By Jason Iannone
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You know how we tell kids that it’s not important if you win or lose, but how you play the game? Turns out that’s complete crap. If you want to be successful in your chosen field, you have to win, and win often. That would explain why sports is filled with talented people cheating their butts off, because they need a win by any means necessary.
Here are five of the most memorable scandals in which 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 dirty as humanly possible.”
5. The New Orleans Saints’ Bounty System
If the mafia had sponsored a football team, this would probably be its 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 that 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.
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 defensive coordinator Gregg 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“ when 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 10 members of the 2000 Spanish Paralympic intellectual disability basketball team (their business cards must have been huge) who decided it would be a great idea to pretend to be developmentally disabled and then kick the butts 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 at any level of baseball, never mind one where a pitcher could easily lose focus because his 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. That 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 stunk. His one major-league tryout flopped miserably, and he’s since settled for being the 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.
And now for a scandal that 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. And honestly, would you be surprised to learn that contracts actually DO require that? There are almost as many ‘roiders in the sport as there are tobacco spitters — the logical next step is to make it an official job requirement.
The Biogenesis scandal was the pinnacle of ballplayers 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 had received them from the now-gone Biogenesis lab in South Florida. After a bit of an investigation, it turned out that 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, 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 that you haven’t followed him on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and his website. Unless, of course, you have. Then it’s a scandal that you don’t send him your paycheck every week.
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