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It is not a good time to be a sports fan. Penn State lost its college president and legendary football coach Joe Paterno this week in the wake of a former assistant coach's arrest for raping children over the course of decades. In less horrifying news that has nonetheless disrupted the sports world, the entire NBA season is at risk of being canceled.
But while there may never have been a sports story as abhorrent as the goings-on at Penn State, this week's GOOD Books show that the sports industry has long been wracked with scandal. Good ol' American sports seem to always be on the rebound from something, whether steroids, player-on-player violence, or game fixing. If you're like us, reading these books will leave you wondering whether teams, coaches, and players will ever clean up their acts.
Lenny, Lefty, and the Chancellor
By C. Fraser Smith
342 pages. Bancroft Press. $12.95.
The definitive college basketball scandal, the one that changed the game forever, took place on June 19, 1986. That's when Len Bias, an All-American forward at the University of Maryland considered among the greatest college players ever, died after overdosing on cocaine in his dorm room. Just two days earlier, Bias had been selected by the Boston Celtics with the second pick in the NBA draft. C. Fraser Smith's book chronicles the efforts to pick up the pieces of Maryland's shattered basketball program through the eyes of coach Lefty Driesell—who resigned the next fall amid allegations that he had covered up Bias' drug problem and allowed players to skate by with subpar grades—and university chancellor John Slaughter.
Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports
By Mark Fainaru-Wadu and Lance Williams
352 pages. Gotham. $4.99, on Kindle.
Game of Shadows is the endeavor of two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wadu and Lance Williams. The bestseller was published five years after Barry Bonds topped Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record with 73 runs in 2001. After that high, Bonds became the center of a doping scandal, one which quickly grew to implicate many other professional athletes, ended his career, and transformed professional baseball forever. Game of Shadows is the ultimate investigation into the player so many fans hold dear, and an unfortunate reminder that athletic giants sometimes have the help of chemical friends.
The Tonya Tapes
By Lynda Prouse
300 pages. World Audience, Inc. $18.99.
With all the negative attention earned by baseball, basketball, and football, it’s easy to forget those delicate female sports are often wracked with scandal too. The most infamous event in the history of ice skating created a scandal unlike any other: Tonya Harding, on the brink of U.S. Figure Skating Championship glory in 1994, received a boost when her principal rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was clubbed on the knee in a coordinated attack. Harding won the national championship, but Kerrigan recovered quickly and won the silver medal in the Olympics that year. An investigation revealed that Harding had planned the attack with her ex-husband and a friend. In the Tonya Tapes, author Lynda Prouse goes through transcripts of the time and presents a deeper look into Harding's dysfunctional world.
Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series
By Eliot Asinof
336 pages. Holt Paperbacks. $10.88.
The oldest scandal book on our list, Eight Men Out proves that sports scandals are nothing new. In 1919, eight Chicago players coordinated with the nation’s leading gamblers and threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, making huge profits and scarring professional baseball for years to come. Eliot Asinof’s book is more than just a tale of scandal, though—it's also an excellent look at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties.
By Peter Finley, Laura Finley, and Jeffrey J. Fountain
208 pages. Greenwood. $45.00.
With just five books, we can’t nearly cover every scandal in history, so here's the definitive roundup. In Sports Scandals, the authors summarize as many controversies and crimes as will fit between two covers. On the field, the courts, the range, the ice rink, and more, it’s a comprehensive look at an industry that’s always had its share of serious problems.