8 Major Scandals from 8 Minor Sports

Getty Images
Getty Images

While baseball may have steroids and football may have illicit videotaping, many minor sports outside the mainstream have been shaken by major scandals of their own. Here are eight of our favorites that don't involve performance-enhancing drugs or Tonya Harding.

1. It's a Sprint, Not a Marathon

Cuban American runner Rosie Ruiz didn't just win the 1980 Boston Marathon, she set a new record with a time of 2:31:56. However, on closer inspection, it turned out Ruiz probably hadn't run the whole race. Or even most of it. No one saw Ruiz plodding along in the early going, and she somehow shaved over 25 minutes off her impressively fast time in the 1979 New York Marathon only six months earlier, further raising eyebrows.

It turned out that maybe the New York Marathon time wasn't completely legit, either; a freelance photographer came forward with the revelation that she had definitely been with Ruiz on the subway during the race. Soon, a narrative formed: it seemed that Ruiz had cheated in the New York Marathon, and cheated so well she'd posted an outstanding sub-three-hour time and qualified for Boston, a major achievement for any marathon runner. Her boss was so excited about this triumph that he offered to pay her expenses to run Boston. At this point, Ruiz was probably too embarrassed to fess up to her earlier misdeed, so she went to Boston and waited at Kenmore Square, around a mile from the finish line, jumped into the race, and sprinted to the finish. Most observers don't think Ruiz was trying to win, just post a respectable time, but she jumped in too early and set a new record.

Marathon officials stripped Ruiz of the title after interviewing her and finding she knew very little about the course's landmarks or distance-running jargon, but she still maintains that she finished both races fair and square. As such, Ruiz has never returned her first place medal.

2. The Day the Jai Alai Died

Jai Alai, the handball variant played with long, curved baskets, is one of the world's fastest sports. It's also one of the most popular for gamblers, a fact that tripped up the sport in the Philippines in the mid-1980s. After a massive game-fixing scandal came to light in 1988, the Filipino government decided it would deal with the problem in a manner even Pete Rose would have found extreme: it banned the entire sport. There was no more jai alai in the Philippines. The ban lasted until the game was officially revived in 2001.

3. Badminton: Suddenly Dangerous

Although badminton is usually just played at picnics and in backyards in the U.S., it's a very popular competitive sport throughout Asia. On July 28, 1988, it even turned deadly in India. Syed Modi, a popular figure who had won the national championship eight times as well as a gold at the Commonwealth Games and a title at the 1984 Austrian Open, was gunned down by a group of men as he left a practice session in Lucknow.

The murder became the talk of the Indian press, with speculation raging that the murder was masterminded by one of Modi's friends, who was also rumored to be the lover of Modi's wife. Other members of the press contended this arrest was a red herring perpetrated by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Although several arrests were eventually made, no one was ever charged with the murder, and the crime remains unsolved.

4. Harness Racket

 Harness racing is a bit different from the horse racing you see in competitions like the Kentucky Derby. Jockeys sit in a little cart called a sulky, and the horse pulls them along at a trotting gait. However, in the 1950s it was as corrupt as any other major gambling endeavor.

Harness racing was quickly gaining popularity in its move from pastoral enterprise to legitimate gambling sport until a major scandal rocked it in 1953. The previous year a labor baron named Thomas F. Lewis had been gunned down outside his apartment in the Bronx, and the investigation into his untimely demise turned up some sordid tales of the racing industry. Lewis had been president of a chapter of the AFL's Building Service Employee's Union, and as such had been the de facto boss of Yonkers Raceway, the most popular harness racing track in the country.

During his rein Lewis forced the course's management to illegally hire hoodlums and ex-convicts as track employees without submitting to background checks. The track was also forced to retain four thugs as "labor troubleshooters" to insure against future labor disturbances that could halt racing. When Governor Thomas Dewey learned of this corruption, he promptly closed the track until each of the 1200 employees could be fingerprinted and properly identified as suitable for a racecourse.

5. Camp Barbed Wire

Rugby union is a major passion in South Africa, and the national team, known as the Springboks, wanted to win the 2003 Rugby World Cup so much that they went a bit overboard in their preparations. When the roster for the event was named in September 2003, coach Rudolph Straeuli decided to send the squad to a police camp in the South African bush. The activity, known as Kamp Staaldraad, or "Camp Barbed Wire," would bring the players together as a team.

This excursion was no corporate team-building retreat, though. It was a bit more brutal: players were allegedly forced at gunpoint into a freezing lake to pump up rugby balls, then dumped naked into a foxhole where icy water was poured on their heads as they sang the national anthem. Other reports included the news that the players were forced to crawl naked across gravel and kill chickens.

When the South African media got wind of this training exercise it became a full-blown scandal that cost Straeulli his job and earned the contempt of most fans. Even worse, the fracas demoralized the Springboks, who couldn't make it past New Zealand in the quarterfinals.

6. Fishy Results

In 2005 angler Paul Tormanen of Lee's Summit, Missouri, was a rising star on the competitive bass fishing circuit, often grabbing his limit of fish within an hour of a contest opening. His career seemed to really be taking off, at least until he was arrested in Louisiana for felony contest fraud. Tormanen admitted a fairly basic scheme for winning some big-money bass tournaments; he'd catch his fish beforehand, take them out on the lake, and tie them to stumps. He used his tethered fish to win the 2005 Red River Bassmaster Central Open in Louisiana, in the process taking home a new fishing boat and $10,000 cash. Unfortunately for Tormanen, another competitor found one of his ringer fish during a practice round and secretly marked it with the help of fish and wildlife officials. When Tormanen weighed in with his catch, authorities caught onto his fraud. The incident earned Tormanen a lifetime ban from B.A.S.S. competitions, and he received a suspended sentence of six months, a fine, 120 hours of community service, and two years of probation

7. Tug of Whine

Tug of war was still a medal event during the 1908 Olympics, and that meant it could become embroiled in a scandal. When a team comprised of Liverpool's finest police officers met the American pullers, the Englishmen quickly dispatched the Yanks. The Americans, though, cried foul. They claimed that the Brits were wearing illegal boots equipped with steel cleats to give them a traction advantage. The Liverpudlians countered that they were just police officers wearing police boots and that the Americans would have to deal with it. This response so enraged the American squad that they abruptly withdrew from the event, and the team from Liverpool went on to win the silver. That fall the Brits magnanimously offered to pull against the Americans with both sides wearing stocking feet and the proceeds going to the charity of their choice. However, it doesn't seem this match ever took place.

8. Drug Racing

 Critics occasionally like to poke fun at NASCAR's alleged roots of Southern moonshining and bootlegging, but the now-defunct IMSA GT race circuit was rife with real smuggling during its brief life as an alternative racing league in North America. From at least 1975 to 1986 a handful of top drivers on the tour paid for their racing teams not just by selling sponsorships, but by operating a massive drug-smuggling cartel. How big was their outfit? When the drivers were caught, it was estimated that they'd imported and distributed over 300 tons of Colombian marijuana over the course of eight years. Several drivers, including John Paul, Sr., John Paul, Jr., Randy Lanier, and the Whittington brothers were convicted in connection with the ring. Former 12 Hours of Sebring winner John Paul, Sr. was the alleged mastermind of the operation; he received a 25-year federal sentence for charges that included shooting a federal witness. Pundits noted that the initials IMSA must have stood for "International Marijuana Smugglers Association."

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Bo Knows Everything: Remembering Nike's Legendary Bo Jackson Ad Campaign

Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Mike Powell, Allsport/Getty Images

It may have been difficult for Nike to conceive of any athlete being able to do more for its company than Michael Jordan. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chicago Bulls star was omnipresent, helping turn their Air Jordan line of sneakers into a squeaky chorus in school hallways and gyms around the country. Even better, the company had scored big with “Just Do It,” an advertising slogan introduced in 1988 that became part of the public lexicon.

There was just one issue. In spite of Jordan’s growing popularity and their innovative advertising, Nike was still in second place behind Reebok. No other athlete on their roster could seemingly bridge the gap. Not even their new cross-training shoe endorsed by tennis pro John McEnroe was igniting excitement in the way the company had hoped.

In 1989, two major events changed all of that: An advertising copywriter was struck with inspiration, and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson slammed a first-inning home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The ad man’s idea was to portray Jackson as being able to do just about anything. Jackson went ahead and proved him right.

 

Bo Jackson was an ideal spokesperson for Nike's new line of cross-training sneakers. The Auburn University graduate was making waves as a rare two-sport pro athlete; he was playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football for the Los Angeles Raiders. Early commercials featured Jackson sampling other sporting activities like riding a bike. “Now, when’s that Tour de France?” he asked. In another, he dunked a basketball and pondered the potential of “Air Bo.”

At a Portland bar near Nike’s headquarters one evening, Nike vice president of marketing Tom Clarke and Jim Riswold of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy were pondering how best to use Jackson going forward. Clarke wanted to devote the majority of their budget for the cross-trainers to an ad campaign featuring the athlete. The two started lobbing ideas about other people named Bo—Bo Derek, Beau Brummell, Little Bo Peep, and Bo Diddley, among others.

The last one stuck with Riswold. He thought of a phrase—“Bo, you don’t know Diddley”—and went home to sleep on it. When he woke up the next morning, he was able to sketch out an entire commercial premise in minutes. Riswold envisioned a spot in which Jackson would try his hand at other sports, punctuating each with a “Bo Knows” proclamation. Jackson soon realizes the one thing he can’t do is play guitar with Bo Diddley, the legendary musician.

It took longer to shoot the commercial than to conceive of it. The spot was shot over the course of a month, with the crew going to California, Florida, and Kansas to film cameos with other athletes including Jordan, McEnroe, and Wayne Gretzky—all of whom Nike had under personal appearance contracts.

Fearing Jackson might hurt himself trying to skate, the production filmed him from the knees up sliding around in socks at a University of Kansas gymnasium rather than on ice. But not all attempts at caution were successful. When director Joe Pytka grew frustrated that Jackson kept running off-camera and implored him to move in a straight line, Jackson steamrolled both the equipment and Pytka, who had to tend to a bloody nose before continuing.

In portraying any other athlete this way, the campaign may have come off as stretching credulity. But Jackson had already been improving his game in all areas, hitting a 515-foot home run during a spring training win over the Boston Red Sox. In April, he hit .282 and tallied eight home runs. Even when he struck out, he still stood out: Jackson was prone to breaking his bat over his knee in frustration.

 

After Jackson was voted into the 1989 MLB All-Star Game in July, Nike decided the telecast would be the ideal place to debut their Bo Knows campaign. They handed out Bo Knows pennants for fans and even flew Bo Knows signs overhead. Bo Knows appeared in a full-page spot for USA Today. Even by Nike standards, this was big.

There was, of course, a chance Jackson would be in a bat-breaking mood, which might diminish the commercial’s impact. But in the very first inning, Jackson sent one into the stands off pitcher Rick Reuschel. With a little scrambling, Nike was able to get their ad moved up from the fourth inning, where it was originally scheduled to run. In the broadcast booth, announcer Vin Scully and special guest, former president Ronald Reagan, marveled at Jackson’s prowess. Scully reminded viewers that his pro football career was something Jackson once described as a “hobby.”

A Bo Jackson fan is pictured holding up a 'Bo Knows Baseball!' sign at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989
A Bo Jackson fan shows his support at the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. That summer and into the fall, Bo Knows was quickly moving up the ranks of the most pervasive commercial spots in memory, second only to Jordan’s memorable ads for Nike and McDonald’s. Jackson turned up in sequels, trying his hand at everything from surfing to soccer to cricket. Special effects artists created multiple Bo Jacksons, a seemingly supernatural explanation for why he excelled at everything.

It was a myth, but one rooted in reality. After 92 wins with the Royals as a left-fielder in 1989, Jackson reported for the NFL season that fall as a running back for the Raiders. In one three-game stretch, he ran for over 100 yards each. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in November, Jackson ran 92 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 950 rushing yards. That winter, he was named to the Pro Bowl, making him the only athlete to appear in two all-star games for two major North American sports in consecutive seasons.

Nike was staggered by the results of Bo Knows, which helped them leap over Reebok to become the top athletic shoe company. They eventually secured 80 percent of the cross-training shoe market, going from $40 million in sales to $400 million, a feat that executives attributed in large part to Jackson. Bo Knows, bolstered by Jackson’s demonstrated versatility, was the perfect marriage of concept and talent. His stature as a spokesperson rose, and he appeared in spots for AT&T and Mountain Dew Sport, earning a reported $2 million a year for endorsements. A viewer survey named him the most persuasive athlete in advertising. If that weren’t enough, Jackson also appeared in the popular Nintendo Entertainment System game Tecmo Bowl and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989.

 

In 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury during a Raiders game, one that permanently derailed his football career. He played three more seasons of baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring from sports in 1994.

Jackson's relationship with Nike was dissolved soon after, though the company never totally abandoned the concept of athletes wading into new territory. In 2004, a campaign depicted big names sampling other activities. Tennis great Andre Agassi suited up for the Boston Red Sox; cyclist Lance Armstrong was seen boxing; Serena Williams played beach volleyball. The Bo Knows DNA ran throughout.

Jackson still makes periodic references to the campaign, including in advertisements for his Bo Jackson Signature Foods. (“Bo Knows Meat,” the website proclaims.) In 2019, Jackson also appeared in a Sprint commercial that aimed for surrealism, with Jackson holding a mermaid playing a keytar and having a robot intone that “Bo does know” something about cell phone carriers.

The other key Bo—Diddley—never quite understood why the campaign worked. After seeing the commercial, he reportedly said that he was confused because it had nothing to do with shoes.