Sports conspiracy theories

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And now he might miss one. Favre's ankle is suffering from seismic fallapartis -- he has two breaks, and the only question is how severe the breaks are, which just makes me thankful that it's not my ankle. Maybe Favre will play against New England on Sunday and maybe he won't.

But if he doesn't, that will mean one thing:


As you have surely heard, the NFL is investigating Favre for trying to organize an illicit huddle with a former New York Jets employee. And if a quarterback who never misses a game suddenly does miss a game ... well, people will talk. They'll gossip. And they'll wonder if he was suspended, or ducked a suspension.

If you believe that spectator sports exist largely to spark conversation, you have to love a good conspiracy theory, which is not the same thing as believing it. Conspiracy theories have been around sports forever -- in ancient Greece, the first Olympic marathon winner supposedly rode a horse for a few miles.

Actually, I just made that up. But it's a good one, isn't it? I almost believed it myself, and I'm the guy who made it up! So today, let's look at a few of sports' favorite conspiracy theories -- and try to take a detached view of how believable they really are.


Conspiracy TheoryBabe Ruth missed the first few weeks of the 1925 season because of venereal disease.

Why People Believe ItHis actual illness was never released. Teammates implied it was ... um, an acquired malady of the loin region.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Nine. Really, what's not to believe? Ruth's sexual prowess is well-documented, and he did not have the most discriminating taste -- it's safe to say some of his lady friends got around. The fact that this rumor got out at all, in the shielded sports world of 1925, gives it credence. The fact that nobody has ever come up with another ailment makes me believe it. You don't miss two months of a season because of a stomachache.

Conspiracy TheoriesSonny Liston took a dive against Muhammad Ali in 1965, and Mike Tyson took a dive against heavy underdog Buster Douglas in 1990.

Why People Believe ItListon had Mafia ties. Boxing is dirty. Tyson was crazy.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Two, total -- two for Liston, zero for Tyson.

The Tyson rumors actually died down over time. The idea that Tyson thought he was invincible and was headed for an inevitable downfall has grown on us. It was surprising at the time, that's all.

As for Liston: I'm no boxing expert, but knowing what we do now, is it really surprising that Ali beat Liston? He was a better fighter. People just didn't realize it in the mid-60s. Ali had already beaten Liston once, in Miami, and Liston's lifestyle did not lend itself to training. It is quite possible that Liston realized he couldn't beat Ali and quit in the second fight -- and yes, even plausible that he was on the take. But knowing what you know now, the result is not surprising.

Conspiracy TheoryThe NBA fixed the 1985 draft lottery so the Knicks would land Patrick Ewing.

Why People Believe ItIt's the NBA. It was the first-ever lottery. Ewing was considered the best prospect in years, and he was already an East Coast icon from his years at Georgetown. The Knicks had been lousy and the league needed a boost in New York.

Plus, if you go to the youtube clip of the lottery you'll see that when the fourth envelope is placed in the spinning globe thingie (at around the 4:50 mark), it is slammed against the side of the globe thingie, apparently causing a crease in the envelope. This was the SAME ENVELOPE that David Stern pulled out to determine the No. 1 pick! OMG OMG OMG!

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Two. If you watch the video, you'll notice that Stern intentionally looks away as he reaches into the globe thingie, and that he picks an envelope in the middle of the pile. How could he know which envelope was bent? What is he, David Copperfield? Besides, when the globe thingie spins around, the envelopes hit the side at least as hard as that first envelope did when it was thrown in there.

If Stern had known that he'd still be answering questions about this 25 years later, he would have gone the ping-pong ball route and nobody would have suspected anything. Oh, who are we kidding? Of course they would. It's the NBA!

Conspiracy theoryUNLV fixed its 1991 NCAA Final Four game against Duke.

Why People Believe ItUNLV was the defending champion, had not lost all season, and had humiliated Duke in the title game the year before. Also, UNLV was the NCAA's alltime renegade program (by reputation, anyway) and several Rebels were photographed in a hot tub with a man named Richie "The Fixer" Perry. We repeat: Richie "The Fixer" Perry. Not Richie "Play Hard And Try To Win, Fellas" Perry. Richie ... OK, you get it.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

One, and that's only because it was UNLV in 1990, and anything was possible at UNLV in 1990. It was like if you sent Al Capone into a saloon in the Wild West with Ron Artest.

But seriously now: if the Running Rebels wanted to fix a game, why that game? Why not shave a few points when they were favored by 30 in January? Forget the moral question. It was not in their best interest to throw that game, especially since the best players on the team (Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony) were about to turn pro.

Mostly, though, there is this: Duke had more talent than UNLV. Really, it's true. Nobody thought that at the time, because the Rebels had been so dominant and Duke's two best players were white guys. But look: Grant Hill was a better pro than Johnson, Christian Laettner was a much better pro than Augmon, and Bobby Hurley was the No. 7 pick and probably would have been at least as good as Anthony if he hadn't gotten in a car accident.

Conspiracy TheoryMichael Jordan suddenly retired from the Bulls in 1993 to avoid a suspension from the NBA for his gambling.

Why People Believe ItJordan's gambling was a big story in the summer of 1993 -- the first real chinks in his marketing armor. Up to that point, most people thought of Jordan as a combination of Julius Erving and Mahatma Gandhi. There was no good reason for that, and anybody who read Sam Smith's excellent book, The Jordan Rules, knew better. But hey, it was an innocent time.

Then we found out Jordan was a competition junkie who would go to the golf course and bet a stranger $147 million that he could hit his drive in the fairway without breaking his tee. This led to the publication of the book, Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction, by one of Jordan's old golf opponents, who was trying to "help" Jordan deal with his addiction. As we all know, if you want to help somebody with an addiction, you write a book about them. Or something like that.

That summer, Jordan's father, James, was murdered, fueling some ugly rumors about gambling debts and enemies and retribution.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Two. And it's only a two because every conspiracy theory in the NBA is at least a two. James Jordan was killed in a robbery -- there is zero evidence it was tied to his son's gambling. And speaking of his son's gambling: Jordan was a competition addict, not a gambling addict. There is no evidence that he did anything to compromise the competitive integrity of the NBA other than draft Kwame Brown.

Here is the really absurd part: do you really think the NBA would cover up the suspension of its most popular player by kicking him out of the league for a year and a half? What the heck kind of marketing plan is THAT?

Conspiracy TheoryThe NBA fixed the 2002 Western Conference Finals so that Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers would beat the Sacramento Kings.

Why People Believe ItIn Game 6, the Lakers attempted 40 free throws, including 27 in the fourth quarter. The Kings shot 25 for the game. Several calls seemed awful at the time. Since then, point-shaving ref Tim Donaghy has alleged that the NBA advised two of the three referees in the game to tilt Game 6 toward L.A. so the series would go seven games.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

I'll give it a five, and let me explain: I don't believe for a second that David Stern tells his officials to fix games. Never, in a thousand years, would I believe that. It would make Stern a felon, and also a moron -- the NBA has far more to lose than gain by doing that. Stern is way too smart and principled for that.

So: why a five? Well, we're talking about believability here, and a lot of people in the NBA are suspicious of referee assignments. They will never say it publicly, but they complain privately.

Certain zebras have reputations for favoring certain teams, or for being unfairly harsh to certain players. It's not about fixing games or even about boosting television ratings. Sometimes it's just about personalities and styles. So the NBA wouldn't have to tell anybody to do anything unethical. It could just assign a certain ref with the expectation he will help the right team.

I'm not saying this happened. I'm saying that, when coaches, executives and players in your own league believe it could have happened, you get a five on the believability scale.

Conspiracy TheoryWayne Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, took the fall for Gretzky when she was implicated in a gambling ring run by former NHL star Rick Tocchet.

Why People Believe ItMen gamble more than women. Tocchet was an assistant coach for Gretzky at the time of his arrest.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Eight. Tocchet took bets from several NHL players and ran a huge, nationwide gambling ring. Meanwhile, his boss's wife was placing bets. You'd have to be a fool to think Gretzky had no idea any of this was going on. And it's not a big leap to think Gretzky placed his bets through Jones.

But in the big scheme of scandals, this wasn't as bad as it seems. There were no fixed games and no indication that anybody of consequence bet on hockey. So what we have here, at worst, is a hockey coach betting on football. It's easy to believe, but hard to blow up into a big deal. However, it is worth noting that authorities called their investigation "Operation Slap Shot," which is awesome.

Conspiracy TheoryThe Chinese female gymnasts in 2008 were, like, 10 years old.

Why People Believe It

They looked like 10-year-olds.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

A 10. They were, like, 10 years old.

Conspiracy TheoryLeBron James tanked in last year's playoffs because he knew he would ditch Cleveland for Miami.

Why People Believe ItMr. James's credibility has eroded a wee bit in the past few months. Plus, he shot a free throw with his weak hand against Chicago and looked stunningly listless in the Cavs' Game 5 home loss to Boston.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

A five. BUT HOLD ON! We need to explain this one, too.

It's not that LeBron wanted to lose, or tried to lose. In order to lead your team to a championship in any sport, you need to absolutely believe that you are destined to win, with a fervor that borders on irrational. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan expected to win every single year they played, no matter what their roster looked like.

So: by Game 5 of Cavs-Celtics last spring, did James believe it was his destiny to win a championship in Cleveland? I think we can agree that no, he did not. Did that affect his play? It had to affect his play. Did he give up? Maybe not. But did he give in to impending failure? Well ...

Conspiracy TheoryBrett Favre will miss the Vikings' game against the Patriots as a de facto suspension.

Why People Believe ItFavre's streak might be the most impressive in the history of sports. If it ends because he sent obscene photos or left an inappropriate voice mail, that would be like the Roman Empire falling apart because one of the guards was reading a pornographic stone tablet.

Upon Further Review(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

To be determined. But for right now: Zero. Come on, people! Let's think this through. Favre has not missed a game in 18 years. He prides himself on showing up on Sundays, maybe more than anybody else in history. Let's wait to see if he actually misses a game before we wonder why, OK?

And if the NFL wants to suspend him, why not just ... you know, suspend him? The end of Favre's streak would not hurt the league's bottom line a bit. But covering up a suspension would be a huge story if it ever got out. Roger Goodell, like David Stern is not stupid.

Mostly, though, it's not like Favre just thought up this ankle injury yesterday. We knew about it, discussed it, and speculated about it for many months before these allegations surfaced. Whatever else you think of Favre, give him credit for playing this much with that injury. And don't be shocked to see him on the field Sunday.