Say it Ain't So, Joe: 10 Infamous Sports Cheating Scandals

NY Times headline
The front page of a 1920 New York Times describes the Black Sox Scandal, one of the worst sports scandals of all time. See more sports pictures.
New York Times Co./Getty Images

Betting, battery, bribery...and you thought sports were exciting on the field!

Sure, watching your favorite baseball team win that big game is entertaining, but what's happening behind the scenes is sometimes just as dramatic as the action in the bottom of the ninth. Sports cheating scandals run the gamut from athletes using performance-enhancing drugs to get a jump on the competition to much more violent indiscretions where players intentionally harm each other.


Of course, when anyone cheats in sports, they let down their teammates, but many fans also take it personally when they discover that their favorite athlete or team hasn't been playing by the rules. Fans feel betrayed when a cheating scandal breaks -- just look at the fallout from the recent Lance Armstrong doping scandal. There are a myriad of editorials talking about how Armstrong not only let down his team but his fans as well.

Armstrong wasn't the first (or last!) athlete to cheat. When the Black Sox scandal broke in 1919, a young fan purportedly walked up to "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and said, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" Whether this really happened is up for debate, but what's not ambiguous is how much scandals like these let down not just teammates and coaches, but sports fans as well.

Here are 10 of the most infamous starting with the one that sparked the young fan's protest.

10: The White Sox Throws the World Series

Black Sox
Group portrait of some of the "Black Sox" (seated left to right): "Chick" Gandil, "Lefty" Williams, "Swede" Risberg, Eddie Cicotte, "Buck" Weaver, and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, all smiles after being acquitted in August 1921.
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox were the favorite to win the 1919 World Series, and intentionally losing that game forever earned them the infamous name the "Black Sox," though the name initially referred to their often dirty uniforms -- coach Charles Comiskey had them washed infrequently to save a buck [source: Linder]. Armed with star pitchers "Lefty" Williams and Eddie Cicotte and baseball legend outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, it seemed impossible that Chicago could lose. But they did. What would cause a team to throw the biggest game of the season?

It came down to money. Baseball players at that time didn't make millions like they do now, and some of the White Sox players were especially disgruntled. Cicotte is a prime example: Cominskey had promised him a $10,000 bonus -- the equivalent of more than $130,000 today -- if he won 30 games, then benched him after his 29th win [sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics,Lowitt]. The poor morale and even poorer pay make it less surprising that a group of players on the team sought to throw the game in exchange for a big payout or that Cicotte was one of the first players involved in the fix.


There's some debate over which player initiated the scandal, but regardless of who got the ball rolling, gambler "Sport" Sullivan agreed to give the players $80,000 to throw the Series [source: Linder]. That $80,000 went up to $100,000 as the Series approached and more gamblers and players got involved. Lefty Williams even received threats to himself and his family if he didn't throw game eight.

Cheating in baseball was more common in 1919 than it is today, so when a normally stellar team started losing Series games, reporters began to wonder about a fix, but a Cook County grand jury investigation didn't begin until a year later during another cheating investigation against the Chicago Cubs [source: Lowitt]. The eight White Sox players indicted were:

  1. Arnold "Chick" Gandil
  2. Eddie Cicotte
  3. Claude "Lefty" Williams
  4. George "Buck" Weaver
  5. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
  6. Charles "Swede" Risberg
  7. Oscar "Happy" Felsch
  8. Fred McMullin

All eight players involved were acquitted but the commissioner of baseball banned them from playing professional baseball for life.

9: Lance Armstrong Doping Scandal

Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong takes a stop during a training ride back in 2008. Will he continue wearing the Livestrong shirt now that he's off the board of the foundation that he created?
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The cycling world was shocked in October 2012 when seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was accused of not only using performance-enhancing drugs, but also bullying teammates into doing the same [source: Suarez].

There had long been rumors that Armstrong was doping, but until the summer of 2012, he fought the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on the charges. The allegations were that Armstrong took drugs and pressured teammates to take them during the years that he was leading the U.S. Tour de France team from 1999-2005.


Armstrong has never failed a drug test, but -- as Bill Strickland of Bicycling magazine pointed out in an interview with PBS's Ray Suarez -- neither did one of his teammates who testified to doping and to personally seeing Armstrong take steroids [source: Suarez]. There are reports saying the real story there is that he had failed drug tests in the past but successfully covered them up.

There are mixed reactions in the bicycling community about the Armstrong doping scandal. Cyclist Mike Cavendish told The Independent that Armstrong's behavior back then taints the sport's reputation now. But a poll from late October 2012 -- after the scandal broke- - showed that only 36 percent of respondents had a negative view of Lance Armstrong, even after reading stories on the doping scandal [source: O'Keeffe].

The scandal hit Armstrong hard. The International Cycling Union stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles. Sponsors, like Nike and Anheuser-Busch, dropped him which meant a lot of lost revenue [source: Macur]. He also had to resign from Livestrong, the charitable organization he founded, aimed at fighting cancer [source: Associated Press]. The organization will continue its fundraising and awareness-raising efforts without him.

8: Rosie's Ruse

Rose Ruiz
Rosie Ruiz shown moments after crossing the finish line as the apparent women's race winner of the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980. But not for long.
David Madison/Getty Images

The Boston Marathon was the first marathon in the U.S. and part of one of the most notorious marathon scandals [source: History]. During the 1980 Boston Marathon, Rosie Ruiz left the pack of runners and took the subway to a stop about one mile (1.6 kilometers) from the finish line; she "won" the race with a final time of 2:31:56 [source: Mass Moments].

Ruiz's time was pretty sketchy from the moment she crossed the finish line. She had barely broken a sweat, and her time had improved by more 20 minutes from her previous race [source: Mass Moments]. Even more questionable was that no one at any of the race checkpoints had spotted Ruiz in the fastest group of runners. After some spectators said they saw Ruiz re-joining the race after her subway jaunt, investigators disqualified her. They also disqualified her from the New York Marathon, after witnesses testified that she'd pulled the same stunt in that race, a qualifier for the Boston event.


When Ruiz stole the laurel ring -- the crown that the Boston Marathon winners get to wear -- she also stole the spotlight from the real winner of the women runners: Jacqueline Gareau, who finished in 2:34:28. The city held a special ceremony to honor Gareau weeks later, but it was not the same as that moment of victory after a hard-run race [source: Running Times].

Even after the Boston Athletic Association took Ruiz's medal, she insisted that she hadn't cheated and continues to do so today.

7: Questionable Records During Baseball's Steroid Era

Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa
St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire (right) and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa shown in happier times during a 1998 press conference prior to a game between the two clubs when they were duking it out for the home run record.
Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images

One of the longest-running cheating scandals happened during what's sometimes called "Baseball's Steroid Era." From the late '80s to the late 2000s, countless players used steroids to improve their speed, stamina, and accuracy. It's hard to pin a number on this scandal, because until 1991, steroids were not banned in baseball, and there was no systematic testing until 2003 [source: ESPN].

Among the players tainted by the Major League Baseball (MLB) doping scandal were Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. All three set home run records, and all three used steroids to enhance their games. In 1998, McGwire broke Roger Maris' 1961 record of most home runs in one season (61) with 70 runs. Sosa finished second with 66 -- hitting 26 more than he did the year before. Bonds hit 73 homers in 2001 even though he'd never reached 50 in previous seasons [source: ESPN].


There were suspicions and investigations in the early 2000s, and in 2005 the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform held hearings on steroid use after player Jose Canseco released his tell-all book about doping in baseball [source: ESPN]. Under subpoena in the 2005 hearings, McGwire denied his steroid and human growth hormone use; in early 2010, he finally confessed [source: ESPN]. Sosa also denied using drugs in those 2005 hearings but was later linked to a positive test.

In one of those early investigations, the Bay Area Laboratory Collective (BALCO) was investigated by federal agents; Bonds said he did take substances they supplied to his trainer, but he thought they were linseed oil and rubbing balm [source: ESPN]. He passed the drug test at that time, so the investigation on him ceased. In 2007, Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice for lying under oath during those investigations [source: ESPN].

In 2007, MLB's Mitchell Commission (headed by former Sen. George Mitchell) issued a report linking 89 major leaguers to performance-enhancing illegal drugs.

6: Ben Johnson Stripped of Olympic Gold Medal

Ben Johnson, 1998 olympics
Ben Johnson speeds ahead of the pack to win the 1988 Olympic 100 meter final in a world record 9.79 seconds.
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

The 1988 100-meter dash in Seoul was a thrilling race packed with track stars like Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Ben Johnson. What made the race even more exciting was watching Johnson break the world record with a final time of 9.79 seconds [source: Montague]. Twenty-four hours later, Johnson failed a drug test and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped him of the medal he'd just won [source: Montague].

Johnson returned to Canada in disgrace, and later the same year that country launched the Dubin Commission to investigate him and his coach, Charlie Francis. During the investigation, Francis testified that he started giving drugs to the 11 athletes that trained with him because everyone else in the sport was doing it [source: Janofsky].


Little changed in track and field as a result of the Dubin Inquiry. It took another 12 years for the IOC to form the World Anti Doping Agency, and critics say part of the reason for the delay was that revealing the extent of doping was bad PR for the Olympics [source: Montague].

After failing a second drug test in 1993, Johnson was banned from the sport for life. The scandal is one that haunts Olympic track and field to this day. People often suspect drug-taking when records are broken [source: Reuters]. In fact, six of the eight 1988 100 meter finalists either tested positive for using banned drugs in that race, or were implicated in drug use at another point in their careers. They included Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Desai Williams.

5: Tonya Harding 'Whacks' Nancy Kerrigan

nancy kerrigan, tonya harding
The body language says it all: Nancy Kerrigan (left) stays clear of her rival Tonya Harding during a practice session at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Pascal Rondeau/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

Usually when a sport explodes in popularity, it's because of an exceptional star player, but in 1994 a scandal drove ice skating to the forefront in the U.S.

Nancy Kerrigan was just wrapping up a practice session in January 1994 when a man with a metal baton bashed her knees. It seemed as if Kerrigan's Olympic dreams had been crushed. Tonya Harding won the 1994 U.S. women's figure skating championship and joined the U.S. Olympic team. But it wasn't long before an accomplice in Kerrigan's attack -- Shawn Eckardt -- came forward to say that Harding's then-husband Jeff Gillooly was responsible for Kerrigan's knee injuries [source: CBS News]. Harding denied knowledge of the attack.


Despite being unable to compete in the U.S. trials, Kerrigan was voted onto the team along with Harding (who threatened a lawsuit if she was kept off) for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. More than 120 million TV viewers tuned in to watch the drama unfold as the two competed for a gold medal [source: Oprah]. Harding only placed eighth while Kerrigan took the silver in front of thousands of fans [source: CBS News].

Harding later admitted that Gillooly told her about the attack after it happened. She pleaded guilty to hindering the investigation and a Portland judge slapped her with probation and a $160,000 fine [sources: CBS News, Steptoe]. The U.S. Figure Skating Association was more severe. It independently investigated the attack, stripped Harding of her 1994 women's championship title and banned her for life from competitive figure skating and coaching after they concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened [source: Brennan].

4: The U.S.S.R. Gets Three Chances to Defeat the U.S.A.

USA USSR basketball 1972 Olympics
The U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. at the tip-off of the gold medal game at the 1972 Olympics. Alexander Belov (No. 14) would score the controversial final point for Russia.
Getty Images

Who really won the 1972 Olympic basketball gold is still a point of contention. Officially, the former Soviet Union took home the gold, but the U.S. team at the time said that the win was underhanded at best.

The U.S. team had won every Olympic basketball gold medal since 1936 -- seven wins in a row -- so there was a lot of pressure for the 1972 team to keep the streak going. The game was a close one, with the U.S.S.R. in the lead at half-time, but the U.S. team closed the gap with just 38 seconds left at the end of the fourth quarter. With seconds to go, U.S. player Doug Collins intercepted a pass from the Soviet team and was fouled, which meant that he got to shoot two free throws. Collins sank them both, which put the U.S. team up by one point [source: Saraceno].


What happened next is something that basketball enthusiasts still debate to this day.

There was one second remaining in the game, and the Soviet team called a time out, saying that they'd tried to call a time out during Collins's free throws and been ignored. The refs put three seconds back on the clock. When those three seconds ran out, and the Americans were about to celebrate their eighth Olympic victory, the Soviets put another three seconds back on the clock, saying that the clock hadn't been reset properly the first time. In those three seconds, U.S.S.R. player Alexander Belov made a basket that put the Soviets in the lead. The clock ran out, and the Soviet Union won the gold [source: Saraceno].

The American team refused to accept the silver medal, saying that those two resets of the clock had cheated them of their victory. The medal is still unclaimed to this day [source: Saraceno]. Sports experts and the members of the two teams continue to argue about whether those resets were fair or foul play. With Cold War in full swing then, it's hard to be sure.

3: Pete Rose Bets On His Own Team

Pete Rose, Bob Castellini
Despite not making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Pete Rose (right) was honored in 2010 by Bob Castellini, CEO of the Cincinnati Reds on the 25th anniversary of his breaking the career hit record.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Betting on baseball may have been at its worst in 1919 with the Black Sox scandal, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened since.

Pete Rose played for the Cincinnati Reds until 1986 and managed the team until 1989, when he was banned for life from baseball, from coaching, and denied his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite breaking Ty Cobb's record for hits [source: Edwards].


Rose loved baseball, but he had a gambling problem, and he bet extensively not just on baseball, but on his own team. Rose said it was his love of the game that stopped him from confessing sooner and getting help [source: Sports Illustrated]. He was afraid of being banned from professional baseball.

When he was first accused in the late '80s, Rose denied betting on baseball. It wasn't until 2004 -- 15 years later -- that Rose came clean about betting on his own team when he released his tell-all book, "My Prison Without Bars." Cynics felt he made the admission because his last chance to get in the Hall of Fame was December 2005. (He was not voted in.)

In 2007, Rose confessed that he bet on the Reds to win not just occasionally, but on a daily basis [source: CBS]. However, he continues denying he ever bet against his own team,

2: 1951 College Hoops Scandal

1951 sports magazine
Chances are this 1951 sports magazine had a story on the college hoops scandal.
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

With the Pete Rose scandal, there was no evidence that Rose intentionally played poorly or encouraged his players to do so, but so often gambling and point-shaving go hand-in-hand. This was the case in 1951, when a scandal rocked the world of college basketball.

Unlike the Black Sox scandal, the 1951 point-shaving scheme was incredibly precise. Players weren't just supposed to lose games; they were supposed to lose games by a certain number of points, so that gamblers would win the spread that they bet on [source: Goldstein].


In New York State, it's illegal to bribe an athlete to alter a game's outcome, so when Manhattan College player Henry Poppe approached teammate Junius Kellogg about taking part in the point-shaving scheme for $1,000, Kellogg went to the police. Kellogg became an informant, pretending to agree to the plan; Poppe introduced him to three fixers: Cornelious Kelleher and brothers Benjamin and Irving Schwartzberg [source: Goldstein].

Poppe told Kellogg to be sure and win the upcoming DePaul game by less than 10 points. After the game (which Manhattan won by three points), police arrested Poppe and teammate Jack Byrnes. Poppe said Byrnes had been involved in an earlier point-fixing scheme. A month later, more scandal erupted when three players from City College New York (CCNY) were arrested for bribery. A district attorney investigation eventually revealed that the point-shaving went far beyond just Manhattan and CCNY: Seven schools had players who were point-shaving, and they'd fixed a total of 86 games [source: Goldstein].

While fans still bet on basketball and there have been a few other, smaller-scale cheating scandals, college basketball hasn't seen anything as big since this debacle.

1: New Orleans Saints Run a Pay-to-Injure Scheme

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees (No. 9) of the New Orleans Saints makes a hand-off against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. Brees has said that the only questions he gets asked these days are about the bounty scandal.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The most tragic cheating scandals are not the ones where people lose games or lose money, but where players intentionally harm other players in the name of winning. The Tonya Harding scandal falls into this category, but even more brutal was the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, which broke in March 2012.

After an investigation, the National Football League (NFL) said that from 2009 to 2011, certain players received bonus pay for intentionally harming the opposing team on the field. Players on the team and Gregg Williams, the Saints' defensive coordinator, threw their money together to cover these bonuses [source: ESPN]. The most well-known bounty was a $10,000 reward for taking out Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre [source: CBS News]. However, Favre told reporters that he didn't see enough evidence to convict [source: Sporting News].

The NFL found that players Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith were the ringleaders, but as many as 27 Saints were involved. The NFL suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season, but Smith only was suspended for four games. Fujita was suspended for three games, but in October 2012 the NFL reduced that to just one, and then it reduced Hargrove's suspension from eight games to seven [source: Keating]. The players denied they deliberately injured their opponents, but confirmed that a pool of money existed to reward performance [source: CBS News]. All players appealed their suspensions. In Dec. 2012, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was put in charge of the appeals process vacated all their punishments.

Coach Williams signed an affidavit admitting to designing the bounty scheme and is currently suspended indefinitely from the NFL [source: Holder]. He too is appealing his lifetime ban. The NFL fined the Saints franchise the maximum penalty of $500,000 and stripped them of their second-round draft picks for 2012 and 2013.

The scandal strongly affected the New Orleans Saints' 2012 season. Between the suspensions and general suspicion, the team struggled throughout the year [source: California].

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Infamous Sports Cheating Scandals

The scandal that spoke to me the most while researching this article was definitely Rosie Ruiz cheating at the Boston Marathon in 1980. I'm a runner, too, and in 2011, my running partner and I went through marathon training. He was getting ready for the Chicago Marathon, and I was training along, just to see how far I could make it.

The training program we followed culminates in a 20 mile run, and doing that distance is one of the hardest things that I've ever done. There were moments that I wanted to just quit and go home, moments where I felt like I could run forever, and other moments where it felt like I wasn't even there -- I was just watching someone run. Hopping on a bus would have been pretty tempting at around mile 17. I barely remember the last 3 miles; there were moments where I would realize that I'd started walking and not remember deciding to slow down.

Training for a marathon is more than a physical push -- it's very emotional. I can't imagine how the other runners in Boston must have felt in 1980 after all of that training when they discovered that a fellow runner had cheated like that.

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