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.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

10 Amazing Facts About Bruce Lee On His 80th Birthday

Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive
Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive

Bruce Lee is one of pop culture's most multifaceted icons. Legions of fans admire him for his movies, his martial arts prowess, his incomprehensible physical fitness, his championing of Chinese culture, and even his philosophies on life. Yet for all the new ground Lee broke, most of his recognition only came after his death at the age of 32. Read on to learn more about the life of this profound, if enigmatic, superstar.

1. Bruce Lee’s first starring role in a movie came when he was just 10 years old.

In 1950’s The Kid, a pre-teen Bruce Lee played the role of Kid Cheung, a streetwise orphan and wry troublemaker, based on a comic strip from the time. Starring opposite Lee, playing a kindly factory owner, was his father, Lee Hoi-chuen, who also happened to be a famous opera singer. (Bruce Lee was actually born in San Francisco while his father was there on tour; Lee would move back to the U.S. in 1959).

According to Lee biographer Matthew Polly, the movie was a big enough success in China to earn sequel consideration. There was just one problem: A young Bruce Lee was getting into fights at school and out on the streets, so his father forbid him from acting again until he straightened up—which, of course, didn’t wind up happening.

2. Bruce Lee was deemed physically unfit for the U.S. Army.

While he may have walked around with body fat in the single digits and could do push-ups using only two fingers, Lee still managed to fail a military physical for the U.S. draft board back in 1963. Despite being an adherent to physical fitness all his adult life, it was an undescended testicle that kept him from fighting for Uncle Sam in Vietnam.

3. Bruce Lee was an exquisite cha-cha dancer.

Long before he was known for breakneck fight choreography, Bruce Lee’s physical skills were focused on the dance floor. More specifically, the cha-cha. In Polly’s book, Bruce Lee: A Life, the author explains that the dance trend made its way from Cuba through the Philippines and soon landed in China. And once the cha-cha settled into the Hong Kong social scene, it didn’t take long for youth dance competitions to spring up. Lee had been taking part in cha-cha dancing since the age of 14, and in 1958, he won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. Foreshadowing his later dedication to martial arts, Lee would keep crib notes of all 108 different cha-cha steps in his wallet so that he could obsessively memorize them.

4. Bruce Lee refused to lose a fight to Robin.

The Green Hornet aired its first episode in September 1966, with Bruce Lee as the Hornet's (Van Williams) lightning-quick sidekick, Kato. The series would immediately be compared to Batman, ABC's other costumed crime-fighting show, and it wouldn't be long before a two-part crossover episode was in the works. And as heroes do, before they teamed up, they first had to fight each other. According to Newsweek, since Batman was by far the more popular show, the script featured a fight between Burt Ward's Robin and Bruce Lee's Kato that was set to end with the Boy Wonder getting the upper hand. But who would really buy that?

Well, Lee certainly didn't—and he knew no one else would, either. Williams later recalled that Lee read the script and simply said, "I'm not going to do that," and walked off. Common sense soon prevailed ... sort of. The script was rewritten to change the ending—not to a Kato K.O., but to a more diplomatic draw. Though The Green Hornet was Lee's first big break in the United States, the series itself lasted only 26 episodes.

5. Bruce Lee trained numerous Hollywood stars.

As Bruce Lee worked to become a big-screen heavyweight, he made a living as a martial arts trainer to the stars. Among Lee’s students were Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate. For his services, Lee was known to charge about $275 per hour or $1000 for 10 courses. McQueen and Coburn grew so enamored with Lee over the years that they remained close friends until his death in 1973, with both men serving as pallbearers at Lee's funeral (alongside Chuck Norris).

6. Roman Polanski may have (briefly) thought Bruce Lee murdered Sharon Tate.

In addition to providing Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate with kung fu lessons, Bruce Lee also lived near the couple in Los Angeles when Tate and four others, including Lee’s close friend Jay Sebring, were murdered by the Manson Family in August 1969. It would be months before the Manson Family was arrested for the murders, but in the meantime, according to an article from Esquire, Polanski had grown obsessed with finding a suspect, looking for potential perpetrators even amongst his own inner circle.

During one kung fu lesson in the months after the murders, Lee had mentioned to Polanski how he had recently lost his glasses, which immediately piqued the director’s interest. A mysterious pair of horn-rimmed glasses had been found at the murder scene near his wife’s body, after all. Polanski had even purchased a gauge to measure the lenses and find out the exact prescription so that he could do his own detective work, according to The New York Post.

The director, without giving himself away, offered to bring Lee to his optician to get a new pair—this would allow him to hear Lee’s prescription firsthand and determine if the specs discovered at the crime scene belonged to him. It turned out Lee’s prescription didn’t match, and Polanski never told his friend about his suspicions.

7. Bruce Lee had his sweat glands removed.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973).Warner Home Video

Bruce Lee brought an impeccable physique to the screen that was decades ahead of its time. But because his roles required so much physicality, he would be drenched with sweat while filming. And apparently, the martial arts pioneer loathed the sweat stains that would show up on his clothing as a result. His solution? In 1973, Lee actually underwent a procedure to surgically remove the sweat glands from his armpits to avoid the fashion faux pas from showing up on camera.

8. Bruce Lee’s cause of death still raises questions.

Bruce Lee’s death at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973, was officially ruled the result of a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain. Lee had complained about headaches on the day of his death, and was given a painkiller by Betty Ting Pei—an actress who claimed to be Lee's mistress—before lying down for a nap. He never woke up.

Though many reports at the time suggested Lee had an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the painkiller, Polly points to a mystery that began on May 10, 1973, when the star previously collapsed in a hot recording studio while dubbing new dialogue for Enter the Dragon.

In Polly’s opinion, Lee’s collapse had to do with heatstroke, since his stint in an overheated recording studio was compounded by a lack of sweat glands that prevented his body from cooling off naturally. Heatstroke can also cause swelling in the brain, much like was found during Lee’s autopsy. And Dr. Lisa Leon, an expert in hyperthermia at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, told Polly, “A person who has suffered one heat stroke is at increased risk for another" and that there may be long-term complications after the initial incident.

9. Footage from Bruce Lee’s Funeral was used in 1978’s Game of Death.

At the time of his death, Bruce Lee was involved in numerous projects, including the movie that would become Game of Death, his next directorial effort. According to Vice, there wasn’t much completed on the film by the time of Lee’s passing—there were some notes, a story outline (which simply read “The big fight. An arrest is made. The airport. The end.”), and 40 minutes of footage, including Lee’s now-iconic fight against NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Usually, a project in that situation would just be a lost cause, but production company Golden Harvest wanted to salvage what they could, so they hired Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse to put together ... something. The result was a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, comprised of 11 minutes of existing footage Lee shot, overdubbed clips from his previous movies, and stand-ins to fill out certain scenes. The director even resorted to using an unfortunate Bruce Lee cardboard cutout to complete one shot.

That’s not even the top rung on the ladder of poor taste: When the movie called for Lee’s character to fake his death, they used footage from his actual funeral to realize the scene, complete with waves of mourners, pallbearers, and closeups of Lee’s open casket.

10. Bruce Lee’s posthumous success resulted in its own sub-genre.

Lee’s career was exploding in China and gaining momentum in the United States by 1973, but he passed away just a month before his biggest hit was released: Enter the Dragon. The movie, which grossed more than $200 million at the worldwide box office, catapulted the late Lee to icon status. But with the star himself no longer around to capitalize, there would soon be a wave of knockoff films and wannabes looking to take advantage of the martial arts craze.

Both affectionately and derisively known as “Bruceploitation” films, this strange sub-genre of martial arts cinema gave life to z-movie oddities like Re-Enter the Dragon and Enter the Game of Death, starring the likes of—and we’re not kidding—Bruce Le and Bruce Li. Jackie Chan was even roped into a few of these movies, like 1976's New Fist of Fury. In 1980, Bruceploitation even went meta with The Clones of Bruce Lee, starring Dragon Lee, Bruce Le, and Bruce Lai, who play genetic reconstructions of the late actor after scientists harvest his DNA.