Sports can bring out the best and the worst in people. There’s nothing wrong with a little intense competition, but how far would a player be willing to go to get that victory? There have been some pretty notorious cheating athletes over the years, some of whose sneaky feats have even become the stuff of legend. Here are some of the worst cheaters that fans have ever seen.
1. Tonya Harding (Figure Skating)
The controversy surrounding this Olympic-level debacle was so intense that it made for one riveting Hollywood movie plot, and I, Tonya was released in theaters in 2017. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were two young up-and-coming American figure skaters who each came from two different sides of the tracks. Kerrigan was raised in more of a suburban lifestyle, while Harding’s family struggled financially.
Nevertheless, they were both stellar talents, and certainly both contenders to win the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. That is, until a henchman struck Kerrigan’s knees as she walked away from a practice session. Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly had hired Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant to do the deed. In the end, neither woman ended up taking gold at the Winter Olympics later that year.
2. Lance Armstrong (Cycling)
For the longest time, Lance Armstrong was hailed as a true American hero. He had fought cancer and beat it, and still managed to win the esteemed Tour de France a total of seven times. However, these titles were legally stripped away from him the moment it was discovered that he’d been using steroids.
In fact, the United States Anti-Doping Agency dubbed Armstrong the leader of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Tough break for a guy who was considered one of the greatest to ever ride a bicycle, and certainly tough break for the countless people he’d inspired along the way.
3. Barry Bonds & Company (Baseball)
This bunch of cheating athletes together comprised one of the most legendary and notorious examples of fraud in the history of the modern sporting world. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, fans went wild over sluggers like Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa, while they beat home run records that had been in place for decades.
Unfortunately, it was later discovered that they, among hundreds of others (including fan favorite Alex Rodriguez), had been using anabolic steroids in their effort to enhance their performance. George J. Mitchell was the lead investigator during this time, which is why it was called the “The Mitchell Report”. To this day, all of the home run records that these big name sluggers shattered still have an asterisk near their names.
4. Mike Tyson (Boxing)
Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield had a well-known rivalry in professional boxing, one that started off with Holyfield holding the upper hand. He had eliminated Tyson for the crown of World Heavyweight Champion, so it’s safe to say that Tyson was looking for some revenge. In their upcoming fight, Tyson might’ve seemed like the underdog, but he responded in a way that people would talk about for decades to come.
As they sparred mercilessly in the ring, Tyson found an opportunity to bite down on Holyfield’s ear. Crazily enough, the fight continued — until, of course, a piece of Holyfield’s other ear started to come off too! Finally, referees called off the fight, cementing Tyson’s act as one of the most flagrant fouls in sports history.
5. Bill Belichick (Football)
The New England Patriots are one of the most successful football franchises of all time. Their coach, Bill Belichick, is considered one of the greatest football coaches ever, though his reputation is a bit muddy, considering he was once caught red-handed for cheating. In 2007, it was discovered that he had been videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals during a regular season game.
Eventually it also became apparent that Belichick had been doing this for quite some time, and not just for the Jets. This would undoubtedly have given New England a substantial advantage, and ultimately Belichick was fined $500,000, and docked a first round draft pick as well.
6. John Calipari (Basketball)
It’s unfortunately an increasingly common tale in college basketball history for coaches to use illegal methods to recruit certain players. John Calipari is considered to be one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, which makes it a shame that he has this stain attached to his legacy.
In 2008, his Memphis Tigers were a strong team led by future NBA MVP Derrick Rose. But eventually their record was wiped out when it was discovered how they got Rose in the first place. Apparently Calipari had rigged Rose’s high school SAT scores so that he could play on the team. The NCAA takes these things very seriously, and this wasn’t the only time something like that had happened.
NEXT: Stay tuned as we explore the sordid undertakings of some of the most notorious cheating athletes we’ve seen over the years!
7. Tim Donaghy (Basketball)
Historically, one of the biggest catalysts for cheating in sports is gambling. Players, coaches, and referees have been known to “shave points” in order to satisfy a spread, and get paid under the table. One of these people was Tim Donaghy, a former referee in the NBA.
It’s been since proven that he intentionally made incorrect calls in years 2005-2007 in order to make some cash on the side. This was discovered after a thorough FBI investigation, and he has since confessed to it all. Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in jail, and later appeared on a documentary where he spoke of his wrongdoings, and how he evolved from the experience.
8. Sammy Sosa & Albert Belle (Baseball)
There are a number of ways to give yourself an advantage at the plate. One of those ways is to use a “corked bat,” which means placing a cork within the bat. This allows the ball to pop much more powerfully off of it. Unfortunately, Sammy Sosa and Albert Belle both opted to employ this technique, and both cheating athletes got caught.
During one game, Sosa swung hard on a pitch and when the ball connected, his bat broke. The umpires looked at it, and they found a cork lodged in there. In Albert Belle’s case, an umpire suspected he was using one, so he confiscated the bat to check on it later. When Belle’s teammates were found trying to switch the bat that the umpire had taken with another one, it was clear that he was guilty.
9. Marion Jones (Track And Field)
Marion Jones represented America in the 2000 Summer Olympics as a runner, but she was so talented that she also played in the WNBA, lending her talents to the Tulsa Shock. However, it was during her time as a track and field athlete that she made a strong name for herself — for the good and the bad.
At first it was all good, with Jones winning three gold medals and even two bronze medals. But not long after, it was discovered that she too had been using steroids to help her outstanding performance — and her prestigious medals were subsequently taken away.
NEXT: We’ve got some cheating athletes later on this list who recently upset a lot of people. Can you guess who?
10. Gaylord Perry (Baseball)
Ever wonder where the term “spitball” came from? It was thanks to Gaylord Perry, a Hall of Fame pitcher who played for eight different teams over 20 years. There’s no telling what someone will do for a competitive edge if they want it badly enough, and Perry certainly had a method to his madness.
It’s a well-known fact that he would slab a nice helping of Vaseline underneath his cap, or even inside his sleeve. This was so that he could swipe it on the ball for a spitball. The grease would make the ball sail in an erratic, unpredictable manner, thus making it incredibly hard to hit. To this day, spitballs have been outlawed in baseball.
11. Kenny Rogers (Baseball)
If there’s something more satisfying than winning, it’s winning against a person who tried to cheat. In the 2006 World Series, something fishy was going on with Detroit Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers in Game 2. While he was taking his spot on the mound, the cameras caught something strange.
There was a strange substance on Rogers’ hand, which he later described as “dirt mixed with rosin.” The opposing St. Louis Cardinals investigated the situation, and ended up finding a handful of baseballs that had deep scuff marks embedded into them. They later accused Rogers of cheating, but ultimately it didn’t even matter, because the Cardinals won the World Series anyway.
12. Ben Johnson (Track & Field)
Decades before the world was introduced to dynamic speedster Usain Bolt, there was Ben Johnson from Canada. He made a strong statement in the Seoul Olympics of 1988, winning the coveted gold medal in the 100-meter sprint. Three days later, the medal was taken away from him, for a reason that’s all too familiar.
Johnson had tested positive for anabolic steroids, in particular a substance called Stanozolol. However, in contrast to many of the other cheating athletes on this list, he wasn’t able to get away with his actions. That is to say, much to the outrage of fans worldwide, many dishonest sportsmen and women were able to keep their awards, unlike Johnson.
13. Danny Almonte (Baseball)
Age isn’t just a number when it comes to professional sports. There are rules in place to make sure the competition stays fair, and these rules were broken in the Little League World Series of 2001. Danny Almonte was a youngster who was tearing batters up with his spicy 70 miles-per-hour fastballs, considered extremely fast for Little League level.
In fact, he was competing against 12-year-olds — and no one was aware that he was actually 14. Eventually, a private investigator hired by the other team dug up records that proved Almonte was older than he was supposed to be, showing that even Little League teams weren’t above cheating.
14. Amos Otis (Baseball)
Not only did Amos Otis admit to using a corked bat, he had some juicy information about other players as well. Throughout his 17-year career, which spanned from late in the ’60s to the mid-’80s, Otis confessed that a friend of his had been making him personalized corked bats in his own private woodshop.
Otis also said that these bats “helped me a great deal”, further owning up to the scandal. Finally, he explained that he wasn’t the only one using these bats. The ex-baseball player said that many players from that era had been using corked bats, but not everyone was caught.
NEXT: Some of the boldest cheating athletes in the sporting world are coming up.
15. Joe Niekro (Baseball)
Joe Niekro’s cheating method makes for an interesting add to the lexicon of methods that other players used. It’s unclear how long Niekro was doing it, but it was in 1987 that he was caught. He was pitching for the Minnesota Twins at the time, and during the game an emery board and a sheet of sandpaper fell out of his pocket.
It was believed that he was using these materials to change the elemental makeup of the baseball, though this was not proven. Nevertheless, the league still gave Niekro a ten-game suspension — and his brother Phil sent him a power sander in the mail as a joke.
16. Stella Walsh (Running)
Back in the 1932 Summer Olympics, there was cheating going on just like there is today. When it came to Stella Walsh, a runner representing Poland in the Games, people were incredibly impressed by her abilities. They were wowed while she snagged a handful of gold medals. So dazzled were fans that it took decades before they discovered the truth.
In 1980, Walsh passed away. During her autopsy, it was discovered that she had both XX and XY chromosomes, and other things that may have indicated she was a male. This was obviously not a very easy case to judge or understand, but nevertheless it became controversial at the time. People reasoned that Walsh’s different biological makeup gave her a competitive edge in those games so many years ago.
17. Antonio Margarito (Boxing)
When Antonio Margarito got ready to fight Shane Mosley in a 2009 boxing match, it ended before they even got a chance to swap a punch. Someone in Mosley’s corner had noticed something fishy about Margarito’s wraps. “Wraps” are the protective bandages a boxer wraps around his or her hands before a fight, and something was clearly wrong with Margarito’s.
Upon further investigation, they found that his wraps possessed a certain strange substance. Apparently, it was a combination of elements that created a hard, almost rock-like material. In other words, Margarito would’ve had something like an Iron Fist — and to this day, this act of cheating was dubbed the “Plaster of Paris.”
18. Ty Cobb (Baseball)
To this day, Ty Cobb is known to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time, and he still holds countless records. That being said, he wasn’t exactly the type to play a “clean game,” as they say. In fact, this cheating athlete was known to frequently trip base runners as they ran around the diamond, step on infielders with his sharp cleats, and steal signs as well.
It should be acknowledged that Cobb didn’t have an easy life growing up, but that doesn’t excuse him for the various things he did on the field. It just goes to show that even legends have their weak points, and Ty Cobb is no exception.
19. Diego Maradona (Soccer)
The rules of soccer are quite simple and straightforward. Players can touch the ball with any part of their body except for their hand — which is what made this particular event so controversial. Diego Maradona, a star for Argentina in the 1986 World Cup Final, found himself in a collision with England’s goalie. From a distance, it appeared that he hit the ball with his head, right into the goal.
That’s exactly what the refs thought, which is why no penalty was called. However, on the replay it was quite clear that Maradona had hit the ball with his left hand. However, he didn’t admit it, and this goal gave Argentina the 2-1 victory. Argentina ended up winning the World Cup, and to this day that goal is attributed to a mysterious “Hand of God.”
20. Thierry Henry (Soccer)
While Maradona’s “Hand of God” was a bit shady, Thierry Henry was a lot more upfront with his actions. In the 2009 World Cup qualifying game, France defeated Ireland in part thanks to a goal by William Gallas. This goal happened right after Gallas received a perfect pass from Henry — a pass that he “kicked” with his hand.
The funny thing is that later on Henry himself admitted that he actually touched the ball with his hand. Ireland was understandably fuming over this call that never was, and it probably wasn’t easy to be a fan of their team on that day.
21. Whitey Ford (Baseball)
Out of all the MLB pitchers on this list, former New York Yankee Whitey Ford may have gone the furthest to ensure that his pitches would be a few steps ahead of the game. Apparently he would use his own wedding ring to cut open the baseball, and then proceeded to put mud inside before pitching to the batter.
He even conspired with his catcher, Elston Howard, who would use his shin guard to slice the ball as well. As far as where Ford got the mud from, he would actually plant mud pies around his mound to use at his leisure. As Ford himself later said, “I used enough mud to build a dam,” referring to the 1963 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
22. 1951 New York Giants (Baseball)
ESPN once called this team the “biggest group of cheaters in baseball history.” Not to be confused with the current NFL team, back in 1951 the New York Giants were an MLB team who came up with an ingenious plan. They would use an actual telescope in order to steal signs from the opposing team’s catcher.
Once they knew what pitch the pitcher was about to throw, they would ring either a bell or a buzzer to inform the batter. It ultimately helped them win the National League pennant. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If you follow baseball today, there’s a good reason for it.
23. 2017 Houston Astros (Baseball)
In what might be one of the biggest cheating scandals in the history of sports, the 2017 Houston Astros followed the 1951 New York Giants’ example — with a hi-tech twist. They used advanced cameras in the outfield, stealing signs from the opposing team’s pitcher. Then, they’d bang on a trash can to notify the batter what pitch was coming. It was later revealed that some of Houston’s batters even had buzzers inside their uniforms to inform them of the pitches.
With this unfair advantage, they were able to defeat the New York Yankees in the 2017 ALCS, and subsequently the Los Angeles Dodgers in a hard fought seven-game series. Upon learning of this, Astros manager and general manager, AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow, respectively, were suspended for the 2020 season. The team was given a fine of $5 million. However, outraged players and fans alike felt that the Astros got off easy.
24. 2000 Spanish Paralympics Team (Basketball)
From a moral perspective, what the 2000 Spanish Paralympics Basketball Team did is truly hard to swallow. To give a quick understanding of the situation, the Paralympics are Olympics for disabled individuals. When the Spanish team suited up and took the basketball, they certainly looked impressive. So impressive, in fact, that they went on to win the gold medal!
The only problem was that there were only two members on their team who were actually disabled. This is the kind of transgression that is hard to justify — and one so egregious that it almost feels painful to think about. Especially when you imagine the kids with actual handicaps who worked so hard to get to that stage.
25. East German Female Olympic Team (Swimming)
So far, we’ve talked about specific individuals who used performance-enhancing drugs — but this situation was at the level of an entire team. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just one East German female Olympic team that reportedly used steroids; the practice was apparently going on from the 1968 Olympic Games all the way to the early ’80s.
In fact, they became the face of a common problem that was growing in the world of sports. From a sheer numbers perspective, it was believed that over 10,000 German female athletes had been involved in this scandal. Perhaps when everyone else is doing it, it becomes easier to tell oneself that it’s okay.
26. Peyton Manning (Football)
Considered by many to be one of football’s greatest quarterbacks ever, Peyton Manning’s career spanned a total of 18 seasons. 14 of those were with the Indianapolis Colts, while the last four were with the Denver Broncos. With each team, Manning was no stranger to breaking the rules.
As a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Manning used special hearing aids that were designed to amplify his own voice while muffling the noise from the crowd at the same time. This most certainly helped him communicate with the rest of the team’s offense. And while a member of the Denver Broncos, rumor has it that his team interfered with the headsets of their opponents while playing at Gillette Stadium.
27. Craig Nettles (Baseball)
Former third baseman in Major League Baseball, Craig Nettles boasted a 22 year-long career in baseball. He earned himself the nickname “Puff” and played for the Montreal Expos, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Minnesota Twins.
In 1974, Nettles was caught cheating by way of using superballs, which are said to help hitters by adding an extra bounce to a bat. His superballs poured out onto the field after a broken-bat single, when the catcher from the opposing team spotted them and showed them to the umpire. His hit was overturned, but a home run he made earlier in the game using the same bat still stood.
28. Jerry Rice (Football)
Jerry Rice is widely known as one of the San Francisco 49ers best wide receivers. Some even claim he was the best wide receiver of all time! But nearly ten years after he retired from football, Rice admitted to having some illegal help during his time playing the beloved sport.
Rice admitted to putting adhesive glue – or a stickum – on the inside of his gloves in a bid to help him catch the balls a little better. While the NFL banned the use of stickum in 1981, Rice claimed that all the receivers of his time used this illegal substance.
29. Michael Waltrip (Racing)
Two-time Daytona 500 winner, Michael Waltrip is recognized for his days as a champion NASCAR driver. But while he has now moved onto becoming a racing commentator for FOX, we can’t forget his days behind the wheel – namely the scandal he was at the center of in 2007.
Back in 2007, Waltrip’s team qualified for the Daytona 500 but was caught adding illegal fuel to their cars. Nicknamed “rocket fuel,” the additive was said to increase the cars’ performances. Unsurprisingly, this prompted NASCAR to confiscate all the vehicles and Waltrip and his team were docked points and given fines. Ouch!
30. Dora Ratjen (High Jump)
German athlete, Dora Ratjen participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany and was crowned the winner of the women’s high jump. However, there was one major problem surrounding the win: Ratjen wasn’t a woman. He was a man.
Sources suggest that because the Games were in Germany that year, Hitler didn’t want the shame of having a Jewish winner, so he made Ratjen compete as a woman. To do so, he strapped his male parts and allegedly made his hair resemble that of a woman. It wasn’t until suspicions were raised years later that Ratjen was forced to take tests revealing he was male.
31. Lawrence Taylor (Football)
NFL player Lawrence Taylor, otherwise known as “L.T.,” played as the linebacker for the New York Giants between 1981 and 1993. In 2003, he wrote an autobiography – LT: Over the Edge: Tackling Quarterbacks, Drugs, and a World Beyond Football – where he gave juicy details about what he did to become one of the greatest defensive football players in history.
Not only did Taylor admit to using urine belonging to his teammates in order to pass drug tests, but he also admitted to messing with his opponents before big games. He claimed to have understood his opponents’ vices well and sent escorts to their hotel rooms on the eve of big games.
32. Ray Lewis (Football)
Former professional football player, Ray Lewis played as the Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker for all 17 years of his career. During his last season in the NFL, he tore his tricep muscle – an injury that requires surgery and a recovery period of at least four to six months.
Somehow, however, Lewis was back playing in under three months. How, you might wonder? He used a substance called Deer Antler Spray, which is prohibited under the NFL’s steroid laws. The spray is said to speed up recovery time and in Lewis’ case, it did just that. The football stud helped the Ravens secure a Super Bowl win that season.
33. Juventus (Soccer)
Back in 2006, a scandal involving five teams and a number of different referee organizations rocked the professional soccer community after word of their giant rigging scheme got out to the public. One of the teams involved was Italy’s Juventus.
Phone conversations between Juventus’ manager and a number of Italian officials proved that the team was working alongside other clubs to pay off referee organizations for a chance to handpick their refs. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that influencing the appointment of referees is illegal, and Juventus was aptly stripped of their title for their participation in the scheme.
34. Denver Broncos (Football)
Die hard NFL fans will surely remember when owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis famously called out Mike Shanahan, the coach of his rival team the Denver Broncos, back in 2008. As one of his last stints as the Raiders owner, Davis argued that people should be wary of crowning the Broncos Super Bowl winners from the late ‘90s.
Why? Because “they were caught cheating,” he said. In saying that, Davis was referring to the way the Broncos disregarded the salary cap for players and gave both Terrell Davis and John Elway some $29 million in deferred payments. The NFL later called this cheating, fining the team almost $2 million and taking away two of their third-round picks.
35. Tim Donaghy (Basketball)
This one’s a bit different, as it’s not about the scheming ways of a player or coach, but instead of a referee. Tim Donaghy is perhaps one of the NBA’s most notorious refs, having admitted to a gambling addiction and passing on confidential information about players to his friends.
Donaghy’s gambling addiction was so extreme that it got him involved in organized crime and led him to make wrong calls for the sake of altering the point spreads of games. He even gave his friends inside information about players’ injuries and their relationships with refs so that they could make more educated bets. Donaghy’s cheating ways got him sentenced to 15 months in jail.
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