The perpetual destruction left by Jerry Sandusky and the gutless Penn State administration will be vast. The heinous acts of one man and the unwillingness to respond accordingly by university officials will set the football program back greatly, and the university to a lesser degree. Unfortunately, the people set to pay the piper were not even involved. This scandal is definitely an all-timer, but is it the most influential ever? This story got me thinking about previous American sports scandals and where it would rank among them in a list of the most notorious.
Here’s what I came up with:
5. Pete Rose Gambling Spree
Pete Rose is one of the greatest baseball players of all time, boasting 4,256 career hits, three World Series rings, three batting titles, one league MVP, two Gold Gloves, Rookie of the Year, and played in 17 All-Star games while playing five different positions. After his playing career, Rose managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1989.
During his tenure as the Reds Manager, Pete faced widespread allegations of gambling on the game, including the very games in which he was coaching in. First hand accounts and signed documents were among the evidence against him. He was banned from the game. The reason this scandal is so poignant is because Rose denied his gambling until 2004 when he finally admitted to it in his memoir. The damage from years of denial was intense. The result: despite being Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame and is still banned from baseball.
4. Baylor Basketball Murder
I realize that, as a head collegiate coach, winning ball games is your livelihood, but there are certain moral or legal lines that shouldn’t be crossed in order to achieve this. You know, something like paying for recruits is over the line, albeit not unlawful. In 2003, Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss stepped way over the line, and he pissed on it on his way past.
Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was shot and killed by teammate Carlton Dotson after their close relationship quickly deteriorated. Bliss decided to cover for Dotson, even after hearing of death threats from him directed toward Dennehy, in an effort to preserve his basketball program. I mean losing a player to murder is one thing, but having a murderer on your roster is another. Right, Dave? He wanted to pitch a story to authorities that Dennehy was a drug dealer/user, and the murder was likely related. He was caught on tape saying as much. The reason for the cover up? He didn’t want the NCAA poking around his program, because a couple players, Dennehy included, were receiving improper benefits. A huge fucking mess is what it was, but that’s the meat of it.
Just a little obstruction of justice, murder-style.
3. 1919 World Series Fix
Major League Baseball players in the early 20th century weren’t paid like they are today. They were forced to agree to meager contracts with outlandish incentives. Looking for a little something on the side was bound to happen at some point. Enter the 1919 Chicago White Sox.
Conjured by White Sox first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil and financially backed by New York mobster Arnold Rothstein, they recruited six, arguably seven, other players to commit, and the fix was in. It was a gambling fix that proved to be lucrative for all involved. They were to tank it on the field and lose the games intentionally. They were successful, and the Reds won their first World Series. The news of the fix was leaked, and the eight ball players were banned from baseball for life. The most famous figure in this scandal is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the White Sox best player. He was banned with the others for playing a role in the elaborate gambling ploy, but some disagree with the decision. Shoeless Joe played his balls off in the series, appearing to try and win. The debate continues to this day.
2. SMU Payroll
Yes, payroll. Members of the SMU football team from the mid ‘70s through 1986 were on payroll. College football is big business, and winning is good for business. How do you win? Good players. How do you get them to play for you? Well, you’re supposed to recruit them. SMU bought them, though. Wealthy boosters, all the way from local businessman to the Governor of Texas, had their hand in this mess. One of the wealthier boosters, Sherwood Blount, Jr., contributed $61,000 to 13 players over a two year span. That’s one guy.
SMU was hit with penalties by the NCAA for paying players in 1985, harsh penalties. This didn’t shut down the payroll, though. With fear that the players, who were promised cash as members of the football team, would turn the program in for discontinuing the payments, they decided to continue cutting checks. They again got caught. The NCAA reacted, and they brought the pain. They handed the SMU football program the death penalty, the only of its kind, completely shutting down the 1987 football season. They were allowed to return to play in 1988, but for an abbreviated schedule. They passed because they couldn’t even field a team. For the next 20 years, they enjoyed only one winning season and didn’t reach a bowl game until 2009.
The program was decimated, and they still haven’t recovered.
1. Penn State Coverup
I won’t go into details about this story because it’s so fresh and well documented. In my opinion, though, it ranks as the most notorious sports-related scandal of all time with all factors considered. Its length in time, vast number of victims, disgusting nature, iconic figures, legal ramifications, and path of destruction are like nothing else I’ve seen.
You’ll be telling your grandchildren about it. Fuckin’ Sandusky.