Every so often a controversy erupts surrounding an athlete or team’s legitimacy. Many conspiracy theories have been debunked and some confirmed. However, there is a myriad of secrecies that remain unanswered and will likely forever be left to speculation. Here are five of the greatest mysteries in sports.
The Patriots have been blamed for an ample amount of various offenses, including Spygate, Deflategate and other acts of presumed cheating. The first instance in which the team was caught red-handed took place in September of 2007 during an early regular season game against the New York Jets. New England video assistant Matt Estrella’s camera was seized by NFL security staff. The footage revealed prohibited recording of the Jets’ staff defensive signals. The film was consequently deleted and the Patriots issued an apology statement.
Spygate 1.0 was supposedly done and dusted but controversy resurfaced prior to Super Bowl 36 when former Patriot employee Matt Walsh claimed he had footage of the St. Louis Rams’ walkthrough. Mysteriously, however, Walsh later retracted his previous statement and apologized for running the story. Belichick was fined $500,000 and the league had the tapes destroyed. As to what was actually on them will never be known. Though it’s difficult to say whether or not the tapes possessed any substantial material that may have contributed to the Patriots’ ensuing win over the Rams, it nevertheless raises some eyebrows.
4. Carl Lewis’s Alleged Use Of PEDs
During the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, Carl Lewis finished first in the Men’s 100-meter sprint with a final time of 9.92 seconds – breaking Calvin Smith’s 9.93-second world record set in 1983. Here’s where things get messy. The original winner was Canada’s Ben Johnson, who finished first with a final time of 9.79 seconds. Two days later, Johnson tested positive for stanozolol and was stripped of his gold medal, which was subsequently awarded to Lewis. This would all be well and good if Lewis himself wasn’t also under fire for substance abuse. He had failed three drug tests prior to the 1988 Olympics, but because it was ruled “inadvertent” by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) he was still permitted to compete.
Track and field during the 1980s was pervaded with substance abuse, as athletes failed drug tests left and right. Though Lewis himself was vocal about being adamantly opposed to steroids, it’s difficult to trust the word of someone who was caught for that same thing on three previous accounts. It’s no wonder that the 1988 event would become known as the “dirtiest race in history.”
3. 1972 Immaculate Reception
With only 1:17 remaining in the 4th quarter of the 1972 divisional playoff game, the Pittsburgh Steelers were down 7-6 to the Oakland Raiders and the clock was ticking. In a last-ditch effort to give the Steelers an edge, Terry Bradshaw gunned a pass to John Fuqua. Just as Fuqua reached out to make the catch, Raiders safety Jack Tatum bulldozed into him sending the ball ricocheting into the arms of awaiting Steeler Franco Harris, who ran the ball back for a touchdown. The Steelers offense stormed the endzone jumping and celebrating with the heroic running back.
Pittsburgh went on to win the game 13-7 but there was one problem – it’s thought that the pass should have been ruled incomplete. Though the rule has since changed, at the time, it stated that if a player hits the ball before another player maintains possession, then the pass is incomplete. Many people watching noticed this same peculiarity and after the game controversy erupted. Fuqua himself even admitted in a postgame interview that he did initially touch the ball before it flew into the arms of his teammate. Nevertheless, the score stood, leaving one of the most controversial plays in NFL playoff history.
2. Michael Jordan’s Retirement
Michael Jordan’s retirement is one of the biggest mysteries in the NBA. Why would the greatest NBA player suddenly call it quits while at the height of his career? Some theorists believe that it was the NBA cracking down on Jordan for his gambling addiction. The main source of credibility for this rumor is a 1993 publication citing Jordan’s gambling habits. However, others argue that after his father passed away, Jordan’s love for the sport died with him. This would also explain why he picked up baseball in his father’s honor. Nevertheless, the reasons behind Jordan’s retirement will always be left up for debate.
1. 1973 Battle Of The Sexes
On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in three straight sets in a match coined the “Battle of the Sexes.” However, many speculate that Riggs intentionally threw the match. There are a few different indications backing this theory. Many people cite the fact that Riggs had soundly defeated Margaret Court, the number one female tennis player in the world, just four months earlier in the first “Battle of the Sexes.” Perhaps for the sake of giving more credibility to women’s tennis, Riggs willingly allowed King to crush him. It’s also noted that Riggs lobbed up an unusual number of shots directly into King’s red zone. Though some suggest this was due to King’s old age, others have a harder time complying with the idea that his ability declined so rapidly over the course of four months.
An alternative theory proposes that Riggs, a prominent gambler, had racked up some heavy debt – $100,000 worth. In order to shake the mafia from his back, Riggs promised a spectacle up to Vegas standard that would earn his creditors millions for betting against him. Though numerous reasons for suspicion piled up against Riggs, he vehemently denied throwing the match. It remains one of the most widely contended events in sports history.