While it sounds unfortunate, cheating scandals have started to become more and more routine in professional sports. It seems like pretty much every major sport has had a high-profile cheating incident in the last few years, ranging from the various accusations against the New England Patriots in the NFL and the Houston Astros in Major League Baseball to the recent scandal involving the use of artificial weights in fish. According to Sports Illustrated, more than half of the people asked in one poll felt that the outcomes of sporting events could be easily manipulated by outside forces.
However, cheating in professional sports is far from new. For more than a century, scandals have haunted the MLB, and even youth events like the Little League World Series have become infected with organized cheating schemes now that there is more money and publicity involved. There have been so many scandals over the last century that it’s really impossible to count. But here are some of the top cheating scandals that rocked the sports world.
The Houston Astros 2017 World Series scandal
In November 2017, the Houston Astros became the kings of the baseball world when they topped the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series. According to The Athletic, the Astros’ World Series victory, which sparked controversy, came on the heels of an outstanding regular season, one in which they led the league in multiple offensive categories, fielded the American League MVP, and won more than 100 out of 162 games.
Unfortunately, almost exactly two years later in 2019, The Athletic ran a piece that detailed the team’s use of an illegal sign-stealing scheme during their historic run. The players had an illegal camera feed that told them all of the opposing team’s catcher’s signals to the pitcher, which allowed them to know what pitches he was going to throw. On certain pitches, the team would make a loud noise — like banging a trash can — to alert their hitter as to which pitch was coming.
When the scandal broke in 2019, there was widespread outrage throughout the league. Not only were fans upset, but even fellow players sounded off their disapproval of the sign-stealing scheme. When the Astros faced fans again for the first time in 2021, they were relentlessly booed in many stadiums. As punishment, the Astros coach, A.J. Hinch, and General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, were both suspended from the league for a year, the team lost four draft picks, and the Astros were fined $5 million.
The infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal
More than a century after it happened, the so-called "Black Sox" scandal of 1919 still stands out as one of the most brazen scandals of all time. Per History, the fixing scheme originated a few weeks prior to the 1919 World Series, when gamblers associated with New York mob leader Arnold Rothstein started to approach members of the Chicago White Sox. Eventually, White Sox players including C. Arnold "Chick" Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, were all implicated in the plot to throw the games in exchange for money.
However, suspicion of a scandal spread leading up to the series, so much so that bookies actually changed the betting odds for the game — sensing the Reds might have an easier time beating the White Sox than previously anticipated. However, when the gamblers didn’t deliver the $100,000 bribe to the players on time, the White Sox had a change of heart and actually tried to win the remaining games. But, pressure from the gamblers proved too much, and the Reds won the series.
Afterward, the players infamously became known as the "Black Sox" in reference to their cheating. Though they were acquitted of charges in court, all of the players known to be involved were indefinitely banned from playing in the MLB again. The most tragic story was of "Shoeless" Joe, who is one of baseball’s most beloved players of all time, and one of the few to retain his reputation through the scandal.
The New Orleans Saints Bountygate investigation
In 2010, the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts and won the Super Bowl. It was a very special victory for the city of New Orleans, which was still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (per The New York Times).
Unfortunately, just a few years later, their Super Bowl victory would be obscured by revelations of a bounty scheme among some of their top defensive players. According to a report released by the NFL in 2012, more than 20 Saints players had participated in a program that rewarded them financially for injuring opposing star players — including former Hall of Fame quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre — between 2009 and 2011. Saints’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams was found to have helped organize the scheme and pay the players.
In the aftermath, the league suspended several Saints’ personnel, including head coach Sean Payton for a full season and Williams indefinitely, per ESPN. Several Saints players were also suspended for several games for their actions, but after a messy public back and forth — which included a court battle — the players’ suspensions were eventually vacated.
Pete Rose’s lifetime MLB ban
If you look at Pete Rose’s career from a statistical point of view, there is no reason he should not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. As per Baseball Reference, Rose was a 17-time All-Star, won the 1963 "Rookie of the Year" and the 1973 "MVP," and finished his career with more than 4,200 hits. However, while his accolades as a player are well-earned and well-deserved, it was his turn as a manager that damaged his entire career.
In 1989, just a few years after retiring from the Cincinnati Reds as a player and becoming the full-time manager, Rose found himself with a lifetime ban from MLB (via History). It emerged that Rose had been making bets on baseball games during his time as the Reds’ manager, including games involving his own team. According to John Dowd, the person who investigated Rose, he even bet against the Reds for some games (per ESPN).
At the time, Rose denied all of the charges against him (though he accepted the ban), but in 2003, he finally came clean in an effort to get reinstated and potentially put in the Hall of Fame. As ABC reported, Rose published a book and did several public interviews where he admitted to betting on games during his time as Reds manager. However, his appeals fell flat, as Rose has still never been reinstated.
The New England Patriots and Deflategate
Anyone paying attention to the news cycle in 2015 almost undoubtedly heard about the New England Patriots and Deflategate. As one of the biggest sports scandals of the 2010s, news of Deflategate first emerged in January, but its revelations surprised and captivated the nation for more than a year as everything played out. Even Saturday Night Live spoofed the incident during one of the episodes.
Everything started after reports came out that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for purposefully tampering with some of the footballs during the recent AFC Championship Game they had just won (according to NBC Sports Boston). A few months later in May, a report released by an NFL investigator found the Patriots — and specifically, Tom Brady — had engaged in a scheme to tamper with the footballs.
According to ESPN, the report alleged that Brady had worked with two Patriots equipment assistants to purposefully deflate the balls to make them easier to throw. The Patriots vehemently denied the report’s accusations and even created a website to refute the claims. Brady was suspended for four games, which he appealed in federal court. After a lengthy court battle, Brady’s suspension was upheld — more than a year after the scandal started. Even today the entire incident is hotly debated, with some claiming the entire scandal was fabricated (per ESPN).
Luis Resto’s tainted boxing gloves
The sport of professional boxing is known for its brutality and violence, but during one boxing match in the summer of 1983, things got taken to another level. As ESPN explains, during a bout between boxers Luis Resto and Billy Collins Jr., Resto cheated and caused Collins severe amounts of physical damage. Resto and his trainer, Panama Lewis, deliberately removed the padding from Resto’s gloves and soaked his hand wraps in plaster of Paris.
The combination of a lack of padding and hardened wraps essentially made Resto’s hands into swinging fists of concrete — all aimed at Collins’ unprotected head. As the documentary, "Assault in the Ring," relays, Collins was permanently injured in his eye as a result of Resto’s punches, and it caused him severe emotional distress. After becoming estranged from both his wife and his daughter, Collins tragically died after driving his car off the side of the road.
The match had lasted 10 rounds before Resto was declared the winner, but almost immediately afterward, Resto’s tampered boxing gloves were discovered by none other than Collins’ own father Billy Ray Sr. (via Sports Illustrated). Both Resto and Lewis were eventually given multiple years in prison for their actions, and it wasn’t until many years later that Resto finally admitted what he did.
The New England Patriots’ Spygate scandal
In 2007, on the heels of their three Super Bowl victories in the early 2000s, a report came out that immediately cast the New England Patriots — and their coach Bill Belichick — in a negative light. During a game that September against their rivals the New York Jets, Jets head coach Eric Mangini alerted the league that the Patriots were taping their sideline signals — a clear violation of league rules (per Pro Football Talk).
During a 2008 interview with The New York Times, one of the people formerly involved in the scheme detailed how it worked. With coach Belichick’s full knowledge and encouragement, videographer Matt Walsh and others would tape the opposing team’s sidelines in order to determine their signals for play calling. According to Walsh, the team gave him a list of phony excuses to use if he was ever questioned, and by the end of his tenure, the team was filming practically everybody in the Patriots’ conference. He claimed that the scheme was so effective, after one game a Patriots’ quarterback told him they could decipher 75% of the opposing team’s signals.
When the scandal emerged, punishment from the NFL was swift. Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team $250,000. The team also lost draft picks (via The New York Times). The timing of the scandal has led some to question the Patriots’ former Super Bowls, with one rival coach saying (via Pro Football Talk), "they got asterisks now."
The infamous 2000 Paralympics cheating scandal
It almost sounds too horrible to be true, but in 2000, the Spanish Paralympic basketball team had the dubious distinction of being labeled cheaters at the Sydney Paralympic Games. The New York Times revealed that 10 of 12 players on the Spanish team were found to be lying about having intellectual disabilities.
The team was forced to rescind their medals and Fernando Martin Vicente, the vice president of the Spanish Paralympic Committee, resigned in disgrace. As ABC explains, the Spanish team had dominated the Paralympics that year, crushing every opponent during every match. However, once their picture was printed in a Spanish newspaper, the scheme quickly started to unravel (via Yahoo Sports).
The paper was bombarded with messages claiming the players were cheats, and a month after the games, one of the players actually came forward and admitted the entire thing. Later, all of the fake Paralympians, as well as Vicente and numerous others, were prosecuted for fraud in the Spanish court. Vicente was the only one to be found guilty, and he was fined €5,400, but he still maintained his innocence (per the BBC).
Danny Almonte cheats at the Little League World Series
It’s not just the major leagues that experience cheating nowadays — it has started to infect youth sports, too. According to ESPN, back during the 2001 Little League World Series, James Monroe High School in the Bronx boasted one of the best pitchers in the league, Danny Almonte. Almonte had a blazing fastball — for Little League — and performed outstandingly on the biggest youth stage.
Though Monroe High wouldn’t end up winning, Almonte still blew everyone away by throwing a perfect game during the tournament — meaning he didn’t allow a single batter to reach base the entire game — in an incredibly rare feat. However, as The New York Times revealed just a few months later, there was a big problem: Almonte was 14 years old. The cut-off for Little League is 12, making Almonte ineligible to have participated.
Most people did not blame Almonte, but rather massive amounts of scorn were reserved for his father and coach who orchestrated the scam. Both of them were banned from being involved in Little League. Almonte was disqualified, and the team was forced to forfeit all of their wins from the season.
Rosie Ruiz cheats at the Boston Marathon
Some cheating schemes are more brazen than others, and perhaps the most audacious cheating scandal in recent history belongs to Rosie Ruiz. In 1980, Ruiz cheated during the famous Boston Marathon by reportedly trying to fake running in the marathon so she could get a paid trip to Boston from her work (via History). The ruse worked well — a little too well, in fact. Instead of just faking her participation in the race, Ruiz ended up accidentally cheating her way into first place.
Ruiz’s plan was to sit out the first half of the race before jumping in and running the second half. Unfortunately, she misplaced her entry point, and instead of joining in the middle, she ended up a mile from the finish — ahead of everyone. Ruiz ended up crossing the finish line in first place, but what started as a joyous celebration soon turned into a nightmare.
Ruiz’s scam was quickly found out and she was publicly outed and stripped of her medal. Her boss back in New York fired her. And the woman who had taken second place, Jacqueline Gareau of Canada, was instead awarded the gold medal and named the winner.
The Arizona State University point-shaving scandal
One of the biggest sports cheating scandals of the 1990s was not in professional sports but instead happened in the world of college basketball. According to the Arizona Daily Sun, during the 1993-1994 NCAA men’s basketball season, several members of Arizona State University conspired to help fix games in exchange for money. Stevin Smith and Isaac Burton Jr. were both teammates on the Sun Devils at the time when they agreed to a scheme masterminded by Benny Silman.
The plan was for the teammates to help fix the games so that ASU would not beat the point spread, allowing for Silman and his associates to place bets and make windfalls of cash. The scam worked for the first four games, but in the fifth game, ASU beat the point spread and Silman and company went broke. Soon, Silman, Smith, Burton, and several others were indicted on conspiracy charges after evidence came out linking $20,000 per game in bribes to Smith and $4,300 in bribes to Burton (via The New York Times).
Silman would eventually be sentenced to nearly four years in prison, while his conspirators also got prison sentences and fines, and were put on probation (per CBS).
SMU gets the death penalty in 1987
In college sports, the most severe punishment a school can get is known as the "death penalty," and in 1987 Southern Methodist University experienced it after repeated violations. As Time explains, in the mid-1980s, SMU started paying student-athletes to attend school and play on their football team. However, the team was quickly caught paying Sean Stopperich, and in 1985 the NCAA sanctioned them by removing scholarships and preventing them from playing in any bowl games for two years.
Yet, SMU seemed to learn little from this experience and continued to pay players, though they were apparently in the process of phasing it out. Before they could totally phase out the payments, they were caught again, this time over benefits paid to David Stanley. In February 1987, SMU was officially banned for the entire 1987-88 season, a ban which would end up lasting two-and-a-half years.
The program was devastated for years, and when they finally returned to the field in 1989, SMU got destroyed by their opponents (via the Associated Press). It has only been in the last few years that SMU has regained its reputation in college football, but they are now one of the top programs once again (via CBS).
The 2022 fish weight scandal
The title for most bizarre sports scandal in recent memory undoubtedly has to go to the recent fish weight scandal involving Jake Runyan and Chase Cominsky. According to NPR, Runyan and Cominsky were accused in October 2022 of attempting to artificially inflate the weight of the fish they had recently caught. It all took place during the Lake Erie Walleye Trail fishing tournament in Ohio.
Apparently, Runyan and Cominsky had stuffed nearly eight pounds of weights into their fish in order to tip the scales and win the tournament. There was almost immediate skepticism when their fish weighed several more pounds than anticipated, and Runyan and Cominsky’s duplicity was revealed when the tournament’s director cut into the fish and found the weights. In a now famous viral video, tournament director Jason Fischer can be heard yelling "We’ve got weights in fish!" before a crowd of people starts swarming and questioning Runyan and Cominsky.
Both Runyan and Cominsky were immediately disqualified from the tournament, and their information was reportedly turned over to the police for potential criminal charges. Runyan and Cominsky had also previously been disqualified from a prior event over cheating allegations the year prior at another Cleveland-area tournament (via Cleveland.com).