentives in violation of NCAA rules. An investigation into USC’s football program ensued and Bush voluntarily surrendered his trophy in 2010.

1919 Black Sox Scandal

Eight members of the 1919 White Sox team were banned for life from the game they loved after purposely throwing the 1919 World Series. The players admitting accepting bribes from professional gamblers who stood to profit from the rigged outcome. This not only ruined the eight careers, but changed the face of the game forever, casting a tainted pall over the game for many years to come.

Bill Belichick's Videotaping Scandal

New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, was accused and found guilty of videotaping an opposing team during a game in 2007. The purpose was to identify hand signals and play calls that would give the Patriots an advantage in anticipating plays, effectively shutting down their opponents. These actions were in direct violation of NFL rules prohibiting such behaviors, but in another stunning example of “win-at-costs” mentality that plagues professional sports today, Belichick and the Patriots engaged in the scandalous cheating anyway. The coach received a $500,000 fine and the Patriots organization was fined an additional $250,000.

Woody Hayes Punches Clemson Player in Gator Bowl

Woody Hayes was, and still remains one of the most beloved coaches in the history of OSU. This reverence comes in spite of the event in the 1978 Gator Bowl, during which Hayes lost his temper after a player from Clemson intercepted a pass before running it out of bounds along the OSU sideline. Frustrated by the interception and unable to control his bubbling temper, Hayes punched the Clemson player in the throat before turning on one of his own players for trying to intervene. As a result, Hayes was fired as head coach.

Zinedine Zidane Head Butts Marco Matarazzi

Zidane was playing the last match of his career, which happened to be his second World Cup appearance. His contract with Real Madrid had expired and he was considered one of the best players of all time. He was set to go out on top of his game until an ill-conceived move cut into his untarnished reputation as one of the greatest. Out of apparent frustration, but without a discernable reason, Zidane thrust a violent head-butt into the chest of Italian opponent, March Materazzi, knocking him to the pitch. As a result, Zidane was red carded and therefore ineligible to participate in the shootout against Italy, which determined the match winner. Italy prevailed with a 5-3 penalty kick advantage and Zindane and later, team France was sent home from the Cup in disgrace.

Equatorial Guinea Women's, er, Men's, er, Women's National Team

Men masquerading as women in professional sports? Such allegations have periodically surfaced in various sports such as track and field, but none were as scandalous as the accusations against the Equatorial Guinea Women’s National Soccer Team. Sisters, Salimata and Biluisa Simpore were accused by members of several competing teams, of being men masquerading as women, giving Equatorial Guinea an unfair and illegal advantage over their opponents. Heading into the 2011 FIFA World Cup Championships, teams including Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana complained about the sisters and rather than refute the allegations, Equatorial Guinea pulled the sisters from the roster, further fueling the speculation that they had in fact, been men.

1972 US Basketball Team's Heartbreak

The gold metal victory belonged to the US Men’s Basketball team in 1972, but the victory was short lived. After the buzzer sounded and the celebratory dancing and cheering commenced, officials determined the need to review the last 50 seconds of the game. After official review, the win was confirmed but an error in restarting the play clock created a need to replay the last three seconds of the game. Three seconds is not much time in every day life, but in sports, it can mean the difference between a win and a loss. In this case, three seconds was all it took for the Russians to score one last basket, putting them ahead of the US and in possession of the gold that only seconds earlier belonged to the US.

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© 2012 Jaynie2000


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    • Jaynie2000 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks for weighing in. I'll have to look those two up as they sound intriguing. So glad to have you following along.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great article. I can come up with two scandles invovling hockey. First, the Sheldon Kennedy and Graham James incident where James was accused and convicted of sexually abusing Kennedy and other young boys during his coaching career in Major Junior hockey. Second, the Al Eagleson scandle where he was accused of fraud involving the NHLPA.


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