6 Biggest Controversies in NFL History

October 13, 2015

The magnitude of football craze in the United States is incredible. Millions of passionate fans tune in or drive down to the stadiums each year to watch the games live. The NFL has the highest average league attendance record compared to all other major sports leagues in the country. NFL’s showpiece event, the Super Bowl is the second most watched annual sports event in the world.

But just like, it happens with almost every sport in the world, the fame, the urge to win and the need for higher profits adds pressure on teams to win at all costs. Sometimes the strain gets to the players, the coaches, the officials and even the organizers. This inevitably leads to some bizarre and unbelievable incidents. Here is our pick of 6 such controversial incidents in NFL history that rocked the league.


1. The 1921 championship


The points tally for the 1921 season showed that, by the end of November, the Buffalo All-Americans had captured the first place with a  9-0-2 record. The Chicago Staleys, later renamed the Chicago Bears, came in second having only lost once during the entire season. That solitary loss came against the All-Americans. At the time, league winners were decided on the basis of the team’s record throughout the season and the team with the best record was awarded the trophy which in this case was the All-Americans.

However, the controversy started when Chicago challenged Buffalo to a match in December. The All-Americans, thinking that this was an exhibition match and that they had already won the league, accepted the challenge. They lost the match 10-7 which gave Chicago the chance to schedule two more matches with teams lower down the standings.

Chicago won one match while the other was a draw and finished the season with a better record than the All-Americans. Despite the All-Americans’s insistence that their match with Chicago had just been an exhibition match and not an official one, the Staleys were declared champions. To this day the decision is viewed with contention and Frank McNeil, Buffalo’s owner, and their supporters spent years afterwards trying to get the federation to overturn their decision.


2. Kenny Washington


The formative years of football were hard for African-Americans as they were kept from playing professionally. George Preston Marshall entered the football league in 1931. He used his position, as the owner and president of the Washington Redskins, to put a ban on African-American players in 1933. He and the rest of the team’s owners agreed on an unwritten agreement to uphold this rule and only play the whites in their teams.

Kenny Washington one of the best college football players in history, surfaced in 1939 as a promising young player garnering a lot of media and fan support at UCLA. A few teams showed interest in signing him but due to Marshall’s influence, nothing materialized. With the World War coming to an end, finding mentally and physically fit football players was hard, even then Washington did not get the break he deserved until 1946.

As the Cleveland Rams relocated to the Los Angeles Coliseum LA, the commissioner of the coliseum inserted a clause in the Rams contract which stipulated that they would be required to have at least one African American in their ranks otherwise they would not get the stadium. The Rams agreed to the deal and to the great dismay of Marshall and his fellow contemporaries, Washington became the first African-American to sign a professional NFL contract and pave the way for other African-Americans to do the same. Marshall adamantly refused to add African-Americans to his roster till 1962 when he was finally ordered to do so by the Attorney General of the United States.


3. Minnesota Vikings boat party


On October 6th, 2005, two houseboats were rented for a party on the Lake Minnetonka. On these boats were seventeen players from the Minnesota Vikings, their friends and prostitutes who had flown in from Florida and Atlanta. The boat crew consisted of around 90 people. According to the testimony of the crew members and the people working on the docks, the players openly partook in indecent sexual and lewd acts and were also drinking excessively. Police was notified when a few players were caught by the homeowner, urinating in the front yard of a house. The players involved were heavily intoxicated.

In the aftermath of the incident Viking’s players Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, Fred Smoot and Moe Williams were charged with three counts of indecent conduct, disorderly conduct and lewd or lascivious conduct. The NFL, the Vikings and the state fined them upwards of $1000 to $80,000 and community service was required as well. The incident highlighted the excessive lifestyle of football players and shed a negative light on NFL and football while also embarrassing millions of Viking and football fans around the world.


4. Michael Vick dog fighting ring


This is perhaps one of the more bizarre controversies to happen in the NFL. In April of 2007 a search of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s house revealed that he had set up a dog fighting ring at his 15 acre mansion in Virginia. The police recovered over fifty different breeds of dogs that were made to fight with each other while people could bet on the winners. The health of the dogs varied as some were found injured and nursing wounds while others were underfed and scrawny. Vick had started the dog fighting ring with the help of three friends and they considered it a business, even giving it a name the “Bad Newz Kennels”.

Special outhouses and training facilities had been constructed near the house to train dogs and to keep them relatively hidden from view. The animals were also tested in fights and then shot, electrocuted, or hung if they did not perform up to the required standards. Vick’s three friends confessed that almost all the funding had come from him and that he had been the brain behind the operation, something that Vick finally accepted when he pleaded guilty in August 2007. Michael Vick was sentenced for 23 months in prison and also received three years’ supervised probation during which he was not allowed to buy, sell or own dogs. He was also fined $5,000 as well as ordered to pay $928,073 as restitution for the dogs.

At the time he was caught, Michael Vick was the face of the Falcon’s franchise and was the highest paid player in the NFL with a contract worth over $130 million. His indictment caused the NFL to suspend him indefinitely without pay for violating their player conduct policy. He also received a letter from the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stating that the quarterback had admitted to conduct that was “not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible.” The Falcons made Vick reimburse them the signing bonus he had received and Vick agreed to pay back more than half which amounted to $19.97 million.


5. Spygate


The New England Patriots were having perhaps the best time in their history when they won the Super Bowl thrice within five years in 2001, 2003 and 2004. They also reached the final four times in seven years. The Pats finished the 2007 regular season unbeaten in sixteen games and ended the entire campaign with eighteen wins and one loss, which came in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

On September 9th, 2007, in a game between the Patriots and the New York Jets, members of the Jets entourage noticed something during the match and reported it to the NFL management which set off a series of incidents now referred to as Spygate. The Patriots, especially their highly successful coach Bill Belichick, were accused of videotaping the hand gestures and calls made by the Jets’ defensive coach. This was a clear violation of the NFL rules and guidelines and it was the first time it had been done by any team.

The investigations proved that the allegations were correct and Belichick was forced to come out and accept what he had had done. He also admitted to using video tape equipment since 2000 putting the Patriot’s Super Bowl victories in contention and diminishing their achievements. Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL, the highest fine they have issued in their entire history, The Patriots were also fined $250,000.


6. Bountygate


A bounty in football is basically a bonus given to the players after they achieve something or play exceptionally well. The practice of bonuses, however, is not allowed in the NFL as they argue that it undermines the beauty of the sport as well as give teams a way to circumvent the salary cap. Even though it is not allowed, many footballers have, over the years, confirmed that the bonus schemes have existed for a long time with players being offered numerous incentives depending on their performances on the football ground.

In 2009, in a game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, many people, including the players, coaches and assistants from the Viking’s camp, observed the special treatment dished out to their quarterback Brett Favre by the Saint’s defensive line. Many times during the match it looked as though the Saints were deliberately trying to hurt Favre, even knocking him out of the game for a little while. Several players and members of the Viking’s staff complained about the harsh tackles and the NFL authorities were forced to take action.

It took two whole years before the truth finally came out in 2012. It was revealed by the NFL that a bounty program did in fact exist and had been initiated by the Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Around 25 members of the squad had been part of the scheme which involved one central pot of money contributed by all the players and the people who completed their specific tasks would get it all at the end of the game. The bonuses would depend on your tasks. For example, if you injured a player and he had to be stretchered off the pitch, you would get around $1000. On the other hand if you injured a player so bad that he was unable to come back into the game, you would win around $1500. The investigations revealed how the Saints had targeted not only Favre but a host of other players between 2009 and 2012.

The NFL had always been against bonus schemes and with this one being especially extreme,  the league’s management decided to make an example out of the Saints. Sean Payton, the Saint’s Head Coach was suspended for the entire 2012 season, which was the first time a head coach had been suspended in NFL history. Their General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games while the Saint’s Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of the season.

Williams was suspended indefinitely from the sport and the Saints were fined $500,000 as well as ordered to forfeit their second-round draft selections for the next two years by the NFL. On May 2, 2012, four of the Saints players were suspended after being identified as leaders of the scheme, with linebacker Jonathan Vilma especially being targeted as he was suspended for the entire season. It was officially the longest suspension dished out to a player for an on-field incident in the history of the NFL.

So this is our list of the 6 most controversial incidents in NFL history. Now let’s see what you have got to say about this.

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