Integrity; sportsmanship; pride: If there are three words that make up the foundation of the sporting world, these three would most certainly be at the top of the list. All sports are built on a drive to improve, the chance to compete against your peers, and the opportunity to build strong bonds with others. To many sports are the building block for life.
But for all those that grow and mature through sports, there are those that take the game a little too seriously. To those few the difference between winning and losing isn’t an option. So instead of trying harder and training longer they cheat. And when a cheater gets going and succeeds in pulling on over on the competition, chances are good he’ll do it again.
And again. And again.
But for every cheats there comes a day when their lies come back to bite them. For these 15 that day came maybe a little later than we would have liked, but in the end they all got what they deserved. Welcome to the biggest jokes in the sporting world better known as the 15 biggest sports cheats of all time.
15. Danny Almonte And “Age-Gate”
The US has recently paid a great deal of attention every year to the Little League World Series, thanks in large part to the wonder of ESPN’s marketing. This has created controversy with some people feeling we are placing an awful lot of pressure on a bunch of 12 year old kids, while others view the event as an American tradition only improved with the coverage ESPN provides. The story of Danny Almonte didn’t help the latter group’s case much, showing that some Little League coaches were willing to do whatever it took to win, even if it meant falsifying birth certificates and using 14 year old pitchers who could throw 70 mph (from 46 feet, the equivalent of a 92 mph fastball from a major league distance) against 12 year old competition.
Almonte became a sensation during the 2001 Little League World Series, throwing the first perfect game in LLWS history since 1957. While Almonte’s team didn’t win the tournament (rules prevented him from pitching every game), it certainly wasn’t his fault. He managed 62 strikeouts out of 72 batters faced, which became much less impressive when it turned out that the 5’8 Almonte was actually 14 years old. How did this fact come to light? Another team hired a private investigator of all things, showing that the world of Little League baseball is a hell of a lot more cutthroat than you’d expect. The resulting scandal was predictably massive, and probably more than a little overblown, but it’s still ridiculous enough to earn the 15th spot on our list.
14. 2002 Olympic Figure Skating Judge’s Scandal
Figure skating is only a sport by the loosest definitions of the word (I’d call it something akin to dinner theatre personally). This is because the judges have altogether too much say in the outcome, making the results completely subjective and subject to debate. Sports should be as conclusive as possible, that runner ran faster than the other, team A beat team B, etc. That’s what made the 2002 Olympic figure skating judge’s scandal so satisfying.
At the 2002 Winter Games, the Canadian figure skating pairs team skated a flawless program. The Russians had dominated the event for years, and it looked like they would finally lose after making a technical error during their program. But when the results were reveald the Russians won anyway, with judges from Russia, the People’s Republic of China, Poland, Ukraine, and France placing the Russians first. Judges from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan gave the event to the Canadians. France was the obvious odd ball in that first group, and the French judge broke down immediately under questioning, claiming that the French skating federation had pressured her to vote for the Russians regardless of what actually happened. This was a tit for tat agreement that would have seen votes come for the French ice dancing competitors competing a few days later.
The IOC went ahead and upgraded the Canadians to a gold medal, but allowed the Russians to also keep their gold medal, which should have resulted in nobody every taking figure skating seriously as a sport again. Alas, we are not so lucky, and must suffer through extensive coverage every four years.
13. Bill Belicheck’s Spying
This is one of the more recent entries on our list, so I doubt you’ll need much of a refresher to remember that Bill Belicheck was caught taping New York Jets defensive signals and fined $500,000 and a first round draft pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Belicheck won the 2007 Coach of the Year award anyway, proving that anything goes in the NFL as long as you’re winning while doing it.
12. Rosie Ruiz’s Short Journey
The marathon is a grueling event, with one of the biggest “playing fields” in all of sports, covering 26.2 miles of ground, leaving lots of opportunities for mischievousness. Rosie Ruiz is probably the most famous marathon cheat of all time. Ruiz “won” the 1980 Boston Marathon in a then record time of 2:31:56, but it was later discovered that she had simply registered for the race and then jumped out of the crowd close to the finish line.
Ruiz helped to inspire many anti-cheating techniques that are still used today in large marathons, including extensive video surveillance and RFID chips worn by all runners that monitors the times that runners arrive at various checkpoints.
11. Joe Niekro And His Famous Emory Board
Joe Niekro pitched for over two decades, maintaining impressive longevity in part by throwing the knuckleball, a pitch that is extremely easy on a pitcher’s arm. In 1987, Niekro was pitching for the Minnesota Twins when the opposing team accused him of doctoring the ball. Umpires made him empty his pockets and an emory board and a piece of sandpaper fell to the mound.
In all fairness, knuckleballers do rely on having sharp nails that can tightly grip a baseball. One could see a piece of sandpaper and an emory board helping out with that. But in all likelyhood Niekro was doctoring the ball, and he took his ten game suspension in stride. Joe’s brother Phil, who also threw the knuckleball, reportedly sent Joe a power sander with a 50 foot long extension cord making light of the incident.
10. The CCNY Point Shaving Scandal
Gambling seems to be the one unforgivable sin when it comes to athletics. If the legitimacy of a game comes into questions then fans will naturally start gravitating away from the game. If players are gambling, or helping to throw games then sport becomes no different than professional wrestling. One of the most earliest college basketball point shaving scandals involved the 1951 City College of New York basketball team. The incident was one of the earliest college basketball point shaving scandals and involved not just CCNY but six other schools including Bradley University and the University of Kentucky. The scandal entrapped over thirty players and was funded by organized crime.
Ever wonder why the NIT is the red headed stepchild of the NCAA tournament? The CCNY point shaving scandal had a lot to do with that.
9. Dora Ratjen’s Deception
Dora Ratjen was a German athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympics in the High Jump. Not much of a story really, except for one thing: Dora was actually Hermann, a man who was coerced by the Hitler Youth into tightly binding his genitals and competing against women. The German Olympic team struggled in the previous Olympic games, and so it was thought entering a man here and there on the women’s side of things might remedy the situation. But German men couldn’t even beat the women of other countries, as Ratjen finished fourth, failing to medal.
8. Ben Johnson’s Steroid Use
Steroids are much in the news of late, with Major League Baseball facing a juicing crisis, but you have to go back more than twenty years to a time when steroids really first went mainstream. The Olympics have a long history of athletes using anything they can get their hands on, but it all came to a head in the 80’s with Ben Johnson being stripped of his gold medal that he won in the 100m sprint, the glamour event of track and field. The scandal was particularly devastating for Canada, who latched onto Ben Johnson with a great deal of excitement and national pride, only to be gutted two days later when it was revealed that Johnson had been using Stanozolol, the same drug Barry Bonds has been accused of using.
7. 1919 Black Sox
The 1919 Black Sox scandal is probably the most famous example of athletes throwing a contest of all time. The 1919 World Series pitted the heavily favored Chicaco White Sox against the Cincinnati Reds. Rumors of the series being fixes were rampant even before things got underway, which caused an influx of money to come in betting for the Reds. The rumors were true, and eight members of the White Sox conspired to throw the series, led by first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil. All eight players were eventually banned for life, which had the effect of making Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest players in baseball history, ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
Somewhat surprising fact: The players were motivated to throw the series in part because they hated White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, a legendarily cheap SOB made their players pay for their own laundry, inevitably causing dirty uniforms and the nickname of “Black Sox” which existed well before the throwing of the World Series. So the next time you feel compelled to complain about escalating athlete salaries remember that they are helping to ensure games are fair and on the level, since there’s no monetary motivation to take a fall.
6. Tonya Harding Takes A Hit Out On Nancy Kerrigan
Ah, figure skating again, this time possibly the only event that ever truly made figure skating interesting. Tonya Harding was the 1991 US figure skating champion and only the second woman to ever land a triple axel in competition. She became just a touch more famous in 1994, when her ex-husband hit Nancy Kerrigan in the knee, leading to one of the more pathetic moments in sports history.
Incredibly, Harding still was allowed to compete in the 1994 Olympics after it was found that she had conspired with her ex-husband to attack Kerrigan. The US Olympic Committee tried to bar her from competition, but relented when she threatened legal action. She eventually received a large fine and community service for the attack, and eventually revealed herself to be a complete hillbilly, competing in female boxing, gaining a tremendous amount of weight, and releasing a sex tape that has been rumored to cause blindness.
5. Stella Walsh’s Working The System
Stella Walsh had a pretty ingenious sports hack: ambiguous genitalia! Walsh was an Olympic competitor for Poland, winning the gold in the 100m sprint in 1932, and the silver in 1936. Walsh set 18 world records in her life, but accusations that she was male dogged her for years, and she was forced to undergo a gender check at the 1936 Olympics. Which she apparently passed, despite the fact that when she was autopsied following her death it was found that she had male genitalia, along with female characteristics. Further investigation revealed that she had both an XX and an XY pair of chromosomes.
4. Spanish Paralympians Play A Mean Trick
So you thought the episode of South Park where Cartman pretends to be mentally disabled to enter the Special Olympics was fiction? Think again. The 2000 Paralympics saw the basketball team from Spain take the gold medal in the “intellectual disability” category. Carlos Ribagorda, an undercover journalist, revealed that the players on Spain’s team had not actually undergone the testing required to prove mental deficiency. It turned out that ten of the twelve players on the Spain basketball team were perfectly normal, making us really, really wish some of these games were on YouTube, just, you know, for research purposes. It wasn’t just the basketball team either, participants in table tennis, track and field, and swimming events were also not disabled, making us really wonder about Spain a little bit. Cause, come on, really? Cheating in the intellectually disabled portion of the Paralympics? I’m not sure it gets a lot worse than that.
3. Donald Crowhurst’s Ugly End
Donald Crowhurst deception carried with it some tragic consequences. Crowhurst competed in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, an around the world yacht race. This was a pretty terrible idea for numerous reasons, chief among them the fact that Crowhurst was an amateur sailor at best, and had never before attempted a lengthy voyage. His main reason for entering the race was to stir up some publicity for a handheld radio direction finder that allowed the user to take their bearing based on marine and aviation radio beacons.
Crowhurst decided to use a boat called a trimaran for the race, naturally a boat that was both untested at lengthy voyages and that had great trouble with capsizing (they are impossible to right once flipped). Crowhurst planned to add an inflatable buoyancy bag that would right the boat, but didn’t get around to it. No, seriously. He also left a bunch of his supplies behind in the frenzy of preparation.
Crowhurst immediately had issues with his boat and supplies upon embarking, and quickly realized he faced the choice of either continuing and more than likely dying, or quitting and facing financial devastation. He chose option three, which involved hanging around the South Atlantic for awhile and making false radio reports about his location. Based on early radio reports he had given the world assumed he was leading the race, causing runner up Nigel Tetley to push his ship to the literal breaking point. Tetley was forced to abandon ship, despite in reality being far ahead of the field. This caused Crowhurst a tremendous amount of guilt, which led him to suicide. His boat was eventually found adrift, along with a 25,000 word log book that included false logs, poems, quotations, and a long philosophical treatise on the human condition. The story has been made into numerous foreign films, and we figure it’s only a matter of time until someone in the US decides to cast Daniel Day Lewis as Crowhurst in a film that will be Oscar bait for all involved. Inevitable really.
2. Panama Lewis’ Lack of Heart
Panama Lewis might be the most despicable character in boxing’s history, which is saying something about a sport that has produced some truly disquieting individuals. The lowlight of Lewis’ career was the 1983 fight between Lewis Resto and Billy Collins Jr. in which Lewis removed most of the padding from Resto’s boxing gloves. He also soaked the tape that went on Resto’s hands in plaster of Paris, meaning Resto was basically beating Collins Jr. with a plaster cast for ten rounds. Collins Jr.’s vision was blurred after the fight, leading to depression and a death nine months later in a car accident that some believed to be a suicide. The picture above is what Collins Jr. looked like after the fight. Lewis spent a year in prison for fixing the fight, but went on to train boxers overseas.
A documentary was made about the incident in 2008 titled Cornered!.
1. The Hand of God
Easily one of the most famous plays in sports history, Diego Maradona’s goal came six minutes into the second half of the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between England and Argentina. Maradona punched the ball into the goal with his left hand, and referee Ali Bin Nasser allowed it, not having seen the penalty.
After the game and the 2-1 Argentinian victory came Maradona’s famous quote claiming that the goal was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God). The famous photograph you see above shows that the goal was actually scored mostly with the hand of Maradona. Argentina would go on to win the 1986 World Cup, only increasing the significance of the wrongly allowed goal.
Bad, ugly or just downright disgusting, everyone one of these names holds a dark place in our hearts. Their drive to win was insatiable; but their will to win far outweighed their respect for the sport and those who played. In the end they found a place a special place in the annals of history — it’s just too bad it wasn’t the place they were hoping for.