The word “scandal,” according to Dictionary.com, is “a disgraceful or discreditable action.” It is “public disgrace” or “damage to reputation.” The word pops up every so often in different walks of life, and the sporting world is no exception.
Scandal comes in many forms, some more insidious than others. Sometimes it involves dirty secrets, cheating, or ill-timed behavior. Other times it is much worse, involving domestic abuse or sexual assault. Unfortunately, sports had its fair share of all of that this year. From drugs and lies to disruptive behavior and downright disgusting acts, 2016 had this scandal thing down to a science. Here are the 10 biggest sports scandals of 2016, in no particular order.
1. NHL concussion suit
The sports world’s growing knowledge about concussions is a good thing. But that knowledge has also uncovered the rather sketchy behavior of some professional sports big–wigs. Enter the lawsuit against the National Hockey League and the embarrassing claims that it ignored concussion details.
When 2016 started, a judge presiding over the class action suit ordered the unsealing of a string of emails sent to and from NHL executives. The order revealed some pretty damning conversations, mostly concerning former Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell sticking his nose up at developing the concussion protocol. One reportedly includes Campbell calling an Ottawa Senators athletic therapist — who suggested prevention and treatment for concussions — a “freaking idiot.”
The suit continues to develop, and active players have spoken up against the league as the year goes on. While Campbell’s image took the biggest hit in 2016, it is fair to say that the scandal will take on yet another shape in the upcoming year.
2. Aroldis Chapman
The domestic violence case against the MLB reliever is a holdover from allegations made in 2015. But it was this past year that Major League Baseball — despite there being no arrest made — suspended Aroldis Chapman for 30 regular-season games, making him the first player to be penalized under the MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse policy.
However the suspension didn’t stop the New York Yankees from trading for Chapman ahead of the season, or the Chicago Cubs picking him up in July. Forbes’ contributor Alex Reimer explained the scenario: “Few things in the world can cover up a man’s flaws like throwing a good fastball.” Except that’s not all baseball fans feel that way — many of which remain disgusted with the alleged incident, as well as Chapman’s attitude towards it in the aftermath and how both the Yankees and Cubs chose to hire him. (Chapman then complained about it after winning a World Series, claiming that Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon “over-used” him.)
His return to the Yankees this off-season with a whopping five-year, $86 million contract will surely come into question the second he exudes any type of bad behavior in the future.
3. End of Deflategate
All the shenanigans surrounding New England Patriots’ QB Tom Brady and his deflated footballs ended in 2016 after more than 500 days. It resulted in Brady getting a four-game suspension, and the NFL being out about $23 million
The drawn-out proceedings and slap-on-the-wrist punishment — followed by the Pats having a dominant season as if nothing ever happened — cast more bad light on the NFL, which has been a cesspool for different brands of scandal in recent years. The result of the case is also believed to be a factor in the dip in the NFL ratings in the 2016 season.
4. Australian Open
The 2016 tennis season started off immersed in scandal with reports of match-fixing coming out of Melbourne. An investigation fueled suspicions that betting, particularly at the lower level of the sport, was present and not being properly policed. ESPN’s Kamakshi Tandon explained in December how the suspicions unraveled:
It led officials to order a thorough look at their policing practices. The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) has since increased its personnel and is providing more information about its activities, which have included several suspensions of lower-level players and even some umpires. But suspicious betting patterns have persisted as gambling companies have widened the array of competitions on which bets are offered.
Unfortunately for the sport of tennis, this wasn’t the only scandal to strike in 2016…
5. Maria Sharapova
The tennis star announced in March of 2016 that she had failed a drug test ahead of the Australian Open, testing positive for banned substance meldonium. Sharapova claimed that she had been taking the substance for many years for health issues, but the International Tennis Federation was not convinced.
Sharapova was handed a two-year suspension in June — it was later reduced to nine months — which Sharapova claimed in an interview was the ITF and World Anti-Doping Agency targeting her in order to set an example for other athletes. Nevertheless, the failed drug test caused the highest-paid female athlete to lose endorsement deals, including Nike.
6. Brock Turner
Sexual assault ranks extremely high on the scandal scale. The case of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, created a level of national outrage in 2016.
The case over the 2015 assault became a pinpoint for widespread anger when Turner received a six-month jail sentence. Emotions further flared with the release of the victim’s 12-page letter detailing the assault and of a letter from Turner’s father that referred to the crime that his son committed as “20 minutes of action.”
The case shed light on how sexual assault at the collegiate level is dealt with as a whole, and will most likely be a talking point even after 2016 expires.
7. Team Russia
For all the good things that came out of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, there was also the not-so-stellar scandal surrounding drug use by the athletes representing Team Russia.
The doping scandal resulted in an attempt to ban over 100 athletes from participating in the Summer Games, and later uncovered evidence that doping programs in Russia involved nearly 1,000 athletes in 30 different sports over the course of several years. It was one of the hottest topics during the Rio Games, and ignited fiery commentary from athletes representing other countries, including swimmer Lilly King of Team USA.
8. Ryan Lochte
Team USA was the toast of the Summer Olympics, particularly in the swimming pool. Katie Ledecky rose to international fame by breaking her own records, and Michael Phelps… well, he did more than create the best mad-faced meme, that’s for sure. But scandal still hit the Red White & Blue, in form of swimmer turned “Dancing with the Stars” participant Ryan Lochte.
It started out as a report that the 12-time Olympic medalist and some of his teammates were held at gunpoint during a night on the town outside of the Olympic village. The true story quickly unraveled to reveal drunk and disorderly conduct in which the four swimmers vandalized a Rio gas station. Lochte capped off the scandal by abruptly flying back state-side, and leaving his teammates in Rio to answer for him.
Lochte subsequently lost all four of his commercial sponsors, Speedo, Airweave, Gentle Hair Removal and Ralph Lauren.
9. Baylor sexual assault report
Reports of domestic and sexual assault at Baylor University date back a ways. But 2016 saw the scandal come to a real head.
It started earlier in the year when the school fired football head coach Art Briles amid news of the scandal, although reasoning for the firing wasn’t immediately divulged. A Wall Street Journal report later in the year revealed that 17 women had reported sexual or domestic assault involving 19 football players since 2011, and that Briles knew about at least one of the incidents and didn’t contact the authorities. In November, a “60 Minutes Sports” report uncovered information that Baylor campus police and Waco, Texas police hid reports of sexual assault.
With the magnitude of the allegations against the former players and the rate of the new developments, this incident will surely unravel into the upcoming year if not longer.
10. Colin Kaepernick
When cameras caught the 49ers’ quarterback sitting on the bench instead of standing during the national anthem, it didn’t just become big sports news, it became country-wide news. People who don’t even watch football had opinions on it.
The ripple effect caused debates across many platforms as to whether Colin Kaepernick’s actions were an act of patriotism or disrespectful to those who serve the country. They discussed whether he was leading a movement against racial injustice and police brutality, or being a disruption on a Niners’ team — with plenty of underlying problems both on and off the field — that needed to focus on winning football games. The protest spread from high school teams to the professional level. Fans remained split on the topic, and it is believed that the protest is in part responsible for the drop in football’s ratings over the 2016 season.
Talk of the protest has simmered down in the latter months, even with Kaepernick’s public announcement that he didn’t vote in the 2016 Presidential Election. While the scandal is certainly a 2016 benchmark, there will likely be talk of it in the 2017 offseason with Kaepernick expected to leave the 49ers for another team.