Sports

Foul Play: These Shameless Sports Teams Cheated To Win

Darren - November 22, 2023
Sports

Foul Play: These Shameless Sports Teams Cheated To Win

Darren - November 22, 2023

Cheating and sports go together like salt and pepper. Teams have tried to get an edge over their rivals ever since sports began. Sometimes, that meant turning to the dark side and using illicit means. So today, we’ll look back at the most shameless attempts teams made to cheat the system.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on on-field cheating and scandals that implicated entire teams. There are some doping scandals involved of course but there’s no point talking about baseball because a huge percentage of the players used illegal PEDs at some point. Also, expect the New England Patriots to appear heavily on this list because of their well-documented – and sordid – history of cheating.  Let’s begin.

Eurosport

Broncos Videotaping Scandal

Former Broncos and Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels tried to follow in his master Bill Belichick’s footsteps in this embarrassing incident. The failed NFL coach didn’t have his mentor’s smarts to lead a team to glory. So instead, he tried to emulate Belichick’s penchant for cheating. The NFL investigated the Broncos and McDaniels in 2009.

Bleacher Report

Broncos Videotape Director Steve Scarnecchia intentionally filmed part of the Niners’ practice in London. The most embarrassing part of this wasn’t the fines that the Broncos received. It was the pathetic way they lost the game after their shameless attempt to cheat their way to victory (via ESPN).

Sports Illustrated

Michigan’s Sign-Stealing Scandal

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh received a three-game suspension after another notorious sign-stealing scandal. The NCAA explicitly bans in-person advanced scouting of opponents during the season. However, Michigan didn’t worry about that as they tried to do everything possible to win.

AP

Allegedly, a Wolverines’ low-level staffer named Connor Stallions purchased tickets for ‘spies’ to record videos of opponents’ signals. There are also reports of Stallions wearing a fake mustache, sunglasses, and CMU gear at games as he disguised himself. It’s a crazy story of high-profile cheating (via AP News).

Philadelphia Inquirer

Houston Astros

Baseball is a notoriously rotten sport because teams and athletes always find new innovative ways to cheat. We’ve seen illicit gambling, rampant steroid abuse, and sign-stealing. The Astros won the World Series in 2017 and established themselves as one of the strongest teams of the decade.

People

Then it emerged that Houston used illegal video cameras and verbal cues to steal opponents’ signs during games. MLB punished them for their malpractices but many people think that they didn’t do enough. The Astros scapegoated their general manager and their head coach but didn’t sanction any players (via PBS).

CNN

The Bills’ Wind Tunnel

Former Bills special teams coach John Moore devised a brilliant but devious way to gain an edge over opponents. He realized that powerful winds blew over Lake Erie and turned this to their advantage. Many teams try to use weather conditions to gain an edge but this took it to the next level (via AP News).

ESPN

Moore explained: “I figured we could create a wind tunnel if we opened the east-side tunnel door of the stadium when New England was kicking against the wind. I worked with our equipment managers and told them, on my signal, to open the doors.” It’s shameless but technically there’s nothing wrong with it.

CNN

Seattle’s Illegal Practices

Pete Carroll is one of the NFL’s longest-serving coaches but he’s also fond of old-school methods. The Seahawks violated the NFL’s no-contact practice rules three times under his tenure. In one case, two players suffered head injuries after a heavy collision and the NFL responded.

Sports Illustrated

They hit the team with a $400,000 fine while they gave Carroll an individual $200,000 penalty. Meanwhile, they also stripped them of their first week of OTAs in 2017. Carroll complained but the NFL believed that he was putting his players’ health at risk to gain a competitive edge (via ESPN).

Bleacher Report

Bountygate

Sometimes teams lose their morality when they try to establish a winning edge. They’ll engage in immoral practices and do crazy things that we wouldn’t believe if they weren’t true. The Saints became one of the most notorious franchises in American sports because of their disgusting “BountyGate”.

NPR

Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams created a slush fund to reward players who injured opponents. It was laughable because it was so shameless. Williams received an indefinite suspension from football but did return. Meanwhile, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the full 2012 season due to the incident (via KTVB).

The Nation

Russian Olympic Team

This state-sponsored doping scandal was one of the biggest sports scandals of all time. Vladimir Putin directly ordered the Russian Olympic Team to engage in rampant PED abuse. They used cocktails of banned substances at the Sochi Winter Games. Chemists passed them through walls to the athletes in shocking disclosures.

The Moscow Times

The IOC stripped dozens of Russian athletes of medals across the decade. Meanwhile, they officially banned the nation from the Pyeongchang and Tokyo games. But they allowed them to compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee. This was ridiculous but that’s how it goes (via AP News).

NFL.com

The Chargers Towel Controversy

Every major sports coach will mention the importance of marginal gains. The Chargers tried to get an edge over their opponents through a subtle form of cheating in 2012.  Game officials became suspicious of their towels during a clash with the Broncos. They believed that the Chargers covered their towels with Stickum.

Sports Illustrated

This banned substance gives receivers an edge because it makes it easier to catch the ball. In the end, they were unable to prove that they used it but they did sanction the Chargers for failing to cooperate. Initially, the franchise refused to hand over their towels when the officials demanded them (via NBC Sports).

Minnesota Vikings

Piping Noise

Teams will do anything that they can to gain an edge over their opponents. It’s all about marginal gains at the highest level of professional sports. Some franchises took this to another level by piping noise into their stadiums. The Vikings reportedly did this in the ’90s but eluded punishment.

Sports Illustrated

However, the Falcons attracted the ire of the NFL in 2015 after their shameless violation. An investigation uncovered that they pumped fake noise into their stadium. In the end, the NFL stripped them of a fifth-round pick and fined the franchise $350,000. It’s so petty but this is the sort of thing that teams do (via NFL.com).

Bloomberg

Calciopoli

This Italian soccer scandal remains one of the most shameless but shocking ever. In short, several elite teams colluded to bribe referees and fix matches in Serie A, the nation’s top league. Turin giants Juventus suffered the biggest punishments as the Italian Soccer Federation stripped them of their 2004-05 title.

Eurosport

They also suffered mandatory relegation to the second division. Meanwhile, other massive teams including AC Milan and Lazio received fines and point deductions. It was a huge blemish on the league’s image and many directors also received suspended prison sentences (via 90 Min).

New York Times

Motorola Cycling Team

Everybody knows the infamous story of Lance Armstrong and his Motorola Cycling Team. They were at the forefront of one of the biggest doping scandals in sports history. Armstrong was a global icon because of his Tour De France wins and his inspiring recovery from cancer.

Live Science

However, he became a villain when an investigation revealed his rampant, shameless cheating. Furthermore, he bullied his teammates into using banned substances too. In the end, Armstrong lost millions of dollars in endorsements and World Cycling stripped him of his titles (via Bleacher Report).

Sky Sports

Bloodgate

Rugby union is a massive sport in Europe but it also sees its fair share of cheating. One of the worst scandals emerged in 2009 after Harlequins played Leinster. A Harlequins player used a fake blood capsule during the game’s final quarter. This allowed them to substitute him and replace him with a fresher athlete.

Eurosport

Hilariously, Harlequins missed a game-winning kick in the dying moments and lost. However, the scandal broke and they received massive penalties including fines and suspensions. This wasn’t the first time they used the illegal tactic of faking blood injuries (via The Guardian).

AP

Miami’s Tanking Scandal

Sometimes teams lose to win because they know their Draft position will improve. That’s what the Dolphins tried to do in 2019 according to former head coach Brian Flores. He said that their owner offered him bonuses to intentionally tank their season. However, he refused to engage in this shameless cheating.

Sky Sports

The NFL investigated and suspended the franchise’s owner Stephen Ross. They also stripped Miami of its 2023 first-round selection as well as a 2024 third-round pick. It was a big punishment but they wanted to make an example to discourage other teams from deliberately tanking (via Sporting News).

AP

Ben McAdoo’s Two-Way Radio

The Giants engaged in one of the dumbest forms of cheating in 2016. They had problems with the microphone in Eli Manning’s helmet so Ben McAdoo resorted to desperate measures. The inept head coach decided to keep contact with his star player by using a handheld walkie-talkie.

ESPN

Most know coaches can’t use handheld radios during games but McAdoo didn’t care. The NFL hit them with a fine and also moved their fourth-round pick to the end of the Draft as a punishment. Meanwhile, the Giants acknowledged their shameless cheating and accepted the penalty (via North Jersey).

The Guardian

Saracens Salary Cap

Many sports leagues operate salary caps because they want to prevent irresponsible spending. It forces teams to operate within their means and also creates a level playing field. Usually, teams pay a hefty price if they breach these regulations. English rugby side Saracens blatantly overspent because they didn’t think they’d receive a punishment.

Sky Sports

They assembled an all-star roster with amazing international players but then Premiership Rugby intervened. They struck Saracens with a massive 35-point deduction as well as a seven-million-dollar fine. It was a harsh lesson as they made an example out of the overspending team (via The Guardian).

Bleacher Report

Memphis SAT Scandal

It’s amazing the effort that colleges will make to ensure that they secure the best athletes for their teams. On paper, the NCAA demands that students meet academic standards. However, sometimes they don’t and struggle to pass classes. Memphis infamously faked Derrick Rose’s SAT scores when another student took the test for him.

Fansided

In the end, the NCAA reacted with a harsh punishment. They wiped Memphis’ 2008 Championship game season and invalidated their wins. Memphis knew that Rose was ineligible but they showed him shameless favoritism as they cheated. Rose moved onto the NBA and became a millionaire so it didn’t hurt him (via Commerical Appeal).

Sports Illustrated

DeflateGate

The Patriots appear more than one time on this list because of their shameless and repeated cheating. This time, Tom Brady felt the full brunt of the NFL after they suspended him for four games. They determined that Brady broke the rules by deflating balls against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game.

CNBC

It’s easier to throw lighter balls than fully-inflated ones so Brady was trying to get an advantage. However, most people think that other members of the organization including head coach Bill Belichick knew what was going on. But Belichick shrugged his shoulders and refused to take any responsibility (via USA Today Sports).

Daily Mail

Spain Paralympics

The Paralympics should be a beacon of hope and inspiration for athletes across the world. But even it sometimes sees cheating. Spain won the basketball final against Russia in 2000 but the joy soon turned to outrage. That’s because 10 players faked that they had intellectual disabilities to play for the team (via Inside the Games).

BBC

They engaged in one of the most offensive, shameless cheating scandals ever. Incredibly, they thought nobody would uncover the truth. Only two members of the roster had intellectual disabilities as the squad blatantly cheated. Their coach even told them to stop scoring so much to defuse suspicion.

Fox Sports

Real Madrid’s Yellow Cards

Jose Mourinho is one of the most cynical head coaches in global soccer today. The Portuguese maestro has an impeccable trophy cabinet but he will do anything to win. One of his most shameless moments came in 2019 when he ordered two of his players to receive intentional yellow cards in the Champions League.

Sky Sports

Sergio Ramos deliberately fouled an Ajax player because he knew a yellow card would earn him a suspension for the next game. But they had already qualified for the knockout stages. The next game meant nothing so it made sense to miss it. However, UEFA thought that this was unsporting behavior and banned him for two games (via The Guardian).

CBS Sports

Spygate

This remains one of the most shameless sports scandals ever. It kick-started the stereotype of the cheating Patriots and made everybody hate the franchise. The NFL found out that New England illegally videotaped the Jets’ signals in 2007. Their verdict was that they engaged in an unethical and unfair practice.

CBS Sports

In the end, they hit Belichick with a record $500,000 fine. Meanwhile, they also stripped the Patriots of their number-one pick for the following season. The incident received the nickname ‘Spygate’ and remains one of the NFL’s most infamous moments (via History).

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