Sports: A history rich in scandal

Athletes want to win -- and sometimes step over the line to do so.
Athletes want to win -- and sometimes step over the line to do so.
In the end, the conclusion surprised no one: It is “more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel deliberately released air from footballs used in a championship game, according to an investigation released May 6.

     The Patriots won that contest against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18 – but a cloud hovered over the team after allegations surfaced that someone on the staff had deflated balls used during the game.
     The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 1. But the NFL tasked a law firm with investigating claims against the Patriots, and the firm found it probable that employees intentionally violated rules.
     It is “more probable than not that Jim McNally (locker room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from Patriots game balls,” the report concluded.    
     There is “less direct evidence” linking Tom Brady, the team’s quarterback, the report said. “We nevertheless believe, based on the totality of the evidence, that it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”
     The NFL could take disciplinary measures. It wouldn't be the first time that a professional sports team has become mired in a cheating scandal. And doctoring equipment -- a crime more associated with baseball -- is only one of the charges. Here are five common scandals that put athletes in the news:     

     Bribes -- The Chicago Black Sox scandal, 1919:  In this, the granddaddy of all sporting scandals, members of the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed the Black Sox) were accused of intentionally throwing the World Series for various amounts of money. Cincinnati won, 5-3. One of the foremost athletes of the time, Joe Jackson (Shoeless Joe Jackson) was among those accused in the plot, recounts the Chicago Historical Society. A year later, the accusations became public. Team members were acquitted of the charges, but banned for life from baseball, according to the Major League Baseball website.

     Doping  -- Lance Armstrong, cyclist:  For years, Armstrong dominated cycling, not just in the U.S., but in the world. He was also a determined and successful cancer survivor. But Armstrong was haunted by charges that drugs were fueling his cycling victories. In 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an organization involved in education, sample collection, results management and drug reference resources for athletes, concluded that Armstrong’s cycling team “ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Armstrong has since apologized for his actions, but all of his competitive results from 1998 through 2011 were disqualified, according to USA Cycling. Other athletes – runners, baseball players, gymnasts, etc. -- have been caught up in doping scandals.

     Judging controversies -- “Skategate” during the pairs figure skating competition, 2002 Olympics: Fans watch skating for the beauty, the grace and the drama – especially the drama. After Canadian skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier performed at the 2002 Olympics, a look of elation washed over their faces. They had been perfect and they knew it. And besides, their rivals, the Russian team – Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze – bobbled. But the judges didn’t see it that way. The Canadians finished second, and a firestorm erupted. Within days, the International Olympic Committee and the International Skating Union announced that one of the judges had been suspended for misconduct and the Canadians would share a gold medal with the Russians. (See article in The New York Times.)

     Espionage -- Spygate, 2007: This particular scandal also involves (wait for it) the New England Patriots. A team employee was caught videotaping signals by New York Jets coaches during a game. New England coach Bill Belichick was fined the NFL maximum of $500,000. The Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for spying on an opponent's defensive signals, according to an Associated Press story posted on the website.

     Direct attack: Frequently, disputes get personal. One soccer player bites another, or a basketball player body slams his opponent. There are too many of these to list. But among the most egregious cases:

  • In 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was clobbered on the knee as she practiced for national skating championships during the runup to the Olympics. Ultimately, four men were sentenced to prison in the attack, including the ex-husband of a rival skater, Tonya Harding. Harding was sentenced to probation for conspiring to hinder prosecution, an article in The New York Times reported. Kerrigan was awarded a place on the Olympic team despite her inability to compete in the national competition. 
  • During a heavyweight match June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. He was disqualified from the match and suspended from boxing. (See an article on The History

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