Sports controversies are gritty, and something that can’t be ignored. Imagine this scenario—a giant sports brand decides to feature a football player in one of its new ads. Sound like a win-win situation for both parties. Right? Well, in this case, it would not be wrong to say the sporting company committed hara-kiri. Judging by the backlash to its decision to support a player who was in the news for kneeling during the national anthem.
Well, you must have guessed what we are talking about. Yes, it’s Nike and its ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. This led to the brand’s famous tagline Just Do It being rehashed to #justburnit.
And days later, at the grand Flushing Meadows, American tennis superstar Serene Williams created a spectacle in the final when she exchanged words with the umpire alleging him of treating her unfairly.
So, when did sports start becoming ingrained in controversy? True, there have been many positives as well. In fact, one can safely say the positives outweigh the negatives. For instance, The ‘Men in Blue” team India holding aloft the Cricket World Cup twice. The French football team winning the Football World Cup earlier this year. Roger Federer defying age to win his sixth Australian Open and an awe-inspiring 20th Grand Slam title. Usain Bolt setting the track on fire and with it setting many records in athletics, and more. However, controversy has kept up the pace in each of the sports and reared its ugly head now and then.
On that note, we bring you 10 memorable sports controversies. From Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” to Sri Lankan spinner Muralitharan being repeatedly called for chucking (which was cleared later). From UFC fighter Jon Jones being stripped of his championship for testing positive for banned substances. And Zidane headbutting and subsequently getting a red card in the 2006 finals, it is all here.
Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to bow during the US national anthem
When Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sat and then knelt to protest the alleged police atrocities against African-American men and the members of the black community in the US, it apparently divided the opinion of the common public. The action spiralled out of control as many other players staged similar protests by kneeling before games. While a section of the public felt it was fair on the part of the players to demand justice, others directly accused them of disrespecting the flag, and the soldiers who gave their lives to protect the public and the country.
How did Nike get involved?
Sports giant Nike recently released an ad featuring Kaepernick. The free agent, who has accused league owners of colluding to offer him a new contract after his old one ended shared the ad on his social media page with the words “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” #JustDoIt.
However, the ad courted controversy as many people started to attack the player and the brand on social media. While some posted videos of them burning Nike shoes, others said they would never wear Nike again. The hashtag #JustBurnIt became the trending topic for a few days.
Oscar Pistorius’ murder charges
What happens when a double-amputee sprinter defies convention to compete at the Olympics? You get a hero right. Wrong. After captivating the imagination of his native South Africa and the world, Pistorius’ was the darling of the masses. Then, on that fateful night in February 2013, he shot his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp and killed her. While a tearful Pistorius’ claimed innocent and said he thought it was an intruder, he was indicted on two charges of murder. Oh! How the mighty fall to the ground.
Lance Armstrong admits for doping
Once upon a time, the name Lance Armstrong was associated with grit, dedication, passion for cycling, and, of course… a staggering seven Tour de France (considered the Holy Grail for cyclists all over) titles.
What made his achievements even more spectacular was the fact that he overcame all odds after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in the year 1995. Heroic stuff, public and the critics would say alike. Right? In fact, his battle with cancer led to the birth of the now infamous Livestrong foundation, that was synonymous with the iconic yellow wristbands that every self-respecting man, woman and child wore with pride and as a symbol of hope.
Only this fairy tale had a dark plot and an even sinister ending. Armstrong was allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. Reporters alleged that for years, the cycling hero was colluding with certain teammates to cheat his way to superstardom. The backlash followed in the form of dropped sponsorships, and a spectacular fall from grace. When Armstrong made an apology on the Oprah Winfrey Show, after admitting the use of PEDs, it seemed that the sport he did so much for, shifted backwards.
The Phantom Punch: Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston
Muhammad Ali was arguably the greatest boxer to have entered the ring. With his indefatigable spirit, his magnetic personality, his speed and the knockout power, Ali re-defined the sport and left an undying mark even after his passing in 2016. Ali is remembered for many legendary fights with boxers like George Foreman, Joe Frazier and others.
Among his opponents, there is one by the name of Sonny Liston that Ali had a few fights. However, one fight that defined a generation in the form of an image that had Ali photographed over a fallen Liston telling him to get up remains etched in public memory. This fight was shrouded in controversy as many believe Liston had fixed the fight. When Ali threw a short jab, it only appeared to graze Liston but Liston fell to the ground as if he had been hit by a knockout punch. The fact that Ali had doubts whether he had even hit Liston further added to the controversy.
Maradona’s Hand of God, one of the top sports controversies of all times
Diego Maradona, who is credited by many to have single-handedly carried Argentina in two World Cup finals in the years 1986 and 1990 attained global stardom. During his playing career, Maradona contributed to many memorable moments that include him dribbling past seven England defenders to score a mesmerising goal or carrying the whole burden of a nation on his tiny shoulder’s countless times.
One moment that remains etched in public memory is the infamous “Hand of God” goal that led to Argentina defeating England in the 1986 quarterfinal match. He scored two goals during that match and one goal was a handball. To the surprise of many, the referee, Ali Bin Nasser, awarded the goal and despite frantic protests by the English players, Argentina went through to the semi-finals.
Tiger Woods fails to roar
During the 90s Tiger Woods was on his way to golf superstardom. Critics hailed him while the general public adored him. He could do no wrong, a slew of lucrative sponsorships and a trophy cabinet that increased with each passing tournament seemed to indicate that Tiger Woods was well a future golf great in the making. Until that fateful day in 2009 when he drove his car into a fire hydrant a few bushes after being chased by his angry wife. What seemed a simple accident opened a can of worms, one that involved a series of infidelities and sexting with a pornstar. Sadly, his career went on a downward spiral since, and Tiger has never recovered.
Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan’s rivalry
Tonya Harding is still remembered by many fans of figure skating. Sadly, for all the wrong reasons! Way back in 1994, Tonya and Nancy Kerrigan were teammates in the US figure skating team. There were whispers in the changing room and skating corridors hat Harding was the jealous type. A fact that was reiterated when Harding and her husband allegedly hired an individual by the name of Shane Stant to break Kerrigan’s leg so that Harding could have no competition.
Later, it was discovered that the attack was orchestrated by Harding and she was stripped off many of her titles. Controversy seemed to follow both Harding and Kerrigan till years although now the dust seems to have settled a little under the carpet.
Pete Rose and baseball gambling
Baseball is remembered for many reasons. The legendary Babe Ruth, the soaring home runs, the sizzling catches, the frenzied crowds and a certain Peter Rose. Pete Rose is a legend in baseball history. Sadly, he will be remembered as the man who gambled on baseball both as a player and a coach. When the controversy broke out, Pete vehemently denied it but later, admitted to betting on the games. Rose has since been banned from all games and it appears that the sport he gave so much will never take him in again.
Cricket’s underarm incident
Cricket is a gentleman’s game goes a popular saying. To be fair, it is and well, again, it is not. In the 1981 World Series Cup match, New Zealand needed six runs to tie a match with their rivals, Australia. What followed next was nothing short of controversial.
Trevor Chappell was apparently instructed by his brother Greg Chappell to bowl underarm. This would make it virtually impossible for any batsman to hit a six. Although it was technically legal in Australian rules during that time, it led to a huge outcry and resulted in the underarm being banned in limited overs cricket.
The 1972 Olympics Basketball Gold Medal game
Today, the American team is considered the gold standard in basketball and it seems it is difficult to even try to beat them. Over the years, in the Olympics, the American team has been dubbed the dream team for the dazzling array of superstars on its ranks. Every time the Olympics take place, America is guaranteed to win a medal.
Rewind back to the 1972 Olympics Basketball Gold Medal game. The US was trailing the Soviet team 49-48 when Doug Collins was fouled and awarded two shots. Well, and fine. However, controversy erupted during the second shot.
The Soviets claimed they had appealed for a timeout and when the appeal was given in the favour of the Soviets, they controversially won after scoring again.
Are you aware of such interesting sports controversies? Let us know in the comments below.
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