Every couple of months the media, like a blind fullback, picks-up and runs in all directions (including backwards) with a story about the latest scandal involving an athlete. Each story, with headlines blazing and little concern for nuance or probing questions, recreates the classic battle between the hometown favorite and the visiting loser so that loyal fans will know who to cheer for.
The outing of Tiger Woods for an apparent out-of-wedlock affair once again opened the floodgate of media voyeurism. Over the last few years Americans have witnessed with tawdry fascination the outing of religious leaders, politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) and other celebrities. Many of these figures, especially hypocrites like Eliot Spitzer, David Vitter, Larry Craig and Ted Haggard, deserved the public shaming that the media spotlight brought upon them. However, the hounding of Woods may finally embarrass the 24/7 media spectacle to permit public figures, including athletes, the personal space needed to work through what surely must be a difficult experience.
The need to fill hundreds of TV channels, Reality TV and the 24-hour news cycle cultivates the quest for celebrity and fuels scandal. It sucks in horsy-set hucksters like the Salahis and the pathetic Heene family and their balloon-boy. Their exposure in scandal taps the public’s perverse sense of Schadenfreude. Scandal is an all-American participation sport.
Scandals involving athletes, like other public figures, involve more than sex. From the sad tale of Michael Vick and his gang of animal lovers to the ill fated O.J. Simpson case of the 1990s, the media revels in stories of domestic violence, bribery charges, DUI arrests, fist fights and even a star accidentally shooting himself in the leg with an illegal handgun.
Sex scandals serve as a battleground over moral order. Such scandals, especially involving interracial liaisons, most captivate the media and the public. And when one adds celebrities, especially athletes and entertainers, to the mix, the public can’t turn away.
Scandal #10 – Tiger Woods and Rick Patino
While the Woods scandal continues to play out, the Rick Patino scandal has faded from public attention. Like Woods, Patino, the head coach of the University of Louisville basketball team, was outed over an extra-marital affair, this one involving the estranged wife of his longtime aide and the team’s equipment manager. Unfortunately, sex was only half of the fun the coach got for straying from his marital commitment. For starters, he impregnated his object of desire, leading to a very un-Christian abortion. The shunned woman initially wanted cars and tuition for her children, then demanded a $10 million pay-off. The messy scandal is now the subject of a federal criminal proceeding.
Scandal #9 – Koby Bryant
In 2003, Bryant, a Los Angeles Lakers basketball player, then 24-years-old, was arrested for the allegedly sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman who worked at the Colorado hotel-spa he was staying. After two-plus years of media hype and pretrial machinations, the charges against Bryant were thrown-out because the alleged victim refused to testify.
Scandal #8 – Marv Albert
Albert is a popular sports broadcaster who had a trademark, “Yes!,” to emphasize a score. In 1997, he was accused of sexual assault and became the subject of media headlines when the extent of his sexual life, including crossdressing, came out during a trial. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery for biting a former lover 18 during a rendezvous-gone-wrong. He was forced from lucrative deals with NBC and MSG Network, but was ultimately rehabilitated.
Scandal #7 – Mark Chmura
In April 2000, Chmura, a tight end for the Green Bay Packers, was arrested for sexual assault and child enticement. His child’s former babysitter claimed he raped her in the bathroom at an after-prom party. After a bruising trial, covered on Court TV with tireless commitment to recount every sordid detail so as to uplift the viewing audience, he was acquitted.
Scandal #6 — Richard Seigler
Seigler, a former Pittsburgh Steeler and San Francisco 49er linebacker, was busted as a pimp. In 2007, Seigler hooked up with his cousin, Billy Cooks, who incriminated him in a Las Vegas call girls ring. Apparently, Siegler placed an ad on his local Craigslist soliciting the services of two girls, who subsequently came to his Las Vegas hotel room. He also advertises their services as “all natural sexy girls” and the police busted them.
Scandal #5 — Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich
In 1973, two New York Yankee lefthanders, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, introduced wife swapping to professional sports and all Americans. They were best friends and lived near each other in New Jersey. In ’72, the two athletes and their wives attended a “swap club” at the home of New York sportswriter Maury Allen. The following spring, they showed up at training and announced that they had swapped wives over the winter. Peterson traded wife, Marilyn, two kids and a poodle to Kekich for Susanne, the two Kekich kids and a Bedlington terrier.
Scandal #4 – Viking Love Boat
In October 2005, seventeen members of the Minnesota Vikings football team, including quarterback Duante Culpepper, Fred Smoot, Bryant McKinnie and Moe Williams, along with some eighty other people, attended an all-day fete on Lake Minnetonka, MN. Apparently, prostitutes from Atlanta and Florida were flown in for the party and some, but not all, of the players performed sexual acts in front of the crew. Smoot and McKinnie pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and each paid a $1,000 fine and agreed to perform 48 hours of community service; Williams was found guilty on one count of disorderly conduct but was cleared on charges of indecent conduct and lewd or lascivious behavior; and charges against Culpepper were dropped.
Scandal #3 — Duke Lacrosse Players
In 2006, Duke lacrosse players held a bachelor party that captured the headlines for months. They apparently hired two African-American women were as exotic to add some spice for what was to be a group of five male buddies and, when the women arrived, turned out to be forty or so drunken, all-white lacrosse team members and their hommies. What happened next remains clouded in confusion, forgetting and falsification. In the end, the Duke players were exonerated of rape charges.
Scandal #2 — Maury Wills
When word got out that Wills, the famed L.A. Dodger base stealer, had an affair with the Hollywood star, Doris Day, one would think the sky had fallen. He was one of the first, post-Jackie Robinson Africa- American integration ball players; she was the queen of virginal white beauty. According to Wills and a Day biographer, the affair took place in the early ‘60s while Day was married. They crossed the color line, the Grand Canyon of sex in America.
Scandal #1 – Jack Johnson
America’s gravest sex scandal involving an athlete ruined the life of Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight-boxing champion. In a celebrated fifteen-round outdoor match in 1910, the black upstart knocked out James the “Boilermaker” Jeffries, the former world champion and “great white hope.” The victory led the newly-formed federal Bureau of Investigation to probe Johnson’s sexual relations with white women, often prostitutes. He was prosecuted under the now long forgotten, but still in force, Mann Act, that makes crossing a state line for sex a crime. Johnson was convicted, fled the country, returned and served a year in the Leavenworth penitentiary. When finally freed, his life was ruined.
Scandal #1A – Sportsmen & Female Entertainers
Over the last century, a second type of scandal has shadowed the sports scene. This involves popular female entertainers and their affairs with male athletes. This phenomenon is exemplified by the affairs of Madonna and Mae West. Madonna’s affairs with Alex Rodriguez and Dennis Rodman mirror West’s affairs of more than a half-century ago; West was notorious for having sex with boxers on the night they fought, among her apparent conquests were heavyweight champions James J. Corbett and Jack Dempsey.
DAVID ROSEN is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009); he can be reached at email@example.com.