Nothing is more captivating than a fall from grace that happens on a national scale. Humanity is innately drawn to seeing someone lose it all after they seem to have it all. It’s an unfortunate reality for those in the limelight. Once you achieve greatness, people no longer root for you to keep it, but rather to lose it. The world of sports has produced some of the most infamous scandals ever. The love of sports is universal, and so is the hatred for those that defile the sports we love. These three sports scandals are the worst of the worst.
Before his doping scandal, there was not an athlete with more support than Lance Armstrong. In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, lymph nodes, abdomen and brain. Armstrong vowed that he would not go down without a fight, and he stood by his word. In 1999, he won his first of seven consecutive Tour de France championships after his cancer diagnosis. A feat like this had never been accomplished in professional cycling. Armstrong’s unheard-of success, coupled with being a cancer survivor, made him an American hero overnight. “Live Strong” wristbands could be seen everywhere and became a universal signal for the fight against cancer.
That all changed in 2009 when Armstrong’s teammate, Floyd Landis, accused him of doping. Doping, or blood doping, is when an athlete reuses their red blood tissue. The addition of red blood cells enables increased transfer of oxygen to muscles, which boosts endurance and performance. Not only was Armstrong cheating, but it would later come out that he was pressuring his teammates to cheat as well. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency described Armstrong’s actions as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Consequently, Armstrong went from an American hero to the ultimate sporting disgrace.
In 1919, baseball was the most popular sport in the U.S. Due to the sport’s unrivaled popularity, the World Series was the year’s biggest sporting event. The 1919 World Series featured the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. What happened changed how professional championships would be seen forever. The “Black Sox Scandal” was centered around eight White Sox players that intentionally lost the World Series for money.
Big-name gamblers reached out to the players and agreed to pay them $100,000 to purposely lose the World Series. Halfway through the series, some players tried to get out of the deal. Allegedly, threats were made by the mob against the players’ families, so the players continued to sabotage the game. The losses the team had already endured were too significant and the Cincinnati Reds would eventually win the series.
All eight White Sox players later admitted to federal prosecutors that they had taken money in exchange for intentionally losing the World Series. The players were indicted on nine charges of conspiracy by a grand jury. During the trial, the sworn confessions made by the players disappeared under mysterious circumstances, with no criminal charges brought against them. They were, however, banned from playing baseball for life by the Major League Baseball Commissioner. Their reputations forever tarnished, they became known as the players who sold out America’s pastime to the mob for a paycheck.
Finally, the most infamous sports scandal ever did not take place in a sporting field or arena. OJ Simpson was one of the most popular football players in the 1960s and 1970s. The Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Famer played for ten years in the NFL before he retired and became a sports broadcaster for ABC. He even co-starred in the famous “Naked Gun” series in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Simpson seemed like a normal former football star who transitioned smoothly into being a B-list TV celebrity.
That perception changed forever June 12, 1994. On that summer evening, Nicole Brown, Simpson’s ex-wife, and her friend Ronald Goldman were stabbed to death outside of her condominium in Los Angeles. Simpson was a prime suspect in the case, and after a warrant was issued for his arrest, he hid in the back of his friend Al Cowling’s white Ford Bronco. He told Cowling that he had a gun and forced Cowling to avoid the police in a low-speed chase on the highway that lasted for over an hour.
Simpson was eventually convinced to put away the gun and was taken into custody. The event was nationally televised, and over 95 million Americans watched it live. Simpson formed a “legal dream team” to defend him in court with the likes of Robert Kardashian (Kim Kardashian’s father) and Johnnie Cochran, who coined the phrase, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.” Simpson’s primary defense was that the gloves found by the murder weapon did not fit his hands, so he could have never committed the crime. Simpson would eventually be found not guilty of the murders in one of the most famous criminal cases and sports scandals in U.S. history. These scandals have etched themselves into history, and for better or worse the respective sports are different as a result.