Competitive sports are meant to inspire us to do and be our best selves. Athletes are expected to strive for physical perfection and be remembered for achievements that beat the odds. We often turn sports figures into celebrities and social icons, people to be admired and imitated.
Unfortunately, some sports figures set truly horrible examples. Perhaps they knowingly caused injury to an opponent. Others might be prone to cheating. The circumstances on this list vary, but they all have one thing in common: these acts are often considered among the worst cases of sportsmanship in sports history.
Lance Armstrong’s story was an incredible one. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 but went on to dominate the Tour de France. The famed cyclist won the event every year from 1999 to 2005 and placed third in 2009. While this feat was incredibly inspiring, it raised all sorts of suspicion. It ultimately came out that Armstrong was guilty of what has since been known as one of the most sophisticated doping schemes in the history of the cycling.The revelation led Armstrong to be stripped of titles, sponsorship deals and be hit with multiple lawsuits.
Argentinian soccer player and national team captain Diego Maradona is indisputably a sport’s legend. However, one of his more legendary moments was also his most controversial. At the 1986 World Cup, Maradona led Argentina to victory over England with a goal that was actually a handball. Rather than regret the illegal football move, Maradona instead referred to his blatant handball as the “Hand of God.” It’s quite possible that had the officials caught Maradona, Argentina would have lost, and not gone on to win the World Cup that year…but we’ll never know!
It takes a special kind of bad sportsmanship act to get a rule named after you overnight. That was the case for New York Rangers player Sean Avery. On April 13, 2008, the Rangers faced the New Jersey Devils in a first-round playoff game for the NHL Stanley Cup. Avery spent a good amount of time waving his hands and stick in front of goaltender Martin Brodeur. His over-the-top efforts were meant to block the goalie’s vision and put him off his game. The unsportsmanlike tactics not only led to a goal, but they also helped the Rangers win. In the immediate aftermath, there were numerous attacks on Sean Avery’s conduct. The outcry caused the NHL to issue a new rule. Dubbed the “Avery Rule,” hockey players were no longer allowed to stand directly in front of the goalie and wave his or her stick in the opposing goalie’s face.
Most legendary boxers rely on their fists to overcome opponents. On June 28, 1997, Tyson made the bizarre decision to rely on his teeth. Unable to take out boxing rival Evander Holyfield the old fashioned way, Tyson famously bit Holyfield not once, but twice. The second time he actually took a chunk of his opponent’s ear. To the surprise of no one, Mike Tyson got disqualified over his bite-happy antics.
Apparently, an opposing player collapsing due to heat exhaustion doesn’t invoke feelings of concern or sympathy in everyone. César Vallejo striker Piero Alva watched Club Unión Comercio’s goalkeeper Juan Flores faint. Instead of allowing the ball to be cleared — stopping play and allowing medical officials to attend to the fallen man — Alva saw his chance. He successfully challenged the clearance and scored. Alva didn’t seem to regret his behavior, claiming that football “is for the living.” We’re still not sure what that means.
Long before “Deflategate,” the New England Patriots were at the center of a perhaps worse controversy. Their “Spygate” fiasco saw the Patriots accused of videotaping teams 40 times. They were even accused of stealing play sheets. All of this would have helped the Patriots have a supreme advantage over opponents. It also threw into question many of the teams much-lauded achievements before the controversy went public. The accusations of cheating and immoral behavior made it so that there was already a dark cloud over the New England franchise long before anyone asked questions about deflated footballs.
As you can see, certain acts can be so unsportsmanlike they cause individuals or teams to be forever associated with the ugly incident. It’s likely that in time many of these sports figures have come to regret their behavior. After all, who wants to be remembered forever as a “poor sport?”
(Image courtesy of Brian Wilkins via Flickr.)