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10 Most Curious and Downright Insane Sporting Controversies

by Bullybeefed
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

We see our heroes on the screen, running, jumping, and kicking balls of all shapes and sizes, and we think what a life it must be to train, get some sunshine, and make tons of money from endorsements and league bonuses while we are at it. But do we really know what kind of money is counted behind the scenes? What a ripple effect the promise of some riches can have on the performance of an athlete or the funding of new coaches.

Some people play to win; others would gladly give someone a head knock or take a nice lump sum under the table to lose one or two of the most important matchups of their lives. Here are ten of the most curious sporting controversies.

Related: Top 10 Rarest Feats In Sports

10 The Black Sox Scandal

The 1919 World Series Fix that Tarnished America’s Pastime

Perhaps one of baseball’s most infamous match-fixing scandals, the Black Sox Scandal shook the sport to its core. Although much of the details remain unclear, what has since been established is that some members of the Chicago White Sox had conspired and agreed to lose games in exchange for a monetary kick-back, effectively rigging match outcomes in the process.

In total, eight members of the team had been bribed to lose, receiving between $70,000 and $100,000 (an insane amount considering it was 1919) each for losing three of five games. In September 1920, a grand jury was called in to investigate the allegations, and the men were indicted. Two players were acquitted on insufficient evidence. Following the incident, new baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the infamous eight from the game for life.[1]

9 Assault of Nancy Kerrigan

Almanac: The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding scandal

Dubbed “the whack heard around the world,” when Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding’s rivalry reached boiling point, it meant assaults and broken bones. Fierce competition, promises of fame and fortune, and a desire to make the U.S. Olympic team were all floated as reasons for her behavior. Still, in the end, it was sheer desperation that drove Harding to madness.

Shane Stant, a 21-year-old, used a collapsible baton to thwack Kerrigan’s right leg. The knock wasn’t severe enough to break any bones, but the injuries prompted her withdrawal from the national championship. This led to an ultimate gold for Harding, whose ex-husband at the time orchestrated the attack on Kerrigan.

A few months later, Harding confessed to hindering investigation efforts attempting to unravel what had transpired, and she was banned from U.S. Figure Skating for life and stripped of her national title.[2]

8 1972 Olympic Basketball Final

The Most Controversial Basketball Game | USA v USSR | 1972 Munich Olympics

The U.S. men’s team had all but won their eighth gold medal in as many matchups against their opponents, the Soviet Union, when the final whistle was blown. Final score: 50–49 to the USA as the match drew to an end—the final score of the match was from a late free throw to seal the deal.

The Soviet assistant coach rushed to the scorers’ table and insisted that his team had called a timeout and should be allowed to inbound again, which they agreed to without resetting the clock. The pass went astray, and the Americans celebrated. The twist—because of the clock not being reset, the Soviets were allowed to take another restart, this time finding Alexander Belov, who sank the winner for the Soviets. A 50-51 win for the Soviets.

Appeals to the final score were rejected, and investigations were launched as to the validity of the result to no avail, confirming the USA’s first loss ever in the event.[3]

7 The Hand of God

Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ Was More Than Just A Goal…

Until Lionel Messi crashed onto the scene and cemented himself in the annals of Argentine football, there was an undisputed best. Diego Maradona is arguably one of the most well-known soccer figures in the history of the sport and a controversial one to boot.

Perhaps in one the most famous games he ever played in—the quarterfinal matchup between Argentina and England—Maradonna also became known as the Hand of God. Six minutes into the second half, the score was deadlocked at 0 each. Maradonna was about to ink his name in infamy.

In an attempt to clear the ball, the goalkeeper failed to catch it, the ball instead ending up in the back of the net. In a time before television match officials, it was impossible to rescind the goal. However, replays showed that Maradonna guided the ball with a closed fist. Argentina won the match.[4]

6 The Dirtiest Race in History

Ben Johnson Seoul Olympics 1988 Drugs Scandal BBC Sport Report

In what is considered the dirtiest race that has ever been run, the 100m final of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the race had everything a captivating sporting event of this stature needed. This race had it all—a decent dose of anticipation, a backstory of rivals facing destiny, the fastest men on the planet lining up single file. And Drugs. Too many drugs.

Half of the competitors broke the 10-second barrier, with Ben Johnson taking first place in a world record time of 9.79sec. Shortly after walking away with the win, Johnson tested positive for steroids, was stripped of his title, and shamed. Carl Lewis, the second-place and default winner, also tested positive, losing out on his shot at glory.

All in all, six of the eight participants tested positive for banned substances and were disqualified.[5]

5 Sandpaper Gate

Revisited Episode 1 | Sandpaper-Gate: The ball-tampering scandal that changed Australian Cricket

The sport of cricket is no stranger to controversy, from the Pakistan Cricket Spot-fixing scandal to the match-fixing scandal involving South African Captain Hansie Cronje. The most recent, however, came in the form of Sandpaper Gate and involved high-ranking players of the Australian team.

When the Australian team was on a tour of South Africa, television crews recorded strange behavior from players dipping their fingers into their pockets. Turns out, the players were rubbing the ball with a piece of sandpaper to get additional swing from the ball that would otherwise be impossible.

In the end, three players received varying length suspensions, including one-year bans from any professional cricket and three years from captaincy roles.[6]

4 The LSD No-Hitter

The Pitcher who Threw a No-Hitter while High on LSD

In what was one of just more than 300 no-hitters from over 210,000 games played in Major League Baseball, Dock Ellis’s no-hitter is all the more impressive considering the somewhat controversial feat. You see, Dock Ellis’s masterclass of pitch prowess came one fateful Friday, on June 12, 1970, as he recorded more walks than strikeouts, hit another batsman, and allowed three stolen bases. All while high as a kite.

It was the first and only no-hitter of Ellis’s career, and almost undoubtedly the only no-hitter while the pitcher was heavily under the influence of LSD. Before the match, Ellis found himself on a binge of drugs and drinking and had lost track of what day it was. When he woke in the morning, he dropped another hit of acid at noon, only to find out later that he was expected on the mound later that very same evening.[7]

3 Deflategate

The Tom Brady “Deflategate” Scandal

Tom Brady is one of the most well-known sporting figures in the world, even if the sport he excels in doesn’t really feature across the borders of the U.S. Brady was involved in what was dubbed Deflategate after speculation arose that the New England Patriots used an illegal process for lowering the inflation levels of the game footballs at Brady’s behest, who preferred a softer grip. In short, they were accused of cheating.

The news made headlines, as sensational wunderkind Brady was left with a tarnished reputation and a four-game ban for his involvement in the scandal. The Patriots were also fined $1 million for their indiscretions.

In September 2015, a federal judge overturned Brady’s suspension, suggesting that Brady should not have been suspended due to “general awareness” of other people’s conduct.[8]

2 Steve Bartman

The Bartman Incident | The Mishap That Extended The Cubs’ Curse

Bartman did what most baseball fans growing up hoping that they might one day snatch the ball from the sky as it landed in the stands—he caught the ball. The problem was it ended a play that could have gone differently had he not intervened.

The year was 2003, and the Marlins were playing the Cubs with Marlin Luis Castillo at the bat. Castillo hit a foul ball, which Bartman deflected just before Cubs fielder Moisès Alou could take that catch and end Castillo’s innings. The Cubs would have won, and instead, the Marlins took an unlikely victory.

The big screen panned to Bartman, and Cubs fans directed their ire at the poor soul, with him having to be escorted from the stadium by police for his own safety. For years, Bartman was subject to a mob-like hatred for his antics[9]

1 Bloodgate

Harlequins Bloodgate Scandal in 2009

In the Heineken Cup quarterfinal, the Harlequins rugby team from England played Leinster from Ireland. In what was a tightly contested matchup eagerly awaited by the fans as two heavyweights of the sport went toe-to-toe, the medical team from Harlequins devised a plan to sub players that they would usually not be allowed to do. It involved blood.

In rugby, when a player is bleeding, the wound must be tended to ASAP. It’s an easy out if you think about it. Team physio Steve Brennan bought cheap fake blood capsules used for pranks, and winger Tom Williams bit into it, sending fake blood gushing from his mouth, allowing them to bring back their principal playmaker.

The Harlequins lost the game, despite their backward tactics, and were later ousted for their plans, receiving a $260,000 fine. Williams was banned from playing rugby for 12 months (later reduced to 4 months).[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen