Sports take the best and the worst out of every single one of us. The passion, the desire to compete at the highest level, and - obviously - the fame and financial incentives often drive athletes, coaches, and teams through dark lanes.
Cheating has always existed. In fact, some things that would’ve been considered illegal one year were perfectly legal the very next. However, those who break the rules are well aware of the edge they're getting, as well as the consequences.
There have been countless cheating scandals throughout sports history. Some of them have involved just one or two people, while others have sunk an entire team or organization. Today, we’re going to talk about the 30 worst cheaters sports have ever seen.
30. Marie-Reine Le Gougne
There have always been some questions regarding the integrity and objectivity of judges in figure skating. However, Marie-Reine Le Gougne took things to a whole new level in the 2002 Winter Olympics, when it was so clear that she was biased that she was confronted by the head of the Technical Committee right away.
Turns out that she was being bribed and pushed by the French to give Canada’s team bad scores and help her nation win the Gold. She was suspended by the International Skating Union and the organization gave away two gold medals, one for Russia, and one for Canada.
29. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger has made a name for himself as a man of great integrity but his past is slightly tainted. Thing is, he admitted to using steroids during his career as a bodybuilder, claiming that he had to do it if he wanted to keep up with the competition.
To his favor, Schwarzenegger didn’t use PEDs when he competed as a powerlifter and weightlifter, and, as he said, all of his peers and rivals were on the juice at the time. Still, he should’ve known better, C’mon.
28. Danny Almonte
Everybody in the world tunes on to watch the Little League World Series. You often find some of the stars of tomorrow, but we mostly watch it because it’s actually good baseball played by great kids with a relentless work ethic. You know, it’s kind of the whole point of sports.
That’s why we were all so disappointed to find out that 2001 Little League superstar Danny Almonte was actually two years older when he starred in the World Series. He wasn’t eligible to play, and there’s no wonder why he could throw 76 mph as a “12-year-old”. Notably, the other team hired a private investigator to find Almonte’s actual birth certificate.
27. Clem Haskins
Clem Haskins’ playing career went pretty much unnoticed but he quickly became one of the most prominent names in college basketball. He put Western Kentucky University on the map and then excelled during his time with the University of Minnesota.
However, it was later known that Haskins rigged most of his athletes’ classes. He convinced counselors to do their homework and papers so they could focus solely on basketball. He was caught in 1999 and the University was banned from the playoffs for several years and he hasn’t coached ever since.
26. John Calipari
Let’s not kid ourselves. The NCAA is full of scandals, cheating, controversies, bribes, and whatnot. The nature of their rules just makes it that way, as it’s well known that student-athletes get money and several benefits under the table to take their talents to their programs.
Still, a guy that’s often been tied to those kinds of scandals is John Calipari. He went as far as to rig Derrick Rose’s SAT scores just to get him to join Memphis in 2008. He also had a couple of Final Four appearances stripped from the books for similar academic frauds. Wonder how the University of Kentucky always gets the top recruits in the nation?
25. Clint Bowyer
How do you cheat on NASCAR? It seems almost impossible to play outside of the book on a sport with that many audits, technology, and eyes watching from all over the world. Still, Clint Bowyer and his team managed to pull it off, to no success, though.
Back in 2006, NASCAR took 150 points away from Bowyer after his car failed inspection following a triumph in New Hampshire. His car was tricked and NASCAR rejected all of his appeals. So Denny Hamlin would end up winning the championship.
24. Dora Ratjen
The Nazis did a lot of terrible things and it seems like there wasn’t a single aspect of life they didn’t mess up with, including sports. They actually convinced a high jumper to bind his genitals to his body and compete vs. other women. Turns out ‘Dora Ratjen’, was actually named Heinrich.
‘Dora’ Ratjen ended up fourth in the 1936 Olympics so their cheating went unnoticed for years. However, they caught him in 1939 when he broke a world record, which was later infamously stripped. Up to this day, nobody truly knows whether he was a man in disguise or a transgender woman.
23. Antonio Margarito
Luckily, the infamous Antonio Margarito scandal didn’t end up as bad as it could have. I mean, this guy could have literally killed more than one of his rivals. Turns out he was using hard pads inside of his gloves to try and beat Shane Mosley.
Mosley’s team asked for a revision of Margarito’s pads, as they were just too much wrap on them. Apparently, Margarito used a combination of elements that hardens when wet. The substance, later called ‘Plaster of Paris’, would pretty much turn his gloves into stones. Mosley beat him and he also faced a one-year suspension.
22. East German Women’s Swim Team
It’s not often that you see an entire nation being condemned as cheaters, but that’s exactly what happened to Eastern Germany due to the way they handled their female swimming team from 1968 to 1980.
Those gals were clearly bigger and stronger than all of their rivals. Turns out that the state and its Olympic committee were giving steroids and hormones to their athletes disguised as vitamins. They dominated the competition for over a decade until the truth came out.
21. Tom Brady
Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. There’s no denying that, and taking anything away from him would be just petty. Still, we can’t look the other way after his involvement in the infamous ‘Deflategate’ scandal, given the fact that he was in the mere center of it.
Brady and the Patriots allegedly colluded to deflate balls to make them easier to throw and catch during the playoffs in 2015. The team was fined 1 million dollars and lost several draft picks, while Brady faced a four-game suspension.
20. Albert Belle
Just like with most dominant sluggers from the 90s, Albert Belle’s numbers have to be looked at with a grain of salt. While he didn’t take any steroids - that we know of - like most of his peers, he did use corked bats plenty of times.
Belle was a five-time Silver slugger with a lifetime average of .295, 381 home runs, and 1,239 runs batted in, so he was one of the most dominant batters in the league during his prime. Hence, his cheating scandal didn’t go unnoticed and his career took a major downfall from there.
19. Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson should’ve been tested for doping as soon as he finished the race in the 1988 Olympics. He was incredibly bulk and dominated all of his peers by a long stretch. It was suspicious in more than one way, and that’s why the Olympic committee stripped his gold medal just three days after winning the 100-yard dash.
Johnson had broken a world record by completing the race in just 9.79 seconds. Obviously, that record was also erased from the books following his failed drug test. Turns out he was on Stanozolol, one of the most powerful anabolics in the market.
18. Mark McGwire
Like many other sluggers from the 80s and 90s, Mark McGwire’s legacy will always have an asterisk next to it, if there’s even a legacy to live up to now. However, unlike some of his peers, he was never actually caught using steroids despite many suspicions throughout his career.
McGwire came clean 10 years after his retirement and said what we all already knew, given that the BALCO scandal had already broken out and several other sluggers were also involved. Apparently, he started using PEDs since the early days of his career, although he claims he used an ‘on and off approach’.
17. Carl Lewis
Remember Ben Johnson? Well, Carl Lewis was his biggest rival and one of the main reasons why Johnson took steroids in the first place. Ironically, he was given the Gold Medal right after the committee knew that Johnson was on the juice.
What they didn’t know was that Lewis was also using steroids during the competition, which made this even more laughable. Apparently, officials covered up his failed doping tests even from before the Olympics. Lewis later confessed but the damage was already done.
16. Tim Donaghy
Do you know how we always blame the referees when our favorite team doesn’t get any calls? Well, that actually was the case with Tim Donaghy, the most infamous referee in NBA history and a guy that created a bit of institutional chaos in the league.
Donaghy intentionally blew calls and looked the other way in blatant fouls just to win bets on the point spread of several games from 2005-07. The FBI caught up to him and he was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Apparently, he’s the main reason why Steve Nash never made it to the Finals, as he allegedly rigged that Spurs-Suns series.
15. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona is a world-wide soccer icon and an Argentinean God. He’s also one of the most polarizing figures in sports history, given how he led Argentina to the World Cup title after beating England in the quarterfinals with an illegal goal.
Maradona pretended to head the ball but instead hit it with his left hand slapped it past Peter Shilton, giving his team a 1-0 advantage. To be fair, Maradona did cheat, but referee Ali Bin Nasser could’ve (and should’ve) ruled the goal off, so it’s not entirely his fault. That goal would eventually be called ‘The Hand of God’. The match finished 2-1 for Argentina, with Maradona also scoring the 'Goal of the Century'.
Calciopoli brought to light something that had been discussed for decades in Italy. It was clear that some of the biggest clubs in the country were benefiting from the officiating, and the investigation demonstrated that Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina were fixing games.
Juventus were relegated to the Serie B and stripped of multiple titles for that scandal, including the 2004-05 title. They were also downgraded to the last spot of the table in 06 and didn’t make it back to the top-flight league until 2007.
13. José Canseco
Well, you don’t get to be called ‘The Godfather of Steroids’ and not make it to this list. José Canseco was once considered one of the best power-hitters in baseball history but, like most of his colleagues, he had plenty of help from banned substances, hormones, steroids, whatever you want to call it.
But unlike most of his peers, he has never shown any sign of remorse. On the contrary, he seems to advocate for steroids use in sports, as you can tell in his book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big.” He also snitched on several former teammates.
12. Alex Rodríguez
Alex Rodríguez was the ultimate slugger. He still holds the records for most Grand Slams (25), home runs by a New York-born player (696), had 3,115 carer hits; 2,086 RBIs, and over 300 stolen bases, being the only player in MLB history to put together those kinds of numbers throughout his career.
His reputation took a major hit when he admitted to using steroids, something people always accused him of. He became one of the most hated players in America but it seems like he’s always come out on top of every single situation. The Yankees still had to pay him a huge buck and he got engaged to Jennifer López after that scandal. When is life going to come at you, A-Rod?
11. 1919 Chicago White Sox
This one was considered the biggest scandal in sports history. Eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox purposely lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, as they were reportedly a part of a gambling ring led by well-known gangster Arnold Rothstein.
They took bribes from the mob and were banned for life not only of the game but also for future Hall of Fame considerations. That scandal tainted the otherwise Hall of Fame-worthy career of Joe ‘Shoeless’ Jackson and the team went down in history as the ‘Black Sox’.
10. Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick is perhaps the greatest mastermind in the history of the NFL. That’s a two-way street though. His suggestions and idea have made the game better, but he’s also used his fine intellect for evil every now and then.
Belichick was caught literally recording the defensive signals of the New York Jets in 2007. He was also involved in the aforementioned DeflateGate scandal and there were some reports claiming that he was back at spying in the 2019 season. But hey, he’s got 6 Super Bowl rings.
9. 2017 Houston Astros
The 2017 Houston Astros were a whole different team when they played at home. They crushed their opposition and were pretty much unbeatable, especially in the playoffs. Led by AL MVP José Altuve, the Astros won the 2017 World Series vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers and it seemed like they were about to become a dynasty.
However, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers recently revealed that the team was stealing signs with a scheme created by Álex Cora and Carlos Beltrán. They were heavily fined but players involved received immunity from the league for their cooperation. MLB didn’t take the championship away from them but they did suspend Álex Cora, AJ Hinch, and Jeff Luhnow.
8. 1951 New York Giants
Long before the Houston Astros, the 1951 New York Giants earned the despise from their peers and rivals from putting together an elaborate sign-stealing scheme that made him one of the most dominant offensive teams of all time.
Apparently, the Giants used buzzers, telescopes, and even bells to steal the signs of the catchers and let their hitters know what was coming. Gladly for sports, they ended up losing the 1951 World Series at the hands of the New York Yankees.
7. Gaylord Perry
Gaylord Perry is unanimously considered as one of the most dominant pitchers of all time. He was an intimidating fella throughout his entire career every time he set foot on the mound, but he was also a cheater, and he did little to hid it.
Perry often used vaseline on his uniform to help his pitches. He was also a master of the infamous and unpredictable Spitballs. He was finally caught in 1982 after 20 seasons of using doctored balls.
6. Tonya Harding
Tonya Harding had a promising career in the early 90s but an underwhelming performance in the 1992 Olympics opened up the door for rising star Nancy Kerrigan to be considered the best figure skater in the U.S. That led Harding to take matters into her own hands, sort of speak, and put together a plan worthy of a Hollywood comedy.
Harding actually ordered a hit on Karrigan. A woman beat her on the knees with a baton during practice for the 1994 Championship. Harding denied her involvement but was later charged with obstruction of justice. She was banned for life and her conspirators even served time in jail. Wow.
5. Marion Jones
Marion Jones was an American hero. She won 5 Olympic medals - including 3 gold medals - and was so dominant in the track that everybody suspected she took PEDs. Obviously, she denied for years, until the truth eventually came out in 2004.
Turns out that Jones got steroids from BALCO, the same infamous laboratory that gave out PEDs to hundreds of Major League Baseball players over the years. She was forced to forfeit all her medals and lost every single one of her endorsements.
4. Whitey Ford
When it came to cheating, Whitey Ford did it all. He literally used his wedding ring to cut balls, used mud piles on the mound to load the balls, and never hesitated to put together his own combination of substances to gain an advantage over his batters.
It’s well known that Ford used doctored balls throughout his entire career. Also, he colluded with catcher Elston Howard to slice balls with his a buckle. He used resin, baby oil, turpentine, spit, vaseline, you name it.
3. 2000 Spanish Paralympics Basketball
This one was a true disgrace. I mean, it doesn’t get lower than this. The 2000 Spanish Paralympics Basketball team won every game by an average of 15 points and took an easy route to the gold medal. However, it turns out there were just 2 intellectually disabled players on the team.
The scandal was revealed by Carlos Ribagorda, who went undercover and claimed there were no tests to determine whether a player was mentally disabled or not. As a result, basketball was discontinued from the Paralympics forever. This is a shame.
2. Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds was arguably the most dominant slugger the MLB had ever seen. He still holds the record for most walks (2,258), most home runs in a season (73), home runs (762), consecutive seasons with 30+ home runs (13), slugging percentage in a season (.861), and MVPs (7).
Even so, it all went down the drain when he was right in the middle of the BALCO scandal. He took undetectable steroids through most of his career and was even indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath. He’s now considered the biggest cheater in MLB history, which is a lot to say.
1. Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong was universally loved. He was well-respected because of how he dominated as the greatest cyclist ever. He was considered a superhuman and everybody looked up to him as an example of not needing to use steroids to beat your competition.
People stood by his side during his cancer diagnosis and reached out to his foundation with millions in donations. That’s why we were all so heartbroken to realize it was all a farce. Armstrong was as guilty of PED use as every single one of his colleagues and rivals. His seven Tour de France wins were stripped from the books, and so was his Olympic medal. It was one of the biggest scandals in sports history.