Few sports issues can disrupt the hype to a Super Bowl quite like cheating. And while fans are a long way from knowing what mischief led to the New England Patriots winning the AFC title with underinflated footballs, it’s already become the latest episode in a vast history of rule-breaking in the wide world of sports.
Tiny examples, like stealing pitching signs in baseball, are often brushed off as gamesmanship. Other incidents, like flopping in basketball and soccer, draw ire toward referees but little backlash toward players beyond making fun of them with video and GIF replays. And some of the darkest moments in sports – among them the 1919 Black Sox – entangle games with endless off-field issues such as illegal gambling, performance-enhancing drugs and recruiting violations.
“Deflategate” might set a new low standard of wrongdoing worthy of a cliched “-gate” label – interesting mostly because the rule-breaking remains unexplained after nearly a week.
So while NFL investigators sort that one out, here’s a look at some other episodes illustrating a drop in the bucket of the range of cheating accusations in sports.
BLACK SOX SCANDAL:
Almost every sport has struggled with the worst elements of illegal gambling. The most scandalous intersection for baseball was when eight players were banned from the game after being accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.
Chicago White Sox pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, first baseman Chick Gandil, shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, outfielders “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Happy Felsh and infielder Fred McMullen were suspended for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
The “Black Sox” were acquitted of criminal charges in 1921 but banned from the game the next day.
“Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball,” Landis wrote.
No, those bulky boxing gloves aren’t just there for tradition or to protect a fighter’s hands. They’re crucial protection for opponents looking to dodge cheats and minimize serious injury. That’s why corners get so persnickety about brands, specifications and padding levels (that and Floyd Mayweather likes getting in opponents’ heads). While the fuss can sometimes seem circus-like, it has very legitimate roots.
Trainer Carlos “Panama” Lewis and junior middleweight fighter Luis Resto were jailed for removing half the padding from Resto’s gloves for a fight against Billy Ray Collins Jr. in 1983. Collins suffered permanent damage to his right eye in the fight, plus contusions and cuts. His career ended and less than a year later, he died after driving his car into a ditch in what his father said was a suicide.
Collins’ father, who was also his trainer and manager, discovered the underpadded gloves when he shook hands with Resto after the fight and “felt nothing but fingers and knuckles.”
More than 20 years later, welterweight Antonio Margarito was suspended for a year after being caught before a fight with a plaster-like substance on his hand wraps. His hands were rewrapped and he was stopped by Shane Mosley in what was considered a mild upset.
SLASHED FROM WORLD CUP
In a story that sounds scripted because part of it was, Chile was disqualified from the 1990 World Cup and banned from the 1994 tournament after a plot to make it past Brazil in qualifying that almost worked if not for a single photographer catching a conspiracy on camera.
With Brazil leading Chile during the 1989 game, a flare was thrown onto the field from a heavy Brazil-fan section of Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Chile’s goalie Roberto Rojas fell to the pitch in pain, blood dripping from his head, and Chile’s players refused to continue playing. But one photographer shooting Rojas while the action was on the other side of the pitch caught Rojas sneaking a razor from one of his gloves and cutting his own head.
Rojas was banned for life from soccer.
A 25-MILE HEAD START
Can’t win straight up? That’s what shortcuts are for.
Rosie Ruiz pretended to win the 1980 Boston Marathon by coming out of the crowd about one mile before the finish line. She took the cheers and the winner’s wreath, but immediately drew suspicion because she was unknown and didn’t appear as sweaty and fatigued as someone who just ran 26.2 miles.
Race officials deliberated for weeks while studying videotapes and other checkpoint evidence, then concluded she had not run the race. They also concluded that she took the subway during the 1979 New York Marathon, which she used as her qualifying time for Boston.
Back then, checkpoint officials focused mainly on the men’s race, scribbling down bib numbers as they passed. The first few women’s bib numbers were recorded, too, if possible.
‘NOT ABOUT A BANANA’
Like the deflated footballs flap, sometimes it only takes seemingly small differences to raise suspicions.
Coaching isn’t allowed during tennis matches at Grand Slam tournaments, but it happens. Chair umpires will issue warnings to players, coaches and entourages and every so often, players get fined. Any unique gestures instantly draw scrutiny.
Maria Sharapova faced those suspicions when she won the 2006 U.S. Open.
After beating Justine Henin in the final, Sharapova got into a bit of a testy exchange with reporters who asked about the apparent signals sent by her father and coach about when to eat bananas or sip drinks at changeovers. The signals included holding up four fingers or waving a banana.
All of which led to this statement from Sharapova: “I believe, at the end of the day, personally, my life is not about a banana.”
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Howard Ulman, Jimmy Golen, Ronald Blum and Tim Dahlberg contributed to this report. Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia