By Jason Iannone
You know how we tell kids that it’s not important if you win or lose, but how they play the game? Turns out that’s complete horsecrap. If you want to be successful in your chosen field, you have to win, and win often. That would explain why sports are filled with talented people cheating their asses off, because they need a win by any means necessary.
Here are five of the most memorable scandals where people did anything in their power to make winning that much easier, even if it meant “how they play the game” would forever be answered with “as dirtily as humanly possible.”
5. The New Orleans Saints Bounty System
If the Mafia had sponsored a football team, this would probably be their preferred strategy. From 2009 to 2011, the hierarchy of the New Orleans Saints built a winning team by motivating players with financial incentives. Not for scoring touchdowns or rushing for X number of yards, but for hurting certain opponents so badly they couldn’t play anymore. Up to 27 players took the bait, meaning the Saints had basically turned their team into a pack of bounty hunters.
During the course of the investigation, an audio clip surface in which defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was heard instructing his players to injure key San Francisco 49ers players before the teams’ playoff game in January 2012. Williams exhorted Saints players to injure knees, ankles and repeatedly target their heads.
Of course, having two dozen hired thugs on your team is bound to attract attention sooner or later. By 2012, the NFL had uncovered all the parties responsible for organizing the Saints Bounty Club: coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, and Williams (the inventor of the scheme.) Payton got an eight-game suspension, Loomis a six-gamer, and Williams was received an indefinite boot from the league (which, as it turned out, meant just 10 months).
Sadly for Who Dat Nation, their fortunes rested almost entirely on illegalities. The year before instituting the bounties, the team struggled to reach 8-8. The first year of it, they won the Super Bowl. The following two years, they made the playoffs. The year after the bounties ceased? 7-9.
4. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan
The Saints were far from the only athletes who deliberately hurt competitors to gain an edge. The most famous version of that story occurred in 1994, when skater Tonya Harding hired a goon to break rival Nancy Kerrigan’s knees. Why? because Kerrigan was a better skater, and Harding wanted Olympic gold.
Of course, the goon turned out to be completely ineffectual at beating down somebody a third his size, as Kerrigan survived to skate in the Olympics after all. Harding, despite being the mastermind of this whole thing, shockingly wasn’t banned from the Olympics. After her performance though, she probably wished she had been. She ultimately bumbled down to eighth place, after one of her skate laces broke and her replacement turned out to be too short. If you believe in karma, that’s totally it.
On the bright side, Harding could at least take solace that Kerrigan didn’t win the gold medal. She won the silver, but hey: second place is the first loser, right?
3. The 2000 Spanish Paralympic Team
Remember that one episode of South Park where Cartman pretended to be a Special Olympian so he could actually win at something for once? That happened in real life too, which makes it even sadder. We expect these kinds of shenanigans from an antisocial piece of construction paper, but not from actual athletes!
The guilty parties were ten members of the 2000 Spanish Paralympic Intellectual Disability Basketball team (their business cards must’ve been huge), who decided it would be a great idea to pretend to be developmentally disabled and then kick the asses of kids who actually were.
Obviously, they won the gold that year. Even more obviously, their little scheme was quickly found out and they were immediately stripped of their medals. Maybe if they had tried to eat them, it would’ve thrown investigators off the trail… or not. Wouldn’t have been any worse than the original idea. Oh well, maybe next time.
2. Danny Almonte
Here’s another case where an insecure athlete unfairly schooled inferior competition because contests on equal ground are hard. Danny Almonte was a 12-year-old pitching prodigy, recording strikeout after strikeout and leading his team to a third-place finish in the 2001 Little League World Series. He even recorded a no-hitter once, which is tough to do any level of baseball, never mind one where a pitcher could easily lose focus because their body starts changing in mysterious ways during the windup.
Almonte was so good in fact, that people began to suspect he was too good. Plus, he sure didn’t look 12. As it turns out, that’s because he wasn’t — he was 14, which explained both the mature look and the utter squashing of all who dared oppose him (at that age, two years of seniority might as well be 20, as far as development is concerned). His parents had lied about his date of birth so he could dominate against younger players and hopefully secure a big-money contract down the line. If that doesn’t just scream “confidence in your little darling’s talent,” we don’t know what does.
Of course, they might have had reason to fret, because as soon as Almonte started playing in his own age group, he magically sucked. His one Major League tryout flopped miserably, and he’s since settled for being assistant coach of a high school baseball team. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, briefly hold down the fort whenever the teacher gets the sniffles.
1. BALCO/Biogenesis Doping
And now for an ongoing scandal that’s affected not just a player or a team, but an entire damn league. It seems that playing 162 baseball games a year is nigh-impossible to do au naturel, which would explain why so many players dope like their contracts require it.
The Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) scandal involved the use of banned, performance-enhancing substances by professional athletes, many who were Major League Baseball players. After a 2002 federal raid on the Millbrae laboratory, a number of high-profile athletes such as San Francisco Giants slugger and home-run king Barry Bonds, former Oakland A’s All-Star and league MVP Jason Giambi, world champion sprinter Marion Jones and others saw their careers stained because of their connection to the BALCO scandal.
In 2013, the Biogenesis scandal was the pinnacle of ball players juicing up to make their jobs easier (at least until we reach another pinnacle in a year or two). In early 2013, word got out that several players linked to performance-enhancing drugs – including Giants outfielder and 2012 All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera and A’s All-Star pitcher Bartolo Colón – had received them from the now-gone Biogenesis lab in South Florida. After a bit of investigation, it turned out over a dozen players got drugs from that bastion of clean living, including one of the top faces of baseball, Alex Rodriguez.
Nobody got banned somehow, but the punishments were nevertheless severe and unprecedented. A dozen players received 50-game suspensions, similar to what Cabrera and Colón received in 2012. Ryan Braun sat home for 65 games, and A-Rod got an astronomical 211-game ban. His extremely well-paid lawyers bartered it down to a mere 162 games, which meant 2014 was completely A-Rod free. Luckily, nobody likes the guy anymore (even Yankee fans were sick of him), so everybody’s been living their lives quite splendidly without him, thank you very much.
Jason Iannone is a Cracked Columnist, who thinks it’s a scandal you haven’t followed him on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and his website. Unless of course, you have. Then it’s a scandal you don’t send him your paycheck every week.
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