Sports teams play a crucial role in society. Fans follow them because they bring a sense of joy and escapism, and there’s also pride in seeing their favorite team win. However, ultimately these franchises are also businesses and their owners can have bad motives. The sad truth is that many teams turn toxic for whatever reason.
Toxic teams come in many forms. Sometimes they cover up horrible scandals behind closed doors. Occasionally the owners exploit the team for their ends. Maybe they don’t care about the fans at all. Whatever the reason, they’re always infuriating. Check out the list below via Men’s Journal.
25. New England Patriots
Almost everybody outside of Foxborough loathes the Patriots. There are many reasons, but it’s partly because they are one of the most cynical franchises ever. While they are incredibly successful, they also have no qualms about cheating. Bill Belichick’s squad is toxic because they do whatever it takes to win. SpyGate saw Belichick’s minions film other teams’ practices (via Daily Beast). This was a massive story at the time.
It came to a head when the Jets uncovered the Pats’ devious scheme and complained to the NFL. Then, Belichick received a record fine for his antics. Another major incident was ‘DeflateGate’ when Tom Brady used specific balls which he had deflated by team employees because he wanted to gain an advantage. There have been so many crazy moments in New England. Everybody knows that they’ll happily break the rules.
Juventus are the most successful soccer club in Italy. But they played a massive role in the Calciopoli scandal in 2006. Numerous teams were involved, including fellow giants A.C. Milan. This involved match-fixing and bribing referees to influence the outcomes of games. This totally removed the integrity of the competition. It also affected millions of gamblers worldwide.
After a major investigation, the scale of the corruption became clear. All of the teams involved received harsh penalties. There were also jail sentences for some ringleaders. The league hit Juventus with a 30-point deduction. Then they suffered relegation to Serie B, the second tier of Italian soccer. They bounced back after a year but it was a wild ride (via Sportskeeda).
One of the most sickening inclusions on this list, this scandal shook football. It also showed how an organization can enable a toxic culture by turning a blind eye. Allegations emerged that Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky molested young boys. However little action was taken. Head coach Joe Paterno passed the information up the food chain but failed to do anything else.
An investigation unfolded and the results were dramatic. A court indicted Sandusky on 52 counts of child molestation (via CNN). In the end, it meant he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. However, there were multiple other casualties. These included high-ranking figures like Penn State President Graham Spanier and Paterno. Paterno admitted shame because he didn’t do enough. It was a disgusting story and shocking for the school.
In 2021, a shocking scandal emerged. Former Blackhawks player, Kyle Beach, emerged as ‘John Doe’ in a legal suit against Brad Aldrich, the Blackhawks’ former video coach. He faced charges of sexual assault during the franchise’s 2010 Stanley Cup run. It was wild because people don’t expect male players of that level and visibility to experience such trauma.
Then the Chicago franchise commissioned an independent law firm to investigate the story. It was alleged that the Blackhawks leadership including the franchise president, GM, and head coach met to discuss the crisis. However, in a toxic twist, no actions were taken (via ESPN). Beach also claimed that some of his teammates teased him with homophobic slurs once rumors of the incident became known.
Russia’s Olympic cheating is the stuff of renown. In 2016, a state-sponsored doping program came to light and the extent of their corruption became clear. Dozens of athletes received PEDs before competing and cheated their way to medal wins at the Sochi Winter Olympics. At least 15 medal winners were a part of the program. Finally, the IOC hit Russia with a four-year suspension.
However, the IOC showed disgraceful weakness by reducing the ban to two years. Meanwhile, Russian athletes competed at the Tokyo Games under the ROC label (Russian Olympic Committee). Essentially, this meant Russia was at the games but didn’t play their anthem when their athletes won. Instead, they used Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In sum, it was a massive waste of time (via NBC).
The 1988 Sooners were not the gleaming vehicle of efficiency that college football fans expect today. Barry Switzer was one of the program’s most successful-ever coaches but there was a toxic culture behind the scenes. Former linebacker Brian Bosworth wrote a tell-all book. He alleged players took cocaine and steroids like candy. But things became even worse for the school.
Before Switzer departed Oklahoma, a large host of legal issues emerged. Police charged one player with the shooting of another. Another sold cocaine. Finally, three athletes faced rape charges (via Fansided). In the end, the NCAA put the Sooners on probation for three seasons because of all of their malpractice. They were lucky not to receive the death penalty because the problems run deep.
This cycling team became famous after the dramatic successes of Lance Armstrong. He became a megastar after his remarkable run in the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana. But then Floyd Landis spoiled it all by revealing the team’s toxic cheating culture. It was one of the most notorious sports-doping scandals in history.
Armstrong lost over $100 million in sponsorships overnight (via Cycling News). There were always suspicions about his achievements but the proof still shocked the world. World Cycling stripped him of his titles but the damage was done. Cycling still maintains a reputation for being a dirty sport as numerous other high-profile figures failed drug tests over the years. But this remains the craziest story from the sport.
We’re going back several years but this was a game-changer for the NCAA. The SMU Mustangs broke the rules repeatedly and shamelessly through the 1970s and 1980s. According to CBS Sports, the school brazenly conspired to pay athletes to play. A booster kept a slush fund to entice new players to the school. This is against NCAA rules.
The NCAA took the drastic step of suspending SMU for 1987 as well as home games the following year. They wanted to make an example of the Mustangs because of their toxic behind-the-scenes culture. But it proved ruinous for the school because of the financial cost (via CBS Sports). They lost most of their best players to other schools and only posted a single winning season over the next 20 years.
Ramzan Kadyrov isn’t a nice man. The warlord is one of the most notorious figures in Russia. He rules the autonomous Republic of Chechnya with an iron fist. Kadyrov is notorious for his human rights abuse. The only equality he cares about is treating women, gay people, and political opponents with callous brutality. Meanwhile, he also ran an Akhmat Fight Club, a notorious MMA promotion.
A convicted rapist, Aleksander Emelianenko fought for AFC. They also had children face each other in savage bouts without head protection. As toxic entities go, this one is up there with the worst. It’s effectively a cruel dictator’s plaything. According to Bloody Elbow, the entity has even threatened journalists at gunpoint. Kadyrov still wields influence over athletes from the region.
Nobody would believe this scandal if it wasn’t true. In 2003, a Baylor Bears player disappeared. Dennehy reported that Harvey Thomas threatened him and their mutual teammate Carlton Dotson. But then Dotson confessed to the murder of Dennehy. This wasn’t the end of the incident because Coach Pete Bliss tried to cover it up. He lied to investigators but eventually the truth emerged.
Bliss had illegally paid the tuition of Dennehy and another player, Corey Herring. But he claimed that Dennehy made the money through drug dealing. There were also recruiting violations and multiple other infractions. In the end, the NCAA threw the book at Baylor. Bliss’s career practically ended and Baylor received heavy sanctions. It took them years before they had another winning season (via Texas Monthly).
This is the oldest entry on this list but one of the most influential. Gambling was a major problem in baseball before anybody knew how to spell PEDs. The Black Sox Scandal went down in 1919 when Chicago threw the World Series. They played the underdog Cincinnati Reds in the showpiece event. But Chicago suffered a shocking loss. However, it became clear there was funny business involved.
It’s believed that the mob and other criminal syndicates paid off multiple White Sox players. These included the legendary ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson whose reputation never recovered. Jackson was desperate to return to baseball. But he died a broken man after his lifetime ban from the sport. In the end, toxic external influences changed the sport. Baseball franchise owners created the position of the commissioner to ensure fair play (via History).
Fans automatically associate the Iceland soccer team with the Viking clap. Most people hold the team in warm regard. 10% of Iceland’s 360000 population were in France to watch their nation compete. However, the team took a more toxic turn in 2021. An activist group accused six of their players of sexual assaults. They sent a confidential email to the nation’s governing body (KSI).
Then it became clear that the KSI had tried to cover up the scandal. After a series of crisis meetings, the entire KSI board resigned because they were in an untenable position. Meanwhile, star player Gylfi Sigurdsson was also under investigation for child sex abuse offenses (via Iceland Monitor). This news rocked the Premier League because of his status as a high-profile athlete.
The NFL experiences multiple scandals every year. However, this one was particularly noxious. Everybody knows that football takes a toll on the bodies of its athletes. That’s why there is instant outrage when players commit flagrant fouls and intentionally hurt opponents. But the Saints took this to the next level with a toxic scheme. Defensive Coach Greg Williams created an evil bounty system.
Essentially, it encouraged players to take out certain members of the opposition. Players who achieved the hits would receive rewards for their efforts. The NFL uncovered this heinous plot and Williams paid the price. He lost his job with the franchise but continued to work in football. They also suspended head coach Sean Payton but he returned after one year off (via FOX Sports).
PSG is the biggest soccer team in France and also one of the richest in the world. That’s because the state of Qatar took ownership by purchasing a majority stake in 2011. Instantly, opponents questioned their human rights records and motivations. Everybody knows that they bought the club for the sake of sports washing. But their fans don’t care.
Meanwhile, the Qatar Sports Foundation poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the team (via Reuters). They made Neymar the most expensive player on the planet when they signed him from Barcelona. Furthermore, they show favoritism toward their most marketable athletes. But this bloated club has failed in the competition that counts the most. They always fall short in the Champion’s League.
The Jets are a shambles of a franchise. Their decision to hire Adam Gase set them back years. He arrived on Peyton Manning’s recommendation but became one of their worst coaches. First, many believe he ruined first-round pick Sam Darnold’s confidence. Finally, the quarterback departed for the Carolina Panthers with his tail between his legs. They even failed to tank for Trevor Lawrence. The Jets were on course for a 0-16 season but couldn’t even lose properly.
This meant that they failed to receive the first overall draft pick in 2021. Losing breeds a toxic culture. They gave away draft picks for years before wasting the ones they had left (via Bleacher Report). This franchise couldn’t even spell mediocre correctly because they are that bad. There are hopes that the Jets will turn a corner, but they have a very long way to go before this happens.
The Clippers are a strange franchise They believed that Kahwi Leonard was the missing piece to rule the Western Conference and the NBA. But it didn’t quite work out that way. There were complaints of a toxic locker room. In short, Leonard and Paul George received favoritism from the front office. This is unsustainable in a team sport because everybody must pull their weight.
They allowed the pair to live miles away in San Diego. Unsurprisingly, they regularly arrived late for practice and team flights (via Sports Illustrated). Meanwhile, Leonard reportedly took over the women’s locker room. He wanted a private space to stretch but it was very selfish. It didn’t help that the Clippers were underwhelming on the court. Their fans expect a lot but the Clippers have yet to deliver.
The Astros sign-stealing scandal was one of the most blatant examples of cheating in recent years. MLB confirmed that they cheated in 2017 and 2018. But they still retained their titles. The entire setup was toxic because the players helped create the plan. Fans instantly turned against the franchise. They also condemned Commissioner Rob Manfred for his weak (at best) response. Traveling crowds still bang trashcan lids at games to mock the Astros.
In the end, the team scapegoated GM Jeff Luhnow as well as Coach A.J. Hinch. But the players and the front office were equally culpable (via Sporting News). The Astros even made their way to another World Series in 2021. However, the Atlanta Braves defeated them in a win for the nation. This incident was even more notorious than the Patriots ‘SpyGate’ because it was so blatant.
Sure, the UFC is a promotion and not technically a team. But all of their athletes wear the same uniforms and answer to one boss, Dana White. The UFC is notorious for underpaying its fighters. Sure bigger stars make a lot of money but nowhere near the amounts that boxers earn. UFC defendants claim that their payment structures are more balanced. However, critics accuse the promotion of exploiting their athletes.
E.A. Sports produces a UFC video game every year and uses the fighters’ likenesses. But, the athletes don’t receive any remuneration for this. The promotion announced a deal with a new cryptocurrency partner in 2021. Of course, the fighters didn’t receive a penny. Many people consider this culture toxic and unfair. That’s because the executives make millions of dollars off athletes risking their long-term health (via Irish Times).
The Houston Texans are one of the worst-run franchises in American major sports. A lot of the team’s toxic culture comes from executive Jack Easterby. Allegedly he wields an odd influence over chairman Cal McNair (via Houston Chronicle). The team constantly makes appalling decisions in the front office. These included giving former coach Bill O’Brien far too much power. Meanwhile, they traded away most of their star players.
Finally, DeShaun Watson led a stand against the franchise’s grim culture. The star quarterback was the one shining light in a miserable team. But a dark twist saw dozens of women come forward, accusing him of sexual harassment in massage parlors. The Texans are in a mire and barely treading water.
Crewe is a lower-league English soccer team but they attracted notoriety in 2021. This came after the culmination of an investigation into a 15-year sexual abuse scandal. Barry Bennell was a youth team coach during the 1980s and ’90s but he was also a convicted pedophile. However, Crewe never checked his background. After they hired him, he ran rampant and molested many young boys.
A harrowing 62 survivors gave their accounts of their experiences under the coach. There was also a recognition that high-profile figures at the club failed to act and protect their young athletes. John Bowler, Chairman of Crewe Alexandra, resigned after the review’s toxic findings. Key club figures covered up the horrible events. This was where many of the tragic offenses took place (via Sky Sports).
The Wizards had one of the most toxic locker rooms in basketball during the late 2000s. Multiple big personalities simply couldn’t see eye to eye. Tensions mounted and threatened to erupt. Finally, they did during a card game on a team flight. Javaris Crittenton lost money and wanted to win it back. It turned into a furious argument between him and teammate Gilbert Arenas (via CBS Sports).
Arenas threatened to burn Crittenton in his car. Then the latter said he’d shoot Arenas. Bizarrely, Arenas responded by saying he’d bring the gun for him to do it. He did exactly that and took an unloaded handgun to the team locker room. But he didn’t expect Crittenton to pull out his loaded weapons. The pair had a Mexican standoff until the situation cooled. The NBA hit them with lengthy suspensions and there were also legal consequences.
Urban Meyer turned the Gators into one of the best college teams in the nation. But it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies. That’s because this team took a left turn toward darkness. They became notorious for indiscipline off the field. Meyer coached the team for six years. During that time, law enforcement arrested his players on 31 occasions. That’s a staggering number and one that made him a controversial figure.
Meyer cared about results above everything else. NFL fans saw this at Jacksonville when he brought in Chris Doyle. This came after the University of Iowa fired Doyle for racist language. Healso departed Florida after health issues prevented him from continuing. Later, he took charge of Ohio where there was a toxic backroom. Meyer ignored domestic violence allegations surrounding assistant Zach Smith (via Sports Illustrated).
Few teams manage to be as consistently toxic as Newcastle. The Premier League outfit has one of the biggest fanbases in England. But they are synonymous with mediocrity on the field. A lot of that is down to former owner Mike Ashley. Their fans hated him because he didn’t want to invest millions of dollars in the team. Instead, he preferred to tread water and milk the club for all it was worth (via FourFourTwo).
Fans loathed him and regularly protested because they wanted him to leave. Finally, Ashley managed to sell the team in 2021. Saudi Arabia’s murderous dictator, Muhammad Bin Salman, bought the club. Opposition teams protested because of Bin Salman’s appalling human rights record. But it didn’t matter. In the end, money talks, and the Premier League wanted some of it.
Dan Snyder is arguably the NFL’s biggest villain. He would lower the tone in a sewer because he creates such a toxic work environment. Even when he does something right, it’s for the wrong reasons. Snyder resisted changing the Redskins’ nickname for years. But he finally changed his mind when sponsors threatened to pull out. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the nation’s capital.
Snyder’s toxic brand of leadership created chaos. The Washington president infamously tried to get female employees to partake in a swimsuit calendar. Then, over 40 women accused him of workplace discrimination and sexual harrassment. The NFL fined him $10 million and suspended him from team affairs during an investigation into his malpractice (via Wall Street Journal).
The Raiders went through several toxic crises in 2021. First, head coach Jon Gruden’s disgraceful emails emerged and stunned the league. His racist, sexist, and homophobic language sealed the end of his career in Vegas and most likly. Then, receiver and former top draft pick Henry Ruggs III crashed his Corvette into another vehicle, killing the 23-year-old female occupant in the process. It was a harrowing situation.
Of course, human tragedy is the worst element of this. But it was also a major blow on the field. Ruggs was having a breakout season before he ruined his entire life. He faced 20 years in jail after his actions led to another person’s death. Next, they released another former first-round pick from 2020 in cornerback Damon Arnette. A wild video showed Arnette waving guns in a manic manner (via Sporting News) while issuing death threats to an internet troll.