Last year’s top 10 sports stories
By Noah Cain
Welcome to 2013. Often in 2012, I was reminded why I love sports. I saw great individual and team accomplishments, heard inspiring stories of perseverance and courage, and witnessed unexpected rises to greatness.
However, last year,my attention was also drawn to the dark side of sport: detestable stories of greed, unfairness, and tragedy that had me shaking my head in disbelief.
Following is a list of my top 10 stories from the year gone by. It includes the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the inspiring, and the depressing.
10. Olympic Greatness
Once people stopped complaining about the logo from the 2012 London Olympics, they witnessed two of the best on the world’s biggest stage. American Michael Phelps and Jamaican Usian Bolt broke major records in their respective sports and cemented their place among the greatest Olympians ever.
Phelps dominated the swimming events, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. He won four gold medals and two silver medals in London, bringing his career medal total up to 22 (18golds) and solidifying his place as the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time.
On Twitter,Usian Bolt calls himself “the most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen.” I don’t know about that, but he safely secured the title of fastest man alive after he won gold in both the 100m and 200m races at the 2012 Olympics. He did the same thing in 2008, which is wildly unprecedented: before Bolt, no sprinter had even won back to back gold medals in the 200m race. By winning both races two Olympics’ in a row, Bolt became history’s most dominant sprinter, and his Twitter page shows he knows it.
9. Replacement Referees
During the off season, the NFL and its referees were unable to renegotiate a new contract, which meant unqualified replacements took over the officiating of the world’s most high impact sport.
The officiating bad was so bad that the first month and a bit of the NFL season was as close to being ruined as the NFL ever could be. Coaches were consistently screaming at the replacements from the sidelines, whom had little to no control of games and blew calls consistently.
The controversy came to a head on the final play of a Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game. Down 12-7 with one play left in the game, the Seahawks tossed a prayer to the endzone. The pass was intercepted by Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings which should have resulted in a touch back and a Packers victory. However, Seahawks receiver Golden Tate wrestled the ball from Jennings in the endzone and it was mistakenly ruled a touchdown, directly resulting in an unjust, plain wrong Seahawks victory.
The regular referees were back to work before the next week’s Thursday night game and order was restored to the NFL, but not before the league managed to anger its entire fan base and embarrass itself.
When sports stories are consistently garnering mainstream news attention you know it’s a big deal. As players have gotten bigger, stronger and faster, and medical practitioners have become better at understanding and diagnosing them, concussions are one of the biggest water-cooler topics in sports.Concussions are becoming a hot topic for parents as well, who question whether the risk inherent in physical sports is worth the risk.
Early in the year it looked like hockey’s biggest star, Sydney Crosby, who was suffering from more than one head injury, might never be the same. Chris Pronger, a notoriously tough player, missed the playoffs due to a concussion, and countless other players missed time with head injuries in both the NFL and NHL.
Life sounds just terrible for people with serious concussions. Unable to handle the stimulation of being out in public or even watching TV and reading, they are sometimes left to lie in darkened rooms as they recover.So far, the only cure is time.
In attempts to make their leagues safer, governing bodies are tightening the rules surrounding contact to the head. Time will tell if the crackdown works and how it will change the nature of the sports themselves.
7.The New Orleans Saints Bounty Program
This spring, the heralded and heroic New Orleans Saints football team, which became a symbol of hope for post-Katrina New Orleans, was embroiled in controversy after reports came out that players were given cash incentives for injuring opposing stars.
The program was started in 2009 by defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams. Turns out, Head Coach Sean Payton also knew about the program and did nothing to stop it.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came down with a swift and iron fist of punishment. Williams was suspended indefinitely, and Payton for the whole season losing $7 million in salary.
Numerous Saints players were also found to have been involved in the controversy, many of whom were suspended by the league. These players maintained their innocence until former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was called to investigate the incident. Tagliabue went on to criticise Goodell and the NFL in their handling of the situation and he lifted player suspensions.
6. NFL Rookies
It was the year of the rookie in the NFL. The two garnering the most attention were Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, who went first and second in the draft, respectively. But this rookie class is not just a couple of superstars − there are many elite players and a lot of depth.
This season, there are four teams with rookies for starting quarterbacks in the playoffs, which is super rare. Two of those four (Griffin, Wilson) had at least a 100.0 passer rating, and Andrew Luck led the league with 7 game winning drives. The remaining, Colin Kapernick, led his team to a first round bye − quite a feat.
Running-backs Alfred Morris and Doug Martin are also among the best at their position, despite their youth. Both finished top 5 for rushing, and Morris set a franchise record while Martin rushed for the second most in franchise history.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina rookie Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles.
5. NFL Tragedies
It’s been an especially hard year for the NFL. League legend and highly respected retired linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide in his home in May at the age of 43.
More recently, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and then himself in front of team personnel.
A few weeks later, Jerry Brown Jr. died in a car accident caused by his teammate Josh Brent who was drunk at the time.
There are tragedies every year in sports, although 2012’s seem more violent than any others I can remember.
4. Lance Armstrong
For years, Lance Armstrong has been seen as the one beacon of fairness in a generation of cycling cheaters. He was all natural, proof that the sport wasn’t wholly corrupt. That all came to an end when he was found guilty of doping during his time on top of the Tour de France. Armstrong was subsequently stripped of his seven titles.
Worse than having his name stricken from the record books, Armstrong’s hugely successful cancer charity Livestrong has been suffering since the news was announced. He also lost his place as one of America’s most inspiring and well-liked athletes. The man who fought cancer, won, and then dominated his sport is now the man who cheated and lied about it for years.
3. Lionel Messi: Better than Everybody Else
Lionel Messi is the best soccer player in the world. In 2012, Messi broke the record for most goals scored by a player in a calendar year (league and international play included). He scored an astounding 91 goals in just 69 games, a rate that is almost unheard of in soccer.
Messi’s great success has garnered a deserved while entirely unnecessary pay raise. If Messi can lead Argentina to a World Cup victory in 2014, he will be remembered not only as the greatest soccer player of his generation, but as the greatest soccer player of all time.
2. NHL Lockout
The NHL hasn’t played any games yet this season and it looks like they never will. The owners and players are deadlocked posturing for position in what is one of the most annoying pissing matches I have ever been witness to.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand the business behind the lockout. So far I’ve gathered that the players want more than owners are willing to give and neither side is willing to budge. Feelings have been hurt and egos have been bruised and subsequently bolstered.
It sucks being a hockey fan right now. The Winter Classic was supposed to be on New Year’s Day and the trade deadline ought to be just around the corner. Follow that with the playoff race and then, the greatest struggle in sports: The Stanley Cup playoffs. I better stop now before I start crying.
The formerly famed and lauded Penn State football program now lives in infamy after it came out that former defensive co-ordinator Jerry Sandusky was using team facilities for the sexual abuse of children. Making matters worse, others in Penn State Football, including legendary coach Joe Paterno, knew about the abuse and failed to report it to authorities.
Sandusky will die in prison and Penn State was hit with some of the harshest punishment ever doled out by the NCAA. Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in NCAA history: they havestricken his name from the books.
This story illuminates the power sports wields − a power that is sometimes corrupted leading to massive moral failure, and thus a power that needs to be safeguarded.