A recent article from Huzler.com, a satirical website, stated that Super Bowl XLVIII was rigged in order to ensure that the Seattle Seahawks would triumph over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. This caused many Broncos fans, who were still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to deny reality in order to sleep better at night. After all, why else would Peyton Manning allow a safety on the first play of the game? It had to be rigged, right? Now I could explain the obstacles that such a conspiracy would have to overcome in order to be successful. I could point out that every single person in the Denver Broncos organization would have to accept that their team was going to throw away the greatest game of their lives while keeping their mouths shut. That not only would Peyton Manning and the rest of the Broncos roster need to be in on it, but also the army of interns that mix the Gatorade in a dimly-lit basement. It’s completely ridiculous.
In fact, it’s so ridiculous that we can’t stop talking about it. Here are ten sports conspiracies and controversies that changed the way we look at sports.
10. Basil D’Oliveria and the Apartheid Situation
For those who don’t know, cricket is the sport that baseball came from. Like baseball, cricket has pitchers (called bowlers) and batters (batsmen). Unlike baseball, the field is an oval with a rectangle in the middle and there is something about wickets that I don’t really understand. What I do understand is that a man named Basil D’Oliveria used his prowess as a cricket player to help destroy the Apartheid regime that choked South African society during his career from the 1960’s-70’s, after bigots in high places created a conspiracy to prevent him from playing.
After a setback or two, D’Oliveria was finally selected by the Marylbone Country Club (MCC), a huge cricket organization based in London to represent the English team as they toured South Africa. The South African Prime Minister at the time, B.J. Vorster, was too worried about upsetting his racist supporters to allow this to happen. So he decided to cancel the entire tour instead of allowing D’Oliveria to play. While Basil was disappointed with the outcome, he would go on to successfully play cricket in various countries all over the world and even have a trophy named after him when he retired. What about South Africa? The cricket tour wouldn’t start again until 1991, one year after the official dissolution of Apartheid, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
9. Suzie and the 1995 Rugby World Cup
I don’t know what it is about South Africa but the country seems to have attracted a few sports conspiracies over the years. This time, the conspiracy was between South Africa and New Zealand in their match for the Rugby World Cup. The game was as close as it could be until South Africa scored the game winning points in extra time. However some questioned why the New Zealand team was puking on the sidelines and if they would’ve won the game if they weren’t sick. The New Zealand coach, Laure Mains, explained that a mysterious waitress named “Suzie” deliberately poisoned the New Zealand team’s food in order to ensure a victory for South Africa. Most people, including the New Zealand players themselves, dismissed Laure’s claims and the issue was put to rest until more information came to light in the year 2000.
That was when Rory Steyn, Nelson Mandela’s former chief of security, claimed that he saw the results of deliberate food poisoning with his own eyes when he visited the New Zealand team recovering from their illness right before their World Cup game. This drew controversy from upset New Zealand fans at the time but the New Zealand government refused to investigate the matter in any official capacity. Either they found no solid evidence to substantiate Steyn’s claims or didn’t want to re-open old wounds. We’ll never know for sure.
8. The “Holy Water” Scandal
The 1990 FIFA World Cup hosted in Italy was an interesting time for Argentinean fans. Argentina struggled in the group stage and were pitted against Brazil in the first knockout round. Diego Maradona, Argentina’s star player, decided to take matters into his own hands in order to stop Brazilian player Cláudio Ibrahim Vaz Leal (aka Branco), from containing him so effectively. Maradona allegedly convinced Argentinean staff to douse Branco’s water bottle with tranquilizers when the Brazilian player requested a new bottle. Branco became sluggish and was unable to contain Maradona. This allowed Maradona to create the play that scored the game winning goal. Don’t believe me? Grab someone who knows Spanish, watch this video, and decide for yourself. Argentina went on to the final, where they lost to West Germany.
7. The Donaghy Scandal
Game 6 of the 2002 NBA playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings was put under intense scrutiny when ex-referee Tim Donaghy claimed that the game was rigged in order to ensure that there would be a game 7. Most NBA fans and even former presidential candidate Ralph Nader believed him after watching the Lakers attempt over twenty free throws, which were given to them through dubious foul calls in order to win the game. While most of Donaghy’s claims were dismissed in court, any basketball lover, other than a Lakers fan, will tell you that this is the game that opened their eyes to the possibility of the NBA being a corrupt organization.
6. The “Frozen” Envelope
In 1985, the NBA decided to spice things up by starting their first lottery draft. Basically, the six teams who didn’t qualify for the playoffs were thrown into a random bucket of six envelopes to help decide the draft order. In the lottery, the New York Knicks won the first pick and selected Patrick Ewing. Coincidentally, Ewing was famous in the East Coast due to his Georgetown roots and going to the Knicks would save the ratings of one of the NBA’s biggest markets. Many theorists have uploaded footage of the draft and claim that the fourth envelope (the Knicks envelope) was put into the pile differently from the rest of the envelopes. This caused the Knicks envelope to form a crease that David Stern, the NBA commissioner, could feel without looking for the envelope with his eyes on national television. I feel that it’s a bit of a stretch but I guess that anything is possible.
5. The Michael Jordan Conspiracy
Michael Jordan‘s first retirement in 1993 curiously occurred a few months after an investigation began into his intense gambling habits that may or may not have been a conflict of interest for a professional athlete. It would be a good reason for a fierce competitor like Mike to leave the game of basketball in his prime for another sport that he was terrible in. A vintage Sports Illustrated article also proposes that the murder of Jordan’s father, which according to sources may have been for gambling debts, may have also had something to do with it. It’s obvious that a lot of factors came together at the same time, which lead to his decision. I’m not sure if it’s a conspiracy though.
Any American football fan cringes at that word after going through the sordid affair when Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were caught spying on the New York Jets in 2007. Most commentators found the fact that Belichick was fined but not suspended to be interesting and Patriots’ legacy has always come into question ever since. However, some people wonder why the NFL decided to destroy the tapes so the public couldn’t see them. Was there a conspiracy within the conspiracy? It’s possible but people forget that the NFL is a private organization that cares deeply about its image. Allowing tapes to be watched over and over again is bad PR. It’s better for them to punish the people that need to be punished and move on.
3. The Baltimore Colts Disappear
Imagine if you had been a fan of a football team for your entire life and you’re looking forward to sharing that passion with your kid when you put him to bed for the night. Then the next morning, the team had disappeared and moved to another city before you even made your first cup of coffee. That’s what happened in 1984 when Robert Irsay moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in order to avoid losing his team to the city due to eminent domain laws. The infamous act was the result of Baltimore refusing to pay for its stadium to be upgraded while Irsay negotiated backdoor deals with other interested cities, even though he said that he wanted to stay in Baltimore the whole time. Baltimore wouldn’t get its own football team again until 1996. What can I say? This actually happened.
2. Biogenesis Baseball Scandal
In 2013, a clinic called Biogenesis of America was caught facilitating illegal drug use for famous baseball players, such as Alex Rodriguez, in order for them to get ahead. Tony Bosch, the owner of Biogenesis, saw things fall apart after he refused to compensate an employee $4,000 in overtime pay. This employee, named Porter Fischer, took his story along with documents of Biogenesis’s wrongdoing to the Miami New Times and that $4,000 seems pretty inconsequential now. Rodriguez, along with other players, are currently facing fines and suspensions as the MLB scrambles to save its image from being destroyed by another steroid scandal. This might be unconventional but maybe we should just legalize steroids in baseball already. The holy grail of baseball stats have been tainted by these drugs for a while now and we may have to accept that whether we like it or not.
1. The Black Sox Scandal of 1919
The early days of professional baseball were fraught with gangsters, bookies, and other shady characters who abused the game for their own illegal activities. This culture reached its climax when eight players of the Chicago White Sox decided to get in on the action by purposely throwing away their chance to win the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in order to make more money. While they were able to succeed in throwing the greatest game of their careers away, an enormous amount of rumors and conjecture dogged their team for a whole year afterwards and a grand jury was brought together to investigate the claims. Enough of the players confessed in order to substantiate the rumors, however a grand jury refused to consider them guilty under the law. This didn’t stop the MLB from banning them for life in order to save baseball’s reputation. It also didn’t stop people from calling the Chicago team, the “Black Sox” because of the way they corrupted the game.