Biggest sports scandals of the 2010s

The 2010s gave sports fans a surplus of wonderful stories and moments they will fondly remember for generations to come. Dynasties ruled in the NBA and NFL. Arguably the two greatest soccer players to ever kick a ball featured in European competitions. Baseball aficionados around the United States who view the New York Yankees as the "Evil Empire" celebrated that the club didn't make a single World Series appearance. The Chicago Cubs ended a championship drought that lasted for over a century. Cleveland, Ohio was finally able to celebrate one of its teams winning a title. Dreams do come true. 

Unfortunately, the decade also provided the sports world with scandals and other stories we'd prefer to forget. Names like Aaron Hernandez, Oscar Pistorius, and Ray Rice went down in infamy. Penn State, Michigan State, Louisville, and Baylor were all linked with hideous and despicable acts. But there were a lot more scandals (that are a lot less depressing to read an article about) which made plenty of their own headlines.

Ryan Lochte was caught in a strange lie

At the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, American swimmer Ryan Lochte was an 11-time Olympic medalist who often appeared brash and downright arrogant, but who also matched such talk with epic performances in the pool. By the end of those Games, Lochte was a disgraced athlete due to his involvement in one of the most bizarre sports stories of the decade, a tale that made little sense to fans who weren't in Rio that summer. 

As described by Chicago's WGN, Lochte and three of his American swimming teammates claimed that they were robbed at gunpoint during the early morning hours in Rio. Police insisted no robbery took place, and sources later confirmed that Lochte and his teammates were drunk and were accused of vandalizing a gas station bathroom. As explained by Cosmopolitan, Lochte faced criminal charges for fabricating the story, and he eventually apologized for his actions regarding the matter. 

That September, the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee, and USA Swimming suspended Lochte for 10 months. In July 2018, he was banned for another 14 months due to receiving an intravenous injection after he posted a photo of himself with the IV on social media. 

We now know what the NFL knew about CTE

Well before the start of the 2010s, experts raised concerns about brain injuries suffered by professional and amateur football players. Eventually, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) became part of the sports world's active vocabulary. Football being a dangerous endeavor was never the issue. One didn't need to work as a practicing physician to understand that 300-pound men repeatedly ramming their heads into each other wasn't a good thing for their health. As documented by excerpts from League of Denial shared by ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the NFL blatantly denied the concussion crisis hovering over the sport as neuropathologist Ann McKee hypothesized "a shockingly high percentage" of former NFL players suffered from CTE. 

According to CNN, the NFL was forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars following a class-action lawsuit filed by ex-players. As Deadspin reported in 2019, however, such settlements have been less than helpful for many former pros. Meanwhile, the NFL took measures to make the game safer, including in-game penalties and post-game fines for players who hit opponents high. The league also hired independent concussion specialists to evaluate players suspected to have suffered head injuries during games. 

Per NFL.com, more players suffered concussions during preseason games in 2019 than in August 2018.

Greg Hardy received multiple 'second chances'

As reported by ESPN, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell placed then-Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy on the league's commissioner's exempt list in September 2014 after Hardy had been convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. The following February, chargers were dismissed after the alleged victim refused to cooperate in the criminal investigation. It was also reported Hardy reached a financial settlement with the woman who told police he threatened her life. Nevertheless, the NFL suspended Hardy in 2015 after he put pen to paper on a contract with the Dallas Cowboys. 

That November, Deadspin released photos of injuries the alleged victim claimed came from Hardy's assault. Hardy's tenure with the Cowboys lasted only 12 games, and he never again played in the NFL. Not to be outdone by the Cowboys and the NFL, the Ultimate Fighting Championship awarded Hardy with an opportunity to become a professional fighter in the spring of 2018. Hardy entered November 2019 with a record of five wins, one loss, and one no contest. 

As Ben Fowlkes of MMA Junkie wrote, Dana White's decision to promote Hardy on televised events and pay-per-views was about attracting eyes and buys to shows and about bolstering a heavyweight division in need of a big-money draw. 

The New Orleans Saints were caught in 'Bountygate'

Via an official statement shared by The Times-Picayune in March 2012, the NFL announced that over a dozen New Orleans Saints players and at least one coach were involved in a system that paid players for knocking opposing athletes out of games from 2009 through 2011. Fans who watch football understand that a linebacker who crushes a wide receiver attempting to catch a pass over the middle is probably looking to do more than force an incompletion. Such bounties are frowned upon by the league, though, and multiple players and coaches, including defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and head coach Sean Payton, received suspensions. Payton was banned for the entire 2012 season. 

Interestingly, the bans handed down to the players were lifted in December 2012. Per NFL.com, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, tasked with handling the player appeals, explained: "My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines." Meanwhile, Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton called for Gregg Williams to be banned from the NFL in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. 

Tarkenton and those who agreed with his opinion did not receive their wishes. Williams bounced around the league throughout the remainder of the decade, and he was the interim head coach for the Cleveland Browns during the 2018 campaign. He spent the 2019 season as defensive coordinator for the New York Jets. 

Many individuals fell in the decade's largest FIFA corruption scandal

Soccer fans around the world have been convinced for years that FIFA and corruption went together like peanut butter and jelly. Such fears were confirmed in 2015, as explained by The Independent, following raids at a hotel in Zurich and after the United States Department of Justice charged over a dozen FIFA officials "with racketeering and bribery offenses" regarding "a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer." Allegedly, such officials received bribes to back multiple World Cup bids, including for the 2022 tournament awarded to Qatar. In June 2015, FIFA president Sepp Blatter resigned

In November 2017, famous United States Women's National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo accused Blatter of sexual assault at a ceremony in 2013. Blatter responded by claiming that allegation was "ridiculous." 

Other aspects of the decade's FIFA scandal continued through the fall of 2019. In October of that year, The Moscow Times shared a story from Russian outlet The Insider which claimed that bribes were delivered to ensure that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup. According to The Telegraph, Russian computers that may have contained information regarding wrongdoing were destroyed before FIFA was able to investigate. All future World Cup competitions are scheduled to go on as planned as of the start of the 2020s. 

Was Colin Kaepernick blackballed?

In June 2014, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed what NFL.com referred to as a "team-friendly" contract with the club. Two years later, Kaepernick was seen sitting during a playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" ahead of a preseason contest. He later explained to NFL Media that he didn't wish "to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Similar acts of silent protest were repeated by Kaepernick and other players during the campaign, and also by US Soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Such athletes became polarizing figures, and some fans even chose to boycott the league because they believed millionaire pro athletes were disrespecting the national anthem. 

In March 2017, Kaepernick opted out of his deal and became a free agent. No team brought him in for even a workout that offseason. He remained a free agent through 2018 and 2019. 

Writers for The Washington PostThe GuardianThe Undefeated, and Pro Football Talk all shared the belief that NFL owners had essentially blackballed Kaepernick as teams in need of signal-callers repeatedly selected or signed poorer options. Kaepernick's detractors claimed that he wasn't good enough and wasn't worth whatever fan backlash his joining a team would cause. 

The Biogenesis clinic aided baseball stars in acquiring PEDs

The 2019 comedic documentary Screwball covering the Biogenesis scandal was a hilarious sendoff for a story that rocked Major League Baseball throughout the 2010s. As explained by ESPN, Anthony Bosch operated a clinic that reportedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to at least 20 players. After Bosch's operation was shut down following his arrest, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years behind bars. That sentence was ultimately reduced

The biggest name linked with Biogenesis was New York Yankees superstar slugger Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod repeatedly denied purposely using PEDs, and he proclaimed his innocence during a 40-minute interview with New York sports talk radio host Mike Francesa. In November 2014, however, the Miami Herald reported that Rodriguez confirmed he purchased and used products from the Biogenesis clinic. Rodriguez had spent the entire previous MLB season suspended from the game. 

History shows Rodriguez would have been better off admitting his crimes right away. Baseball fans have repeatedly forgiven players linked with steroids and other PEDs. Figures who were handed drug-related suspensions during the 2010s, such as All-Star Robinson Cano, were welcomed with open arms by fans and teams once they were able to return to the diamond. As of the start of the 2020s, A-Rod was still waiting for a call from the Hall of Fame.

Donald Sterling lost the Los Angeles Clippers

From 1981 through 2014, Donald Sterling served as owner of the woebegone NBA franchise the Los Angeles Clippers. Throughout his tenure as the club's owner, Sterling was accused of multiple acts of discrimination. In 2009, he agreed to pay nearly $3 million following a lawsuit over his alleged refusal to rent to several groups, per ESPN. As also explained by ESPN, Sterling was twice involved in sexual harassment lawsuits. He settled one in 1998, and a different accuser lost her lawsuit in 2004.

None of those matters resulted in Sterling's downfall. Instead, racist comments he made which were recorded without his knowledge and were published by TMZ in April 2014 resulted in Clippers players and coaches nearly boycotting a playoff game. Soon after Sterling's remarks went public, the NBA banned the owner for life. According to USA Today, Sterling was later ruled "mentally unfit to make decisions related to the family trust," which prevented him from blocking the sale of the Clippers. 

Steve Ballmer eventually bought the organization. In March 2016, Sterling's lawsuit against the league and four individuals, including his wife, Shelly, was dismissed. While few, if any, cried for Sterling after the matter, various commentators pointed out that his situation also brought up serious questions about privacy.

Lies caught up with Lance Armstrong

For over 11 months out of the year every year, American sports fans could not have cared less about competitive cycling; except when Lance Armstrong raced in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005. Armstrong won the event's title all seven of those years, but accusations of wrongdoing and performance-enhancing drug use followed him after each victory. US fans claimed the rest of the world was jealous that Armstrong, a cancer survivor who established what became known as the Livestrong Foundation, was the best cyclist on the planet. They scoffed at each new allegation that emerged. 

As reported by the BBC in 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency confirmed Armstrong's team ran "the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen." USADA also stripped Armstrong of his seven titles and banned him from the sport for life. In 2013, Armstrong admitted that he had spent years lying and cheating. He also bullied those who dared to suggest he wasn't a clean athlete. While speaking with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong detailed the PED cocktail he used during his championship runs. 

In 2018, Armstrong agreed to pay nearly $7 million in damages. He could have been on the hook for $100 million, though, leading some to suggest he had once again gotten away with being a fraud. 

The UFC let Jon Jones off the hook again and again

In sports competitions, top-tier athletes such as James Harden, Tom Brady, and Cristiano Ronaldo receive what fans refer to as "superstar calls" from referees. No fighter in UFC history has received more superstar treatment than awarded to Jon "Bones" Jones during the 2010s. There's no close second. 

Physically speaking, Jones is the greatest fighter in UFC history. In his prime, Jones' speed, length, agility, and strength made him an unbeatable force, other than when he defeated himself. Jones was also his own worst enemy throughout the decade. He spent one day in rehab after he tested positive for cocaine. The UFC suspended him and stripped him of his championship in April 2015 due to his involvement in a hit-and-run case. He's received multiple punishments for violating the UFC's anti-drug policy. In October 2019, he pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct. 

There's no reason to believe the UFC will ever care about what Jones does as long as he's eligible to fight. As explained by ESPN, the company moved an entire fight card, UFC 232, from Las Vegas to California a week ahead of time after an "atypical finding of a drug test" submitted by Jones caused a licensing conflict in Las Vegas. The Wrestling Observer, among others, repeatedly criticized the UFC and USADA for allowing Jones to compete with trace amounts of steroid metabolite found in his blood. 

Not even 'Deflategate' could stop Tom Brady from winning a ring

So much about the "Deflategate" scandal involving New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady allegedly using deflated footballs to defeat the Indianapolis Colts by 38 points in the 2015 AFC Championship Game appeared ridiculous well after the fact. As explained by ESPN and SB Nation, the NFL suspended Brady in May 2015, and the league also stripped New England of draft picks. That, of course, was only the beginning of the Deflategate circus. Patriots owner Robert Kraft began a public feud with Roger Goodell, and Brady appealed his ban and played for the entire 2015 campaign. Eventually, however, the all-time great quarterback caved and accepted the four-game suspension in July 2016, 544 days after New England's win over Indianapolis.  

As was often the case during the 2010s, Brady, Kraft, and the Patriots enjoyed the last laugh. New England emerged as the victors of the AFC playoff bracket and booked a date with the Atlanta Falcons at Super Bowl LI. Brady and the Patriots then rallied back from a 28-3 deficit to force overtime, and a short James White touchdown rush in the extra period secure the title for the NFL's reigning dynasty. There was always only one fitting conclusion to Deflategate: Tom Brady winning Super Bowl MVP, which he did for the fourth time. 

The Russian doping program came to light

Remember that scene in Rocky IV where it's suggested Ivan Drago is on steroids? It turns out art may have been imitating life, just a few decades ahead of time. After Russian athletes surprisingly impressed during the 2014 Winter Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia, the World Anti-Doping Agency alleged "widespread corruption in Russia, amounting to state-sponsored doping in Russian track and field athletics," per the BBC. According to a New York Times piece published in May 2016, Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's anti-doping agency, admitted to creating a cocktail of banned substances used by "dozens of Russian athletes" during the 2014 Games. 

Per The Guardian, a WADA report released in December 2016 claimed that the Russian state helped over 1,000 athletes beat doping tests during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics, but 168 athletes from the country were allowed to participate under the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) banner. Curler Aleksandr Krushelnitckii and bobsled pilot Nadezhda Sergeeva failed doping tests during the Games. 

LeBron James and the NBA put profits over human rights

"Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong." This was the message tweeted by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on October 4, 2019, as teams such as the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Brooklyn Nets embarked on a preseason tour in China. As many predicted at the time that tweet went public, Morey's message didn't sit well with the Chinese Basketball Association and certain Chinese officials. Morey apologized a couple of days later, which infuriated American fans who believed he caved under the pressure of an Association that was putting profits over human rights. 

Lakers superstar LeBron James made matters worse for the NBA when, per The Atlantic, he suggested Morey had offered a "misinformed" take on the China-Hong Kong matter. James' message was poorly received by many observers who saw James as a coward and a hypocrite, and as somebody willing to make bold political statements as long as doing so didn't negatively affect his brand or the NBA. Boston Celtics big man Enes Kanter appeared to respond to James' comments via Twitter, although Kanter never mentioned the King or China. 

Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal publicly backed Morey on the opening night of the 2019-20 NBA season.