1999 was a terrible year for sports fans for a lot of reasons. It was the year of predictability, with both the New York Yankees and Denver Broncos repeating as champions in their sports. The en masse retirements of such
peerless icons as Michael Jordan, John Elway, Wayne Gretzky and Steffi Graf marked the low points of a year that was filled with its share of shameful and ignominious moments. Here are the 10 most disgraceful and dishonorable sports stories of 1999.
The Rae Carruth story
Without question, the most deplorable story from the sports world this year is the one still developing in North Carolina. Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth was arrested in the trunk of a car in Charlotte and charged with first-degree murder. The victim was Carruth’s 24-year-old pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams, who died Dec. 14, about four weeks after being shot in the neck, chest and abdomen as she was driving her black BMW through a residential neighborhood last month. Sources close to the investigation say police believe Carruth, a third-year player who has been injured most of this season and was suspended by the Panthers without pay when he was made a suspect, masterminded the shooting of Adams. Police reportedly believe Carruth was riding in an SUV in front of Adams’s car and was in cell phone contact with another vehicle containing three gunmen, who have also been arrested. Adams’s child, a boy, was
delivered 10 weeks prematurely and is in fair condition at an area hospital. It is not known if Carruth is the father.
Catcher in the wry
No catcher since the fictional Crash Davis (from the classic 1988 baseball film “Bull Durham”) has had the audacity to do what minor leaguer Jeff Alfano did this season. Weeks after serving a six-game suspension for trashing the clubhouse buffet table after being criticized by his manager, the Hunstville (AA) Stars player found a more creative method of working out frustrations with another member of his team, pitcher Robert Theodile. In extra innings of a tense late-season game he was catching, Alfano began telling opposing batters what pitches
Theodile was throwing. In the top of the 17th inning, the Stars opponents, the Orlando Rays, put the information to good use, blasting a grand slam off Theodile that won the game and earned them a trip to the playoffs. Alfano, who later admitted his transgression, was suspended for 30 games beginning next season.
Hockey coaches lead by example
The NHL has always had a problem curbing on-ice violence enough to satisfy some purists. But after this season you can’t say the anti-fight club didn’t make their feelings known. Following a September preseason game in which he was disgusted by the violent tactics employed by the Chicago Blackhawks against his team, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee stormed into the Chicago
locker room and began pummeling Blackhawks coach Lorne Molleken. Several Blackhawks players and arena security people jumped in to stop the fracas, but not before McPhee had blackened one of Molleken’s eyes. McPhee himself was bleeding from the face and missing an entire arm of his suit jacket. But at least he’d made his point: Violence has no place in this game.
A runner’s million-dollar strategy
Hoping to generate publicity, the Golden League, Europe’s premiere track circuit, decided to offer a $1 million bonus this year to any athlete who could win all seven meets in their respective event. And after Kenyan Bernard Barmasai was victorious in each of the circuit’s first five 3,000-meter steeplechase races, the gimmick seemed to be paying dividends as the track community, particularly in Europe, buzzed with speculation about Barmasai’s potential record windfall. But the notion was so enticing even to Barmasai that at the sixth meet, on Aug. 11 in Zurich, he convinced countrymen Christopher Koskei, another top steeplechaser, to deliberately lose, thus helping to keep his bid for the jackpot alive — and ultimately embarrassing himself and his sport. “It was not cheating,” Barmasai maintained when Golden League officials learned of the
fix and disqualified him amid a flurry of negative press. “It was tactics.”
The real deal?
In March, 48-year-old Atlantic City, N.J., municipal accounts clerk Eugenia Williams came to Madison Square Garden thinking what fun it would be to judge the heavyweight title fight between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. She never
imagined that scoring the bout in Holyfield’s favor would launch a thousand
investigations and knock the already wobbly sport onto the ropes. After all, Don King, Holyfield’s notorious promoter, was paying her $5,150 for the gig and she was just an anonymous occasional fight judge who’d recently declared bankruptcy. Why would this be any different from, for instance, the lightweight fight she judged last December between Ivan Robinson, a family friend, and Arturo Gatti. (She scored it for Robinson, who won a unanimous decision.) So this time, even though Lewis landed nearly three times as many punches as Holyfield, Williams scored it how she saw fit: 115-113 for “The Real Deal” Holyfield. Conflict of interest? Please. “I was just doing what I was hired to do,” she said.
Olympics bribery scandal
The Olympic movement was rocked by revelations of corruption and vote buying
this year that resulted in the overhaul of the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games organizing committee. But the real degenerate to emerge from the sordid ranks was formerly venerable International Olympic Committee President Juan
Antonio Samaranch, who only recently had been thought of as a potential candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize. Samaranch is actually little more than the spoon-fed ringleader for a group of pampered princes and princesses so bereft of
leadership and ethics that bribing them was practically considered de rigueur for cities that wanted a shot at hosting the Games. That much was made clear from dossiers written by Atlanta’s successful bid committee, which were released in September by a Congressional committee investigating the abuses. The Atlanta group’s
extensive “research” included the following: “Raymond Gafner [U.S. Olympic
Committee representative from Switzerland]: Fan of ice hockey. Perhaps we should
get a stick signed by Wayne Gretzky. Maybe a hockey puck that we would say is
from some famous game (whether that is true or not.) Louis Guirandou-N’Diaye:
Gifts are okay. Gift of female okay.”
Falling off the wagon
After battling well-documented eating disorders and alcoholism for years, golf
great John Daly decided he needed a life change in 1999. After missing the cut
at the St. Jude Open in Memphis, Tenn., in June, he broke 26 months of sobriety by downing a 12-pack of Miller Lite while driving home, saying later, “It’s sad but it’s great to be free.” Callaway, his major sponsor, which had previously paid off
$1.7 million of his gambling debts, terminated Daly’s $3 million contract, which
seemed fine by the new Daly. “I’d rather just be Chris Farley and play some golf,” he said in August, before pulling out of the PGA Championship and heading to Vegas, where he lost a cool half-million bucks. “We only live once,” the 33-year-old Daly said. And hey, Farley almost made it to 34.
The umpires strike back
In July more than 50 of Major League Baseball’s 93 umpires signed letters of
resignation at the behest of their longtime union leader Richie Phillips, who’d
convinced them that the way to guarantee higher wages than their current $200,000 per year average (for working six months of five-hour days) was to threaten mass resignations in mid-season. It proved to be among the worst
strategies in organized labor history; the owners simply accepted the resignations of 22 umps, many of whom scrambled unsuccessfully to rescind their letters. The owners were happy to see them go, and called up a new crop from the
minors to fill their jobs. Any hope of Phillips rehabilitating his reputation as a labor leader was destroyed in September, when it was discovered that a company he owns and runs, Pilot Air Freight, does $375,000 of business per year with
Major League Baseball and that two umpires who did not sign letters of resignation, but who are union members, are on his payroll. In November, after having lost all of their bargaining power and a score of jobs, an overwhelming majority
of the umps voted to decertify their union and form a new one — putting an
embarrassing end to the reign of the only union leader they’ve ever had.
I wanna be like Mike
When Ike “The President” Ibeabuchi knocked out highly touted heavyweight Chris
Byrd in May to become the division’s No. 1 contender, it appeared he had overcome the demons that made him kidnap his ex-girlfriend’s 15-year-old son last year and drive with him at 70 mph into a concrete pillar, severely injuring
the boy. But when he lunched with HBO boxing chief Lou DiBella in New York two
months later to discuss a deal that would make him a heavily promoted star, “the President” broke protocol and began waiving a steak knife at DiBella, demanding millions more per fight than was being discussed. Within a month, Ibeabuchi had been arrested for raping a Las Vegas call girl, flown out of control during his arraignment and allegedly bitten a guard in Las Vegas jail, thus securing the right to star in an upcoming episode of the fight game’s sick and twisted maniac
Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson
For all of the NFL’s overly rigid rules regarding player’s on-field celebratory
antics and gestures, it’s hard to imagine a more blatantly overindulgent pre-game gambol than that of Atlanta Falcons safety Eugene Robinson on the eve of January’s Super Bowl XXXIII. Hours after receiving the Bart Starr Award for
outstanding leadership at home and in the community from the Christian group
Athletes in Action, the pious Pro Bowler went cruising the streets of Miami for
a pre-game blow job. Heck, his wife, Gia, was already asleep back at the hotel
and he still had 21 hours before kickoff of the biggest game of his career. Unfortunately Robinson, heretofore known to his teammates as “The Prophet,” saw
something else coming when the woman he solicited for the $40 job turned out to
be an undercover cop, and Robinson ended up spending the wee hours of Super Bowl Sunday
in the county clink. After serious contemplation, Falcons coach Dan Reeves decided to play Robinson against the Denver Broncos anyway. It’s a decision he and the team may now regret: Robinson, who admitted he didn’t sleep all night, was burned on two big plays, including an 80-yard touchdown pass, and broke his pinkie trying to tackle Terrell Davis in the Falcons 34-19 loss. At least God, he says, has offered him forgiveness.