Sports scandals engulfed not only coaches, players, and fans in 2017, but everyone from President Donald Trump and former Wall Street executives, to league front offices and television networks.
It was a turbulent 12 months, and the stakes were high. The sports world didn’t only revolve around championship games and rivalries, but social injustice, drug addiction, bribery, and more.
Players Take a Knee
Few stories in America made more headlines in 2017 than the NFL kneeling controversy. Protesting social injustices and police brutality against minorities, hundreds of professional football players began refusing to stand for the traditional start-of-game national anthem.
The controversy escalated when President Trump added his Twitter voice to the issue, urging fans to boycott the league and owners to fire players who refused to stand.
Ratings for the NFL subsequently suffered, which also led to a lower handle for Las Vegas oddsmakers, as TV viewer interest began to wane the longer divisiveness over the issue wore on.
Golf Scandals (Seriously)
For a sport where fans typically give a polite clap (save a “mashed potatoes!” yell) after a good shot, golf certainly made its share of shocking headlines in 2017. The biggest was, of course, Tiger Woods’ DUI arrest.
In May, the 14-time major winner was arrested after he was found asleep at the wheel of his running SUV. Toxicology reports found no alcohol in his system, but a dangerous cocktail of pain medications and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) did show up.
Woods’ absence hurt television ratings, but he did return in late November to competitive golf.
Phil Mickelson also got involved in some bad press through an insider trading scandal. His golf pal Billy Walters, known as the most successful sports bettor in Nevada history, was found guilty of using confidential information provided to him by an indebted gambler to make $43 million in stock profit on Dean Foods.
Lefty had also made about $1 million on the stock tip, but returned the money and was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In September, the FBI brought charges against legendary coach Rick Petino’s Louisville basketball program for its alleged involvement in a “pay to play” bribery scheme with Adidas.
According to federal investigators, an Adidas executive agreed to pay the family of a high school recruit $100,000 and sponsor him once he turned pro, in exchange for his commitment to Louisville. Petino was fired in October, after 16 years with the school.
Speaking of Bribes
Also in September, the head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, was accused of buying votes for Rio de Janeiro’s successful bid to host the 2016 Summer Games.
The accusations, which are still pending, state that Nuzman orchestrated a $2 million payment in 2009 to the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
The fight of the year, or perhaps the decade for casual boxing fans, came in August with the much-hyped Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor spectacle. There was plenty of controversy leading up to the fight, with underdog McGregor accusing Mayweather of having a gambling problem and being unable to pay his tax bills.
More mundane polemics ensued after viewers watching livestreams complained about image quality, after shelling out $99.95 for Showtime’s feed. The premium network later agreed to refund certain purchases made through the Showtime app.