4 Sports Cheating Scandals Straight Out of a Heist Movie
You don’t make it to the highest levels of sports without being relentlessly and slightly terrifyingly competitive. Any time you watch a documentary about some sort of all-time athletic great, their family is there to talk about how they shattered a vase every time they lost a game of tic-tac-toe as a child. Luckily, they turned out to have the talent to transform that fury into a long career in sport instead of just a run-of-the-mill anger management problem.
When you’ve got that many competitors who want to win above all else, you’re naturally going to end up with some people coming up with, um, creative ways to ensure success. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a direct, messy crap all over the rule book and doing the number one thing they asked you not to do, but other times it’s considerably more elaborate.
Here are four huge sports scandals that could be pulled from a heist movie...
Lance Armstrong’s Doping Regimen
Armstrong was once a darling, heroic figure in American sports. He’d bravely beaten cancer, after all, and was helping others beat it by selling every teenager in the country a shitty little rubber wristband. (By the way, given what we know now, somebody better be looking at the books on the profits from those little yellow accessories.) He’d racked up an honestly astonishing (well, less astonishing now) number of Tour de France wins, and could be seriously considered for the title of greatest cyclist of all time. In 2012, though, this all went to shit with the expediency of an igloo in Arizona. That year, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency informed a now-retired Armstrong that they’d be opening a new investigation into him, and after one half-hearted legal maneuver, Armstrong seemingly admitted the jig was up, and he’d stop fighting the accusations.
The laundry that would subsequently be hung out to dry was the kind pulled from the first half of a Tide commercial. For years, Armstrong had not only engaged in constant and calculated doping through multiple methods, but forced his teammates to follow his own illegal regimen. It included changing up methods as tests capable of identifying them came out, and rope-a-doping (pun unavoidable) officials who were trying to administer unannounced tests through methods like staying in remote hotels, giving the absolute minimum notice on travel plans and, well, simply not answering the door.
What makes it all worse is that even as he fully knew he was doping for the entire peak of his career, any insinuations or investigations that he was were met with either vehement vocal rebuttals, or legal action. He was stripped of all his medals and titles, which must be sitting in some cardboard box that I hope to god ends up on Pawn Stars.
The Ref That Rigged Games
The next sports scandal definitely enters heist territory based just on the sheer amount of ill-gotten gains it produced. Weirdly enough, it also involves precisely zero athletes. It’s the story of the NBA’s most infamous referee, Tim Donaghy. Finding out that an athlete or coach in sports is cheating is scandalous, but never that shocking or surprising. Referees, though, are supposed to be the goodiest-of-two-shoes, arbiters of arena justice, stalwart servants of the Spirit of the Game. So as soon as that well is poisoned, the entirety of professional sports, even in unrelated leagues, has a huge problem.
Donaghy was an NBA ref who, despite referees’ cushy six-figure salaries, saw a very profitable intersection between his love of gambling and his control over the point spread. At first, it was a small, two-person operation between him and his friend Jack Concannon, which is almost more insulting. If you’re going to throw the entire validity of professional sports into question, don’t do it for your golf buddy.
Of course, bookies don’t like paying out a ton of money, especially when they weren’t supposed to, so they started to notice Concannon placing bets that were both much larger and luckier than usual. From there, a guy with exactly the sort of nickname you’d expect, Jimmy “The Sheep” Battista, got involved, and a whole lot of money started flowing based on something else than the players’ performance. It’s still one of the most embarrassing scandals in professional sports, and we’re likely to hear more about it now that sports gambling is legal in many states again.
Houston Astros Stealing Signs
One of the things that makes cheating so devastating in professional sports is that the people participating tend to end up affecting playoffs, etc. It’s not often that the team with the unfair advantages ends up hovering around the bottom of the standings, playing inconsequential games and missing the postseason. Instead, they usually end up going toe-to-toe with the best honest sports can provide, and for the hope of history, you have to hope they come up wanting.
That was not what happened, however, in the 2017 World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers fell to the Houston Astros four games to three, a split that’s even more impressive now that we know the Astros were cheating. See, as a batter in baseball, if you know what pitch is coming, it makes it a whole lot easier to hit. Because baseball is as old as the dirt it’s played on, pitches are still communicated between catcher and pitcher with simple hand signals protected by nothing more than the catcher’s knees. This was obviously a lot more secure before every sports stadium was filled with more cameras than a CVS.
The Astros figured out they could see the catcher’s signals from the center-field camera, so they had the feed piped to their dugout, and then communicated what pitch was coming with calculated bangs on a trashcan. The fallout included bans, the loss of draft picks and a heavy recommendation not to wear any Astros gear to a sports bar in Los Angeles.
Winning A Marathon By Taking the Train
Some cheating scandals are strokes of genius, requiring planning for every outcome, widespread subterfuge and careful cover-ups. Rosie Ruiz’ not-so-squeaky-clean victory in the Boston Marathon in 1980 was not that. Her win came directly as a result of violating the most important rule of all when it comes to marathons: You’re supposed to run them. When she suddenly improved her time by 30 minutes from her last personal best and set the third-fastest woman’s time in history despite no one knowing who the hell she was, race officials decided to do a little snooping.
It didn’t take long before they realized there weren’t a whole lot of pictures of her anywhere outside of the start and finish lines, and they ultimately realized Ruiz had skipped huge sections of the marathon route and even ridden the subway for a good part of her journey. To be honest, you can’t even get that mad at her — if they can’t figure out she took the fucking subway there, that’s on them.