Most Severe Punishments in Sports History

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There’s an old adage in sports that goes: “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Throughout the history of American professional sports, there have been quite a few players and teams who “tried” too hard and got busted breaking the rules. 

Recently, the Houston Astros were punished for using cameras to see what type of pitch the opposing pitcher was set to throw, then relaying the information to their batters during their 2017 World Series-winning season. The scandal earned full-season suspensions for general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, who were subsequently fired. The team was also fined $5 million and stripped of their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

While these types of heavy punishments are rare, they do happen occasionally. Players have been suspended for dozens of games for cheating, violent conduct, criminal activity off the field, gambling, and more. Franchises and college programs tend to get punished for patterns of institutionalized misbehavior, whether that is cheating or permitting unacceptable behavior. These are the scandals that rocked the sports world

24/7 Wall St. reviewed media reports from a variety of sources, including the Society for American Baseball Research, to determine the most severe punishments in sports history. These punishments were handed out for a litany of reasons, including violent on-field conduct, legal troubles, and gambling violations.

Several of these incidents were so sinister that those involved faced criminal charges in addition to their league punishments. NHL player Marty McSorley was convicted of assault for a vicious incident on the ice, while several other players have been suspended and incarcerated for committing crimes while they were pro athletes. These are the famous athletes who ended up in prison.