Murder, bullying, cheating, and a fake dead girlfriend are just some of the biggest scandals to rock the sports world this year. With 2013 drawing to a close, we revisit the biggest controversies involving athletes, from the laughable to the downright despicable – reminders that while our sporting heroes aren't always worthy of our admiration, they still have a stranglehold on our attention. BY DAN REILLY
In February, South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee sprinter, shot and killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in the bathroom of his Pretoria home, firing four shots through the door, three of which struck her. He claimed he thought it was an intruder, while authorities allege that the shots were fired intentionally. Following accusations of bungled police procedures during the investigation as well as the removal of the lead detective, who's facing attempted murder charges of his own, Pistorius was indicted on two charges of murder, plus additional firearms offenses. He's since returned to training, and is scheduled to stand trial in March 2014.
Towards the end of 2013, news broke that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was being investigated for an alleged sexual assault supposed to have taken place a year earlier. The case had already been declared open/inactive by police due to a lack of cooperation from the unnamed accuser, but, through an attorney, she countered that the lead detective had warned her against going forward, saying Tallahassee is a "big football town" and that her life would "be made miserable." After the case was made public and the investigation reopened, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced – in a laughter-filled press conference – that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution. A little over a week later, Winston won the Heisman Trophy by the seventh-largest margin of victory of all-time.
In Steubenville, Ohio, the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players led to nationwide outrage, thanks in part to photos of the victim and unsympathetic witness accounts spreading via social media. The boys were convicted in March and received minimum sentences. Four adults, including two football coaches, have been indicted in charges related to covering up the incident.
During a casual soccer game in Northeastern Brazil last July, a local teen serving as referee served up a yellow card to an older player and then, horrifically, stabbed him in an ensuing scuffle. The player died en route to the hospital, but the carnage was nowhere near complete – the ref was then beaten, repeatedly run over with a motorcycle, stabbed, and had his head and legs cut off. Only two of the four assailants were arrested.
Expect a ton of non-sports storylines when the Winter Olympics take place in Sochi, Russia, this coming February. The country's president, Vladimir Putin, signed into law a ban on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." (The ban would encompass even seemingly innocuous gay-rights markers like rainbow pins.) To his credit, Putin has since said that gay athletes and spectators, as well as their supporters, will not face any trouble.
After moving at a glacial pace in response to the growing evidence that thousands of football players are suffering from the long-lasting, debilitating effects of concussions, the NFL settled a lawsuit brought by 4,500 former players to the tune of $765 million. While that may sound like a good deal, it comes out to about $170,000 per plaintiff, and the families of any player who died before 2006 – including several who committed suicide or lost their lives to degenerative brain diseases – were not eligible to collect. The payouts will also be done over the course of the next 20 years, during which time the NFL is expected to generate $180 billion in revenue.
In June, tennis star Serena Williams found herself in hot water after making comments about the Steubenville rape case in which she seemingly faulted the victim more than the assailants. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the top-ranked women's player said, "Do you think it was fair, what [the boys] got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people … It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously, I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different." Williams subsequently apologized.
It's hard to imagine seriously arguing that that the Washington Redskins' name isn't at least a little bit offensive (indeed, many this year charged that it was much more than that), but team owner Daniel Snyder enlisted the help of a highly suspect tribal "chief" to defend the "heritage" of the Redskins moniker, and said, " "We'll never change the name. It's that simple: NEVER – you can use caps."
There's a line between being a hard-ass coach and being downright abusive, and Rutgers basketball skipper Mike Rice found himself on the wrong side of it. In April, he was suspended for three games after the university athletic director Tim Pernetti viewed video of Rice pushing and kicking his players, throwing basketballs at them, cursing at them and calling them homophobic slurs, all during a practice. After ESPN got hold of the tapes, public pressure led to Rice's firing, and a few days later, Pernetti was forced to resign.
Flamboyant ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman visited North Korea in February as part of a trip arranged by Vice Media. Rodman met with, and was feted by, supreme leader (and massive Chicago Bulls fan) Kim Jong-un. The Worm was one of the first Americans to have done so, and later called the ruthless dictator a "friend for life," adding, "he has to do his job, but he's a very good guy." Yeah, right.
Last spring, pictures showing NFL player Kerry Rhodes looking intimate with another man surfaced online, leading the veteran safety to deny rumors that he's gay. He claimed that they were just pictures of his ex-assistant, Russell "Hollywood" Simpson; Simpson says the two were a couple. The photos included shots of the pair embracing shirtless and laying on a bed, with Rhodes appearing to kiss Simpson, who claims to have more pictures showing them looking like "the black Brokeback Mountain." Despite the fact that Rhodes was considered one of the best players at his position last year, he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals and hasn't been signed by any other team.
In June, Hall of Fame basketball player Scottie Pippen was accused of assaulting an autograph seeker outside a Malibu restaurant. At first it sounded like another story of an athlete gone bad, but then the details came out: the accuser was apparently drunk, faked injuries, and allegedly spat on the former Chicago Bull and called him the N-word, all while Pippen was holding his 4-year-old daughter. Prosecutors eventually declined to press charges.
It's hard to grasp that a 300-pound NFL player could be the victim of bullying, but that's apparently what happened to Miami Dolphins second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin at the hands of fellow lineman Richie Incognito. What was originally described as Martin leaving the team due to an emotional breakdown soon became a story of aggressive hazing, borderline extortion, racial taunting, and threats of sexual abuse. Incognito is currently suspended indefinitely, while the Dolphins chose to put the absent Martin on its non-injury inactive list, ending his 2013 season. He hopes to return to the NFL on a different team next year.
In the final NASCAR race of the 2013 season, with several drivers vying for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs, two fishy incidents took place. In one, Clint Bowyer seemingly went into an intentional spin, resulting in a caution flag that would bump Ryan Newman out of the lead, allowing Bowyer's teammate Martin Truex Jr. to get enough points to secure a spot in the 12-driver Chase. Then it was also revealed that two teams colluded to have David Gilliland slow down near the end of the race so that Joey Logano could gain the necessary points to get him into the Chase and bump out Jeff Gordon. NASCAR penalized Boywer and Truex's team, Michael Waltrip Racing, eliminating Truex from the Chase in favor of Newman. In Gordon's case, the Chase field was expanded to 13 cars so that he could participate.
At one point, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was a 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate with an unusually inspirational story: He was playing despite the heartache of having his grandmother and girlfriend recently die on the same day. Unfortunately for Te'o and his supporters, it turned out that the girlfriend – whom he'd never actually met in person – wasn't dead, and had never existed. She was invented and impersonated by a male acquaintance of Te'o's named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Once the truth came out, Te'o simultaneously became a figure of curiosity and the poster boy for victims of online personality hoaxes, a practice known as catfishing.
After years of denial, legal and verbal attacks against his accusers, and long investigations by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong finally admitted he had used performance enhancing drugs. The admission came during a televised interview with, course, Oprah.
Former major league pitcher Kris Benson was probably better known for his wife, Anna, a former stripper turned model and reality TV star, than for his athletic career. In July, about a year after Kris filed for divorce, authorities say that Anna showed up at his home wearing a bulletproof vest, brandishing a gun and metal baton, demanding $30,000. The 37-year-old was subsequently sentenced to 15 years probation.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, the award for college football's best player. But Johnny Football also seemed to have an unfortunate nose for trouble in 2013. He left the vaunted Manning Passing Academy early, tweeted that he couldn't "wait to leave College Station" and underwent an NCAA investigation for allegedly selling autographs. (The NCAA ruled that he had "inadvertently" violated rules.) For that final indiscretion, the 20-year-old was suspended for the first half of the first game of the 2013 season.
The veteran NBA 7-footer shook the sports world when he came out in a self-penned Sports Illustrated cover story, making him the first professional male athlete in a major American sport to do so. The brave (and long overdue) move was praised by such notables as President Obama, Kobe Bryant, and Nike. But after 12 seasons and, in fairness, declining statistics, Collins remains unsigned.
During Super Bowl media day, comedian Artie Lange asked second-year San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver his thoughts about ever having a gay teammate. Culliver responded, "I don't do the gay guys, man. I don't do that. No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do." The team issued a statement denouncing his remarks, and Culliver swiftly issued his own apology, saying, "The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel."
In 2009, A-Rod admitted that he had used steroids and also tested positive for banned substances in 2003 when he was a Texas Ranger, before MLB rules had any penalty against the infraction. By then, he'd already signed a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees. Already a polarizing player, he was one of 14 players suspended this year for his alleged part in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scheme, receiving an unprecedented 211-game suspension. If the 38-year-old's appeal of the penalty fails, it will be the longest suspension in MLB history aside from a lifetime ban, and could very well end his playing career.
Former New England Patriots' star tight end Aaron Hernandez sits in jail, charged with the murder of an associate, Odin Lloyd, following a series of suspect moves like smashing his phone and home security system before police could review them for possible incrimination evidence. Since then, investigators have uncovered Hernandez' possible links to a double homicide in Boston, an incident in Miami where he allegedly shot a friend who later lost an eye as a result, PCP use, gang activity, and bar fights.