Mayer: Scandals not new to sports

June 13, 2008


Purists prefer to consider the field of athletics a breeding ground for sportsmanship, fair play and good relationships among respectful competitors. That happens sometimes, though never enough. The sad fact is that sports always have been riddled with disgraceful behavior.

Too bad it's that way, and things are likely to get worse before we see anything resembling major upswings in good citizenship. Some people will do anything to gain an "edge."

Take the current NBA championship series featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Detracting from the antics of Boston's Paul Pierce and L.A.'s Kobe Bryant is all the shabby officiating talk spawned by Tim Donaghy. He's a convicted crook and fixer through his contacts as a former referee in the league. He faces prison time. He says NBA refs influenced by cozy relationships with league officials rigged a 2002 playoff series to force it to become a revenue-boosting seven games.

David Stern, top NBA executive, calls the comments baseless and says Donaghy is looking for anything that will lessen the penalties he faces as a striped-shirt crook. The sorriest aspect is that all this rhetoric steals some of the spotlight from what could be a terrific Celt-Laker showdown. More shoes may drop. The NBA image could be tarnished even more than it has been.

Everybody has a favorite scandal in sports. ESPN recently did a rundown after contacting fans and offered its list of "worst scandals." The 1919 Chicago White (Black) Sox World Series mess led off, though it isn't hard to find something to top that. What's your choice?

The college basketball point-shaving disasters of the 1940s and '50s and 1962, '81, '97 and '98 were collectively rated No. 2. They might be No. 1. The '94 Olympic Skategate circus involving Tonya Harding and the knee-capped Nancy Kerrigan got a lot of votes. Salt Lake City's bribery of the Olympic Committee to get the 2002 Games was crummy, but at least it got rid of the tyrannical Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Perfect-game pitcher Danny Almonte, 14, fooled us into thinking he was a 12-year-old Little League baseball superman but got caught and disgraced. Throw in Minnesota University's academic crookery in basketball and American Jim Thorpe's being stripped of his 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon medals for playing pro baseball. His kids finally got them.

There was the judging debacle involving Canadian and Russian skaters, and some think arrogant Pete Rose's gambling activities were cancerous to baseball. Drugs, growth hormones, steroids everywhere?

I think the worst scandal in Big 6-12 history was in the summer of 2003 when Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was murdered, and teammate Carlton Dotson was charged. Then came a lying binge by coach Dave Bliss that created a dung heap the Baptists still are trying to shovel away.

Missouri has had a batch of basketball messes.

Occasionally, though, one can chuckle over some illegal idiocy. KU footballers Mario Kinsey and Reggie Duncan filched a coed's credit card (reported missing) and went back to the jock dorm and ordered a pizza by phone. They used the card and signed for the sustenance, and the cast for "Dumb and Dumber II" was assured.

Since the Baylor tragedy, more and more schools do character searches on the athletes they recruit. With good reason.


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