A History of Cheating in Sports

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A History of Cheating in Sports
Apr 23, 2020

In the wake of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, students in the sports, society and media class at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism were assigned a term paper this semester on the history the history of cheating in sports.

One of the best papers was done by Kim Alexander. Her report is below:

A big topic in sports these days is cheating, thanks to the Houston Astros’ recent scandal dominating Major League Baseball, before covid-19 stopped the start of the season. But cheating has been prevalent in sports throughout history. And there has been no discrimination in type of sport, level of professionalism or geographical location. Cheating also spans across individuals and teams, with both minor and major infractions. Here is timeline of some of the major cheating scandals throughout history.

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were accused of cheating against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Eight players for Chicago were allegedly taking bribes in exchange for throwing the game, purposely losing. The players were eventually acquitted but they were also banned from baseball for life. The incident was called the Black Sox Scandal.

In 1951, Henry Poppe of Manhattan College’s basketball team tried to get some of his teammates involved in point-shaving. In New York, it is illegal to bribe a player to play a game either better or worse. In the incident that got him in trouble, Poppe had asked a teammate to make sure to win the game by less than 10 to cover a certain point spread. Poppe was then arrested, along with another teammate, which then lead to an investigation of seven schools and 86 games that had been fixed. Similar situations cost CCNY (City College of New York) both its NCAA and NIT championships it won the same year (1951).

Also, in 1951, was the sign stealing scandal of the New York Giants, in baseball not football. After winning the National League championship against Brooklyn, when Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in Game 3 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, three Giants players came forward and admitted that the team had been stealing signs. It was said that the Giants used a military grade telescope to observe the signs, from the center field clubhouse and then communicate them back to their bullpen.

Pete Rose was a Major League Baseball player in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and a manager for the Cincinnati Reds in the 80s. But later in his career accusations arose that he had been gambling on the games, even some that he was managing. He denied the allegations but in the late 80s he made a deal with the commissioner that he would be banned for life from the MLB and Hall of Fame in order for the investigation to be dropped.

In the 1980 Boston Marathon, Rosie Ruiz was declared the women’s winner. But people started questioning her when they looked at her times. She finished the marathon in under three hours, the fastest that had been recorded up to the point, and twenty-five minutes under her time in the New York Marathon the year before. Then people started coming forward saying that they had seen Ruiz on the subway and jumping back into the race about a mile from the finish line. She was stripped of medal and title, but never admitted to cheating.

In 1985 Indonesia, Vijay Singh was accused and disqualified for deliberately changing his scorecard. He tried to argue that it was a mistake, a little miscommunication, but the director of the Southeast Asia Golf Federation thought differently. Singh was indefinitely suspended. Although he did eventually come back and even made it to the European and PGA Tours, and would make it to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

In the late 1980s, Southern Methodist University ran afoul of the NCAA, charged with continually violating NCAA rules, including allowing players to take large bribes from boosters. The NCAA banned SMU from playing any games in the 1987 season. And while the ban was lifted the next year, SMU didn’t have any athletes to play and has struggled ever since.

Two men in the history of baseball have broken Roger Maris’ 61 home run record in a single season record; both have been caught cheating. The first was Mark McGwire in 1998. Twelve years later he admitted to taking steroids. The second was Sammy Sosa also in 1998. In 2009, Sosa was discovered to be taking performance-enhancing drugs as well. Both records remain intact. So has Barry Bonds career home run record, despite charges of steroid use against him.

At the 2000 Olympics, Marion Jones won five medals, including three gold, in track and field. But seven years later she admitted to taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs. She was sentenced to jail time, probation and community service for lying to federal prosecutors, and had to give up her five medals from that year.

At the 2000 Paralympics, the Spanish basketball team won gold medals but eventually had to give them back and were stripped of their titles. It was uncovered that ten of the twelve players purposely failed the IQ test and were not actually disabled. Spain was disqualified.

In 2001, Danny Almonte was a household name for Little League fans, but it later came out that he was actually three years older than the age limit of 12. His team was disqualified.

In 2007, the New England Patriots were caught cheating videotaping the New York Jets’ hand signals. The NFL fined the team $250,000, took away their first-round draft pick and fined head coach Bill Belichick half a million dollars. Several years later, the team and quarterback Tom Brady were penalized again for illegally deflating footballs in a playoff game.

In 2008 an NBA Referee was sentenced to over a year in prison and forced to pay restitution for gambling with the games he refed. Tim Donaghy, the referee, worked with two other men, giving them inside information about the games and teams he’d work for. Reports said that Donaghy had a gambling addiction which is what led to this.

Between the years 2009 and 2011, the New Orleans Saints engaged in a “Pay-to-Injure” bonus plan. Essentially the organization gave money to players to injure opposing players. The head coach, Sean Peyton, was suspended for a season, while the defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who seemed to be in charge of the scheme, was banned for several years.

One of the most infamous scandals ever involved Lance Armstrong, who after r being out of the cycling for several years, admitted to Oprah Winfrey in 2013 that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in previous years. He was stripped of his numerous Tour de France titles and Olympic medals and was banned from cycling for life.

Another example of cheating in baseball is the use of s pine tar on bats, or pitchers using pine tar to grip the ball better. In 2014, New York Yankees pitcher, Michael Pineda was caught using it against the Boston Red Sox and was suspended 10 games. In 2005 Brendan Donnelly of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim got tossed and suspended for ten games for pine tar on his glove. Also, some players have used corked bats, including the famous George Brett (Kansas City) incident against the Yankees in the 1980’s.

Finally, in 2017-2018, the Houston Astros were accused of sign stealing to win the World Series in 2017. It was brought to light that the Astros had a live feed of the opposing catchers’ signs relayed to them in their bullpen. Players would then bang on a trash can to indicate to the batter what pitch to expect. Their general and field managers were first suspended, then altogether fired. The team was fined the maximum, $5 million, and they lost their first and second round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts.

Part 2: Analysis
Why does it happen?

The first reason why athletes cheat is fame. In the case of Rosie Ruiz, the marathon runner, she would not have gotten anything out of skipping the race and finishing first, other than bragging rights and the attention of her peers. Another example, is that cases of athletes taking performance enhancing drugs. For the baseball players in 1998, they took the drugs to be the best, overcoming injuries and getting stronger in quest of breaking records.

The second and more prevalent reason for cheating is money. Money can be a separate reason to cheat, but a lot of times it can work together with the fame. Another theme of money in cheating in sports is betting. A lot of people on this list have cheated in order to win more money in betting. For example, eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to receive money from gamblers. And superstars are not exempt either. Assumed Hall-of-Famer, Pete Rose tarnished his career and any chance he had of getting into the Hall of Fame by betting. He bet both for and against his team, the Cincinnati Reds, while he was the manager. And in the 1951 point-shaving scandal, seven schools were found to be involved in fixing games, including CCNY that lost both its championships (NCAA and NIT) that year.

How has it evolved?

Cheating in sports seems to have evolved in two ways: people have become more devious and the cheating has become less criminally illegal. For one, players and coaches have become stealthier in the way they cheat. For example, the New England Patriots in both “Spygate” and “Deflategate.” In both of these incidents the team has resorted to different antics in order to win. And when baseball players use pine tar to help them throw better, they’ve had to hide it in different places. They know that umpires are keen to look in the usual spots for evidence of pitchers using pine tar, i.e. the wrist or neck. So, they’ve had to switch it up, putting the pine tar on the underside of their caps or under their gloves.

Another way cheating has evolved is from criminally illegal to just violations of the rules. In the point-shaving scandal of 1951, college basketball, the players involved were also arrested for breaking the law. And many others who were involved in betting schemes, also usually found themselves in trouble not just with the leagues but also with the law.

How have sports changed as a result?

Sports have also needed to change and adapt as a result of these cheating scandals. Rules have needed to become stricter, punishments harsher and officials overseeing the games have needed to be more vigilant. The leagues have had to be more observant; many sports fans view sports differently, some even more distrustful of athletes.

How should leagues respond?

So far, the leagues have been responding the best that they can. Cheating is obviously not something that’s new, nor will it be something that goes away completely. There will always be someone who finds a new way to bend or break the rules. And sports itself is always evolving and changing too. There are always going to be new rules put in, mainly safety regulations, that are going to change the ways the athletes play. But leagues must stay vigilant for cheating in different forms.

There is a long list of players, coaches and even referees who have cheated in their game. Whether it was for money or glory or both, these people found lots of ways to cheat the system, but often were caught. Still, cheaters are still going to try to break the rules. It’s always been s been a part of our history in sports. And something that’s likely will continue.

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