The NFL has experienced plenty of scandals over the course of its 100-year history. Football fans will remember the 2012 scandal known as Bountygate, in which the New Orleans Saints were discovered to have paid bounties to defensive players who injured opponents. Even more recently, there was the 2015 Deflategate scandal that remains a black mark on Tom Brady’s career.
Yet one of the wildest stories in recent NFL history was the so-called “Love Boat” scandal that roiled the Minnesota Vikings back in 2005. A total of 17 members of the Vikings team were caught up in the drama, which involved sex workers, boats, and way too much booze. Here we recap the Love Boat story and the surprisingly light repercussions the Vikings faced.
The story of the Love Boat scandal
The Vikings have a long-standing tradition of throwing a party for their rookies during the team’s bye week. That party usually takes place in a club. But in 2005, things unfolded in a slightly different manner. The mastermind of that year’s party was Fred Smoot, then a cornerback with the Vikings.
Working with a reported budget of $80,000, Smoot rented a pair of rented houseboats on Lake Minnetonka, approximately 15 miles outside of Minneapolis, according to FanBuzz. The houseboats were just the start, though. In addition, Smoot also arranged for the presence of a large number of strippers and sex workers.
The total number of women present varies from story to story, with estimates ranging everywhere from 50 to 100. Those women were flown in from cities all around the country, arriving to the houseboats in a motorcade of limousines. Once the booze started flowing, it didn’t take things long to get out of hand.
What eventually unfolded amounted to an out-and-out drunken orgy. Witnesses — including the boats’ crews — reported seeing a vast array of different sex acts unfolding in a very public manner. The reports from the next day’s clean-up crews offered an even more startling picture of what had unfolded.
Things got out of hand
A former Vikings player later told Sports Illustrated that sex parties on Lake Minnetonka were nothing new for the team. For the most part, however, past parties had managed to escape public notice. That wasn’t to be the case with Love Boat. Things got so rowdy that residents on nearby houseboats soon started calling the police.
One woman called 911 after witnessing a group of Vikings players get out of a limousine and proceed to urinate directly on her lawn. When all was said and done, four of the Vikings players — Fred Smoot, Bryant McKinnie, Moe Williams, Daunte Culpepper and Moe Williams — ended up facing charges of disorderly, indecent, and lewd conduct.
Fred Smoot got off relatively easy with the NFL
When it comes to enforcing punishment in the wake of scandals, the NFL has historically taken a pretty hard line. By most standards, the players held accountable for the Love Boat scandal got off relatively easy.
None of the four ringleaders were suspended. Two of them — Fred Smoot and Bryant McKinnie — had to pay $1,000 fines and serve community service.
Still, the Vikings had to pay for the scandal in other ways. The team had already been struggling, with a 1-3 start to the season. The Love Boat scandal only increased the number of jokes and scorn leveled at the team from the media.
In order to try and repair the public relations damage, team owner Zygi Wilf issued a 77-page document outlining the code of conduct expectations for players.
The Vikings were able to improve their record later in the season, although they still failed to make the playoffs. At the end of the season, the team fired its head coach Mike Tice. While the Vikings’ poor performance was certainly part of that decision, many analysts concur that the Love Boat scandal was also a primary factor in Tice’s firing.