Sports Conspiracy Theories – Vol. 2

Eric Urbanowicz
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For every great or tragic moment in world history, there’s someone behind a computer posting that it was faked or there was something else going on. As we saw last year, sports is no different. We took a look at some sports conspiracy theories last year, so now may be a good time to look at a few more. Get your tin foil hat, climb into your doomsday bunker and get ready, because he we go.


Curt Schilling’s Bloody Sock

The 2004 MLB season was probably one of the most memorable in not only New England sports history, but ultimately sports history altogether. The Boston Red Sox magical playoff run started with a sweep of the Anaheim Angels, nearly concluding with a sweep at the hands of their rivals, the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Boston would shock the world by winning four straight games, coming back from a 3-0 series lead to win the pennant, and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918.

One story that was circulating during that period started in the American League Divisional Series when pitcher Curt Schilling sustained a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle. While he pitched in game one, he didn’t do well or last long, being pulled in the fourth-inning after surrendering six runs. By game six, Schilling had not only a week’s rest but he underwent a procedure in which is right ankle was sutured.

Schilling would go on to pitch seven innings at Yankee Stadium in route to a win. Nobody talks about how well pitched, it’s always comes back to his sock, which as the innings past, got redder and redder from the blood coming from his ankle. Even leading this game to be dubbed, “The Bloody Sock Game.”

Over the years, people have theorized that the blood in Schilling’s sock wasn’t legitimate, believing it was done to just add another story to the team’s run. Some say it was really ketchup, others say paint and even some speculate it’s red wine. Whatever floats their boat, it’s at least fun to talk about.


The Sin City Fix Is In

In 1990, the University of Nevada Las Vegas defeated the Duke Blue Devils, 103-73 to win the National Championship in men’s college basketball. With players like then future first overall pick Larry Johnson, as well as future first-round picks Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, they seemed primed to repeat. They were well on their way until they reached the Final Four where they bumped into a blast from the past, Duke.

Heading into their semi-final match up, UNLV hadn’t lost all year and were on a 45-game winning streak dating back to the previous season. Ultimately Duke would end the streak and advance to the championship game.

So where’s the controversy then? Well there’s a portion of college basketball fans who believe that UNLV threw the game. With most of the championship winning roster from the year returning, as well as their winning streak, they feel that the only way Duke would have won the rematch was if the Running Rebels lost on purpose.

It also doesn’t help that a picture surfaced at one point in time of multiple players from the program in a hot tub with Richie Perry. For those unaware, Richie Perry was a man who was convicted for rigging horse races in 1974 and had been involved in a point shaving scandal with Boston College in 1984, earning him the name “The Fixer.” The picture was so bad, if forced UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian’s resignation from the program.

While it’s never been proven that the game was fixed, the theory is one that continues on.


Michael Jordan’s “Suspension”

At this point, it’s fairly common knowledge that Michael Jordan retired from basketball in 1993 to focus on a baseball career. It’s also fairly common knowledge that he returned to basketball in 1995 and played four more seasons before retiring a second time in 1998 (and playing two more seasons from 2001-2003 with the Washington Wizards).

However, it’s the one year of baseball that does capture fans attention. The story goes (at least according to Jordan) that he was preparing for retirement as early as the summer of 1992, due to exhaustion from the Olympics and regular season play, but made the decision to leave basketball for baseball following the murder of his father, James Jordan. Chicago Bulls’ owner (as well as Chicago White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf would honor his contract regardless, meaning that if Jordan were to return, he wouldn’t have to go through any negotiations.

Some theorize that his retirement wasn’t really about his father’s death, but it still played a part in it. To them, it’s believed that Jordan didn’t really retire but was suspended for a season because of gambling. Those who believe in this conspiracy say that Jordan had a large gambling debt that lead to mobsters killing his dad, and that lead to the league suspending him, using the “dad’s wish to play baseball” as a coverup.

Jordan was a well known bettor in basketball, so it is possible. Despite being debunked by Jordan himself, people use quotes from his retirement press conference to keep this theory alive.


The King’s 200th Win

When you talk about the greatest drivers in NASCAR, there are three names that usually pop up immediately: Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty. Nicknamed “The King,” Petty is the winningest driver in the history of the sport (200 wins) and is tied with the two drivers mentioned previously for the championships (seven total). With that said, being the best doesn’t provide immunity from conspiracy theories.

In 1984, Petty won the Firework 400 at Daytona International Speedway. This race was significant for several reasons, including the win being his 200th career win and what would be the final win of his career (he would retire eight years later). It would also be the first ever race attended by a sitting President, as Ronald Reagan was in attendance. It’s also said that before the race, Reagan joined the drivers for a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pepsi picnic where country singer Tammy Wynette sang “Stand By Your Man” arm-in-arm with the President (no seriously, we didn’t make this up).

The race results are often muddied though by those who believe the race was fixed. Citing Cale Yarborough going to his pit late in the race, theorist think the race organizers wanted Petty to win his 200th career race there in order to receive good publicity. It’s also believed that NASCAR wanted the drivers that finished in first and second to be full time drivers, something Yarborough was not (Harry Gant ultimately finished in second).

In a moment that felt like the planets had aligned, some feel that the end results were too good to be true. Maybe they were but there was already plenty of controversy before the race between Curb Motorsports (the team Petty was on) and DiGard Racing (the people who built his engine). The less said about that, the better, as it’s already been resolved and debunked.


“The Trade”

There is no player more synonymous with the sport of hockey than “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky. Undisputedly, Gretzky is considered the greatest hockey player of all-time, even to the point that his number 99 is retired throughout the league, an honor shared by two other people: Jackie Robinson in the MLB (42) and Bill Russell in the NBA (6). However, not even “The Great One” could escape conspiracy theories.

In 1988, Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings after nine seasons. He would go on to play eight seasons in Los Angeles before stints in St. Louis and New York (Rangers). At the time, the trade shocked the hockey world who thought Gretzky would retire an Oiler.

Of course, fans see it a different way. It’s widely thought that the NHL forced the trade in an attempt to jumpstart interest in hockey in the United States. While hockey had a sport in the US, even having some popularity with teams like the 1980 Men’s Olympic team, it never really took off the way they hoped. Add into it that Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, was an actress and would benefit as well with a move to Los Angeles and the theory gets juicer.

While this theory is still present amongst Canadians, it’s interesting to think that someone would force this trade. It would be the equivalent of Alexander Ovechkin being forced to be trade to the Arizona Coyotes to jumpstart interest in the area.

Eric Urbanowicz


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