Conspiracy Theories in Professional Sports
Was Babe Ruth Pointing to Aliens?
Did we land on the moon? Are there aliens in Area 51? Although there are definitive answers to each of those, that’s not always the case when it comes to conspiracy theories in professional sports. All four major sports leagues have been plagued with conspiracy theories with answers to some being obvious, and others not quite so easy to decipher fact from fiction.
In the NFL, there are questions of whether the entire league is in the fix, with the website 'The Fix is In' by Brian Tuohy leading the charge. Touhy suggests that every week there are games that are controlled by individuals outside of the game. If what Touhy espouses is true, the NFL has little difference from WWE matches. Also, there’s a couple of conspiracy theories that claim the NFL hides both concussions, and performance enhancing drug test results.
There are at least four Super Bowl related conspiracy theories starting with Super Bowl XXXXVIIII between the New England Patriots, and the Seattle Seahawks. This unlikely theory rides on Russell Wilson’s interception late in the game. It claims that instead of passing the ball on the one-yard line, Marshawn Lynch should have run the ball, but because Lynch is not a “media darling,” and the powers that be elected to give Wilson the attempt at MVP glory, he failed.
The next Super bowl theory is the night that the lights went out in Louisiana (or more precisely, the Superdome, during Super Bowl XLVII, otherwise known as the Harbaugh Bowl. With the Baltimore Ravens leading 28-6, the power went out at the Superdome, and suspended play for about a half hour. Although the comeback failed, the break gave the San Francisco 49ers a momentum shift that brought them back within three to a score of 34-31 with the Ravens winning. The reasoning for this highly unlikely conspiracy is that fans were getting bored with the blow out, and would soon change the channel en masse.
The third Super Bowl conspiracy theory involves Super Bowl 50 and Peyton Manning. As the theory goes, the Carolina Panthers looked unbeatable that season, and the outcome of the game was fixed so that Manning, one of the league's most beloved players, could retire as a champion.
The last Super Bowl conspiracy revolves around Super Bowl III. The Jets pulled off the improbable upset against the Baltimore Colts, and afterwards former NFL player Bubba Smith suggested the outcome of the game had been rigged, because the league wanted a New York team to win the high-profile game, and also the league wanted an AFL team to finally win the biggest game of a season after AFL had been dominated in the first two Super Bowls. This one at least seems plausible, especially considering that the AFL was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the victory helped secure a NFL-AFL merger.
The NBA has been dogged by conspiracy theories regarding its lottery, including this year’s draft involving Zion Williams. As this theory goes, the New York Knicks were in line for Williams, but the New Orleans Pelicans won with improbable odds to claim Williams, giving the NBA, and the third biggest television market the chance to build a super team. The lottery conspiracies have bitten the NBA from as far back as their first lottery in 1985, this time involving Commissioner Daniel Stern, and the New York Knicks. As this theory goes, Stern knows the Knicks have to land the No. 1 pick, not only to demonstrate the worth of the NBA Draft lottery, and that anything can happen, but make sure that Patrick Ewing, that year's top pick, could go to the Knicks in the NBA’s premier market for the next decade. From 247.com:
“In 1985, there was no weighted lottery. Each of the seven worst teams in the NBA was given an equal chance to land the No. 1-overall pick, giving each team just a 14.29 percent chance of being able to pick Ewing. Rather than using a standard lottery ball system as it eventually would, the league put large cards into a tumbler, spun it around and Stern would select one to be the top pick.
It’s here where the NBA’s two-prong plan springs into action. Two separate attempts to rig the lottery, one desired result. Over the years, people have argued for each theory, but it’s our belief that both were done simultaneously to hedge Stern’s bet.
First of all, the Knicks’ envelope was refrigerated, making it cool to the touch. This attempted to make the card stand out amongst the rest, making it easier to select. However, this plan was risky. Under stage lights, and with the possibility of time delay, there was a chance the envelope would heat up, rendering the process meaningless.
So, Stern had the help of a secondary source: Jack Wagner, a partner at accounting firm Ernst & Whinney. He placed the envelopes in the drum, and curiously happened to bang one of them on the lip of the vessel—denting the Knicks’ envelope.
Wagner is the real key to all this, because he was the league’s fail safe. If Stern couldn’t select the cold envelope, he’d instead look for a creased corner, knowing this was the Knicks logo.
Need more proof? Ersnt & Whinney were the accounting firm for Gulf and Western Industries. Guess who was a predominant owner of the Knicks in 1985? Gulf and Western Industries, who held an 81 percent stake in The Madison Square Garden Company.
The NHL Conspiracy theories include Wayne Gretzky’s wife, Janet, taking the fall for him concerning a betting ring led by then assistant Coyotes coach, Rick Tocchet. There’s also the 1999 Stanley Cup winning goal with Brett Hull’s feet planted firmly in the blue goalie paint where it was strictly outlawed throughout the season. Other theories include the officials calling games in favor of Canadian teams to Wayne Gretzky’s trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, orchestrated by the league, to raise the popularity of the NHL in southern California.
As long as there are humans filled with emotions who actively engage in the spectating of professional sports, there will be conspiracy theories on why things seem to turn out exactly how they shouldn’t. A few can be solved with logical inspection, but most will live on unexplained. Did astronauts really land on the moon, and if the did, did they bring back aliens, and land on a flat earth?