When it comes to the world of sports, fans have witnessed some incredible moments on the field. But that doesn't mean there wasn't any action going on behind the scenes. Let us take a look at some of the most spoken-about events in sports history.
The NCAA Bite Back
In 1985 the National Collegiate Athletic Association found themselves in a tricky situation regarding one of their schools - the Southern Methodist University, which allegedly had seven violations under their belt.
Unfortunately, things seemed to go downhill for the team when issues arose just one year later, regarding funding for the team from school donors. Despite their dedication to the game, the NCAA had to act accordingly. Sadly, SMU had to be removed from several future games and their funding was limited for some time after.
The New England Patriots are another team who found themselves grappling with rumors that were swirling around one of their players. Namely superstar quarterback Tom Brady, who made headlines for this rather confusing incident involving footballs.
Some believed that Brady had been tampering with footballs used during a championship game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. This unforgettable period was known as “Deflategate” in the media. Fortunately, Brady was still riding high after a Super Bowl win, so we’re sure it didn’t “deflate” his ego too much!
The Phantom Punch
Legendary boxer Muhammed Ali was involved in a lot of groundbreaking and mind-blowing moments over the course of his career. But few have forgotten the strange rumors surrounding his match with Sonny Liston where Ali came out on top… at least that’s what people thought.
At that time a conspiracy theory was floating around that Ali’s success may have been helped along by Liston. Rumors suggested that Liston actually chose to “lose” the fight while under pressure from the mafia, meaning that Ali’s fist had only thrown a “phantom punch.” This has never been confirmed, but the story was cemented in history.
The Tuck Rule
Another newsworthy event involving Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would become known as the “Tuck Rule.” On January 19th, 2002, the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders were playing against each other in the AFC Divisional Playoff. Little did they know that one game would have a resounding impact.
A call was made by the NFL after Brady attempted a throw and then retracted the ball inward. Charles Woodson of the Oakland Raiders tried to intercept, and the ball fell to the ground. This was deemed an “incomplete pass” - though many spectators agreed, many disagreed, making it one of the more controversial calls in NFL history.
Have you ever wanted to catch a baseball while you’re in the stands? For a lot of baseball fans, that’s the dream, and it’s one that almost came true for Chicago Cubs spectator Steve Bartman, back in October 2023 during the National League Championship Series. But things didn’t go quite as he expected.
In fact, it cost the Cubs their game! Unfortunately, the overzealous Bartman had leaped across to catch the ball that was spiraling towards him, but he failed to catch it and it fell out of the grasp of outfielder Moisés Alou. What had been a 3-0 lead for the Cubs turned into an 8-3 loss, and an awkward ride home for Steve Bartman.
The Landis Toxicology Report
Back in 2016, the Tour de France was won by American competitor Floyd Landis, who took first place in a breathtaking surprise win that he claimed at the last minute. But what was even more breathtaking? The news reports that followed immediately after.
It was alleged that Landis’ toxicology report showed the presence of performance enhancers in his bloodstream, at a level higher than is technically allowed. Though Landis’ hit back against the claims, many cycling fans felt conflicted, especially when the cyclist owned up to accusations just four years later.
In a somewhat similar cycling case to Floyd Landis, this next moment would shake the very foundations of the sport, and people are still talking about it to this day. And that’s it involved one of the world’s most iconic cyclists, American Lance Armstrong.
Over the years some began to suspect that Armstrong had been taking high levels of performance enhancers, though he vehemently denied such claims. Eventually, he owned up to the accusations in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Despite this, many still agree that Armstrong was an exceptionally talented athlete.
For thirteen years the world of basketball refereeing looked up to Tim Donaghy as one of the best referees in the NBA. He refereed almost 800 games in his time, and many fans and players looked up to him. But in 2007, that all changed in one of the most unforgettable moments in NBA history.
Apparently, Donaghy had been influenced by outsider betting, making calls that were influenced by these game bets. After being questioned by the FBI, Donaghy finally admitted to his own poor judgment. Fortunately, he also recognized the error of his ways, saying "I brought shame on myself, my family, and the profession."
Age and Sexism
Back in the 70s sexism was still rife, particularly in the arena of professional sports. Bobby Riggs, a 55-year old tennis veteran was one of many who doubted the ability of his female peers, even going so far as to make jokes at their expense. One day Billie Jean King, a young female player, decided that enough was enough.
So on September 20th, 1973, King and Riggs took to the court to settle the debate. Things backfired for him, however, when Billie Jean King was announced as the winner of the match. Though some speculated that the win was due more to their 26-year age difference, there’s no denying who came out on top in the “Battle of the sexes.”
Giving An Incentive
In 2010 and 2011 attention was drawn to some unusual behavior on behalf of the New Orleans Saints. Some members of the public suspected the NFL team had given players incentive to “target” specifically chosen players on the teams they played against. A “bounty” was placed on their heads if you will.
And the coaches themselves were reportedly paying for the privilege, as well as Saints coordinator Gregg Williams, who was accused of targeting Brett Favre (quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings) specifically. Both he and the Saints head coach were suspended, though they were fortunately reinstated not long after.
According to the Washington Post, in 1994 Olympic figure skating was gaining more attention than it ever had before, making world news in the middle of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. But unfortunately, this wasn’t due to the sports but rather the players involved.
Allegedly Tonya Harding, a participant in the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in 1994, had paid for a highly-publicized physical attack on her competitor, skater Nancy Kerrigan. Unsurprisingly Harding was removed from all further competitions. In a happier turn of events, Kerrigan won the silver medal later that year.
FIFA Quarterfinals of 1986
The FIFA world cup is always an emotional event, particularly as the competition draws closer to the final game. But in 1986, it was the FIFA quarterfinal that would capture the hearts of spectators all over the world. And it all circulated around Argentinian football icon Diego Maradona.
During the game, Maradona jumped for the ball but accidentally touched it with one hand before scoring a goal. The ref did not object to the score, and Argentina eventually won the game. Maradona later attributed the win to "his head, and a little with the hand of God."
The Mitchell Report was released in 2007 and rocked the world of Major League Baseball to its core. Named after Senator George Mitchell, the investigative report was a document split into twelve parts that detailed the suspected use of performance enhancers in the MLB.
Allegedly, this report accused 89 different baseball players of using these substances, including the likes of beloved players Andrew Pettitte and Barry Bonds. Fortunately, since this awkward period the MLB has gone to great lengths to turn their image around, and today they still have millions of devoted fans around the world.
The Little Unit
During the Little League World Series of 2001, fans of the league began to pay attention to a young upstart named Danny “The Little Unit” Almonte, a Bronx player named after Randy “The Big Unit'' Johnson. Almonte was a fan favorite, though that may have changed over the following year.
As it turned out, the gasp-inducingly impressive Almonet (who could throw 76-mile fastballs!) may have been too good to be true. He was outed for reportedly giving his age incorrectly as a means to enter the Little League and quickly removed, though we’re sure he inspired plenty of young baseball fans during his time on the pitch.
The University of Carolina has always treated its sports and athletics programs as a priority, as many colleges in America. But unlike other schools, UNC had an unorthodox way of securing the college education of their future athletes - namely, filling in their academic records with fake classes.
Allegedly, this behavior at UNC stretched back almost twenty years and was a practice that had improved the college careers of thousands of young athletes at their school. The college administration quickly took accountability for this, removing staff members involved and accepting the necessary year ban from the NCAA.
LeBron and Delonte West
This next item is proof that even the best athletes can struggle to keep their head in the game when their personal life is involved. This was the case when the Cleveland Cavaliers went back to back with the Boston Celtics in 2010. With LeBron James as forward, fans were feeling confident. Until he took to the court, that is.
By the end of the conference semifinals, the Cavs had lost, and James shot only 8 for 21 during the game. Fans believed his performance was the result of recent family drama, as his mother, Gloria, was rumored to be dating James’ teammate Delonte West. The rumors were never confirmed, but the game still went down in NBA history.
NBA Draft Lottery
The National Basketball Association Draft Lottery is an important part of the system that dictates the order of selection for the NBA draft. But former NBA Commissioner David Stern may be the reason that the famous Draft Lottery functions very differently today compared to 1985.
Because that was the year that rumors began to circulate around the commissioner. Stern’s job was to withdraw envelopes that assigned each spot to a random team, but some doubted just how random his picks really were. As a result, the entire system was reformulated not long after.
The End Of An Era
When basketball legend Michael Jordan officially announced his retirement from the NBA in 1993, it shook the very foundations of the sport. After multiple championship wins, as well as taking the MVP three times and claiming an Olympic gold, his retirement was unfathomable to many.
Official information linked his early retirement to the tragic loss of his father, and his desire to move to the MLB. Though to this day, some basketball fans still believe that MJ was forced to leave the association by then-Commissioner David Stern, who disapproved of Jordan’s alleged gambling habits.
Lakers and Kings
But Jordan’s early exit certainly wasn’t the last conspiracy theory being circulated amongst fans of the National Basketball Association. Let’s backtrack to 2002, and take a look at the sixth game of the Western Conference Finals, where the Lakers and Kings met on court.
Some spectators and commenters believed that this game had various unfair calls made by referees, including the aforementioned Tim Donaghy. Allegedly the Lakers were “league preferred,” hence why some believed these controversial calls were made in the team's favor, and it was even argued that the King’s were the superior team.
Early Days For Reggie Bush
The New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush has a long and storied career and was a star player even during his collegiate years with USC. He took home multiple trophies including the Heisman and won two championships. But Bush and his former college came under scrutiny just a few years later.
Between the years 2006 and 2010, rumors were circulating that Bush and his family had allegedly been given various gifts by the USC in a bid to bring him to their team. In 2010 the NCAA ruled that USC should be barred from competition for two years. Thankfully for both him and his fans, Reggie’s career was mostly untarnished.
Missing The Call
As you can probably tell by now, professional sports leagues are no stranger to criticism when it comes to their in-game calls, and the NFL is no exception. But one particular call at the 2018 NFC Championship is likely still stuck in the minds of many New Orleans Saints fans.
During a game between the Saints and the Rams, the Rams’ defense player Nickell Robey-Coleman messed with a pass between Saints quarterback Drew Brees and teammate Tommy Lee Lewis. Unfortunately, the referees never noticed the move, and the Rams came out on top (much to the despair of Saints fans everywhere.)
A Tragedy in the NBA
Len Bias was drafted for the Boston Celtics in 1986, straight out of his collegiate team at the University of Maryland, and he immediately made an impression on spectators. Players, coaches, commentators, and viewers alike expected big things from the young upstart.
Tragically, these expectations would never come to pass. Despite his pure potential and talent, the young athlete passed away the very next day after being drafted by the NBA. The irony of all ironies is that it was the result of an overzealous celebration the night before. Despite never seeing a game, he is still remembered.
Throwing The World Series
The title may be confusing, but in truth, there was never a Major League Baseball called the Black Sox. The name was actually given to a scandalous incident in 1919 involving the Chicago White Sox team during a game between themselves and the Cincinnati Reds.
When the final minutes of the game ticked over, the White Sox had lost 5-3. This may not seem like a big deal - except that eight players on the team were accused of throwing the entire World Series for a hefty sum of money from the mafia. Imagine that! It’s no surprise the scandal will forever be remembered in sporting history.
The Spygate Incident
As you already know, the New England Patriots have had their fair share of unforgettable moments over the years. But it was in 2007 that the team saw some seriously unusual NFL in-fighting - namely, between the Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and New York Jets coach Eric Mangini.
Mangini came out firing, making a bold accusation. Allegedly Belichick had recorded the Jets during a game, which resulted in the NFL sending the team a jaw-dropping $500,000 bill! Luckily for the Patriots, this didn’t affect their bottom line at the end of the day as they cruised straight to the playoffs that year.
The Brief Life of the USFL
The United States Football League was an exciting but sadly short-lived venture that came into being back in the 1980s. Before he was known as the US president, Donald Trump was a real estate mogul who officially put the last nail in the USFL’s coffin.
Trump had bought one of the franchises in the league and went on to file suit against the NFL with other USFL franchise owners by his side. Despite the USFL reigning triumphant in court and taking home $3 million, the league was considered unsustainable and officially crumbled not long after.
The Fall of Pete Rose
Pete Rose will go down in history as a great member of the MLB who fell from grace, possibly harder than any other in the league. He was heralded as a baseball icon at the heights of his career after winning three world series, various awards, and even breaking records at the same time.
That changed in 1989 when Rose was working as a coach. It was alleged that he was gambling on the matches of his own teams! As is to be expected the MLB banned him from the league for life. Fortunately Rose took the accusations in his stride, even apologizing to fans with the sentence "sorry I bet on baseball" on signed gear.
Being the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks would be a big responsibility for anyone, but few people received as much criticism for their time in the position as Isiah Thomas. And when Anucha Browne Sanders took to the media with her story, it was the last straw for many involved.
Sanders had formerly been an executive with the Knicks but was officially dismissed from the position. She claimed that she was fired for seeking out support from the team's HR department after Thomas had allegedly harassed her and displayed unprofessional behavior.
The Fab Five
The University of Michigan was lucky to nab five of the greatest players to ever enter the NCAA. Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson, and Juwan Howard were some of the most lauded college athletes of their time, but some behaviors behind the scenes were raising eyebrows in the NCAA.
As a result, the association launched an investigation into the UoM’s relationship with the “Fab Five” (as they were known at the time). Apparently, a specific college donor named Ed Martin had been providing the young men with exorbitant amounts of cash, provided that they all repay him once they were drafted by the NBA.
Miami Funding Fiasco
What happens when you mix a business fraudster and the University of Miami? Well, a failed football program apparently. Nevin Shapiro, who owned the shell company Capital Investments USA, allegedly launched a money-laundering scheme that involved UoM athletes.
It has been said that Shapiro donated huge sums of money directly to these college football players, using entirely laundered cash. The FBI soon caught wind of the operation, but Shapiro chose to lay the blame for his actions entirely on the University of Miami.