We say goodbye to 2012 by recapping the year’s worst moments in sports.
To mark the year’s end, I decided to compile lists of the best and worst moments in sports in 2012. These lists will not include the Olympics, which had more than their fair share of moments both great and not so great. However, those lists have already been compiled. You can find the best moments of the 2012 Summer Olympic games here, and the worst moments here.
The worst-of list will also not include the Jovan Belcher-Kasandra Perkins murder-suicide nor Jerry Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts of child sexual abuse. One can hardly imagine anything worse in the realtively benign realm of sports than these horrific tragedies, but we have covered them at length (see here and here) and I felt that it would be somehow inappropriate to include them in a list of otherwise mundane avarice and stupidity.
In no particular order, then, we’ll start with the worst moments in sport from 2012.
1) Some argue that Neymar, the Brazilian soccer phenom, is a better player even than Lionel Messi, the great Argentinian who will be making an appearance on my best list. Last month, however, it became just a little more difficult to defend that proposition when the young star executed one of the worst penalty kicks in history in an international friendly against Colombia. Fortunately, for both him and his teammates, the stakes were low, unlike, say, David Beckham’s penalty kick during the 2004 Euro Cup.
2) I.K. Kim and Adam Scott make this list together, for, in turn, blowing, one might even say choking up, major golf championships in 2012, the Kraft Nabisco and British Open respectively. Scott bogeyed the last four holes of the Open to forfeit the Claret Jug to Ernie Els, who took it home for the second time in his career. Kim missed a one-foot tap-in putt on the 72nd hole of the Nabisco to fall back into a tie with the eventual winner, Sun Young Yoo, who went on to defeat Kim in a playoff.
3) Another paired entry, First Take host, Skip Bayless, and guest, Rob Parker, make our worst-of list for the ridiculously stupid and offensive speculation they engaged in this year on a show that ranks right up there with Around the Horn for the most obnoxious on television. Earlier this month, Parker speculated on whether Robert Griffin III, the former Heisman Trophy winner who, as a rookie, will be representing the NFC in this year’s Pro Bowl, was black enough. I quote: “My question, which is just a straight honest question: is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?”
Though less offensive, Bayless was no less stupid when, without offering any corroborating evidence, he wondered out loud back in August whether Derek Jeter’s season, which was at that point one of the best in the 38-year old Yankee star’s career, could only be explained by steroids. I wouldn’t expect Bayless to have the historical knowledge needed to recall that Ted Williams hit .388 at age 38.
4) Yet another entry pairs then Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino with his current employer, Western Kentucky University. Petrino was fired by Arkansas back in April after a motorcycle accident led to the revelation that Petrino was having an affair with a woman he had hired in the football office. Despite this, and despite the fact that Petrino walked away from his contract with the Atlanta Falcons mid-season, after signing that contract only six months after signing a 10-year, $25-million contract extension with his previous employer, Lousiville, which had retained him despite the fact that after only his first year as coach there he had secretly interviewed for the job at Auburn University, which had yet to fire its then head coach, Tommy Tuberville, who was also something of a mentor to Petrino, Western Kentucky announced just this month that it would be hiring the itinerant coach.
Loyalty is clearly not among the attributes Petrino possesses and by hiring him Western Kentucky was sending a clear message: winning is the only thing that matters. The development of its athletes as anything other than athletes, as, say, people or students, comes a distant second.
5) David Stern’s announced retirement in February 2014 as the NBA’s Commissioner can’t come soon enough. Yes, he deserves much of the credit for making the league, and by extension the sport of basketball, the international phenomenon it’s become, second only to soccer in world popularity. But, his power now almost unchallenged, he rules like a tyrant, either ignoring clear conflicts of interest, as he did when he stepped in to void the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers from the New Orleans Hornets, which were, at the time of the trade, under league receivership, or colluding with team owners to insure government subsidization of arenas, as he did when he greenlit the Thunder’s move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. (More on that here.)
More recently, though, Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for not playing four players, including their three stars—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili—during a televised game against the Miami Heat, a game, incidentally, the Spurs still almost won. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are all over 30 years old—Duncan 36—and the Spurs were playing their fourth road game in five nights, which prompted coach Gregg Popovich to send his veteran stars home from the trip early and play the game versus the Heat without them. In response to a personnel decision made in the clear best interest of the team, Stern decided he needed to send a message: you will sacrifice your team for the television contract I’ve negotiated with TNT.
But if the Commissioner is going to be monitoring stars’ playing time to make sure that television audiences get what they tuned in for, that’s the edge of an awfully slippery slope. For, if I pay $100 for a ticket to see the Celtics at the Garden, shouldn’t I be assured that Kevin Garnett plays 40 minutes, even if that means he’ll be tired come playoff time. After all, I want my money’s worth. The problem is that to make personnel decisions based not on a team’s best chance to win a championship come June, something the Spurs, due to their age, have struggled to do the last few years, despite sporting the league’s best regular season record, but rather on the perceived entertainment value for the fans is to take another step in the direction of becoming professional wrestling.
6) As a commissioner, however, David Stern’s sins pale in comparison to Roger Goodell’s, whose draconian response to the revelation that the New Orleans Saints had offered bonuses to defensive players who injured opponents was voided under appeal by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. As I’ve written on GMP before, this is not to excuse the Saints. To encourage players to injure their opponents is cowardly. However, Commissioner Goodell’s initial ruling to suspend four Saints, one player for the entire season, was made with little due process and based on what turned out to be rather dubious evidence. As I wrote in my earlier post: “My favorite tidbit, pulled directly from Tagliabue’s ruling, was Commissioner Goodell’s claim that the revelation that the voice on the video tape used as evidence against Anthony Hargrove [one of the players suspended] was not, in fact, the defensive lineman’s voice ‘did not affect the level of discipline imposed on Mr. Hargrove.’” Could you imagine a judge telling a defendant, “Sorry, but the fact that you’re not the person on the tape used to convict you doesn’t mean I’m going to stay your conviction?”
7) Staying in the front office a moment, our next goat of the year is Florida Marlins owner Jeff Loria, who, after negotiating from the good people of Miami-Dade County a new, $624 million, mostly taxpayer-funded stadium, which just opened this past season, proceeded to hold a fire sale of the team’s roster as if he were going out of business. As the Globe and Mail’s headline announcing the 12-player trade that sent about $160 million in salary to Toronto summed up: Blue Jays plunder Marlins.
Now, nothing Loria did is technically wrong, at least it hasn’t been declared wrong yet, though there is an ongoing SEC probe into the financing deal that paid for the new stadium, a deal that will ultimately leave taxpayers on the hook for $2.14 billion over the 40-year lives of the public bonds floated to pay for the construction. In fact, as Jonah Keri pointed out in Grantland, Loria is only doing what the system is rigged for. You can hardly blame him. But, when an owner doesn’t even pretend that winning is important, it might be time to consider measures that would ensure his continued investment in his team, say a losing tax.
8) Unlike Jeff Loria, the National Hockey League’s owners aren’t playing the system for profit. In fact, they keep shooting themselves in the foot. The current lockout, which is something like the flipside of a labor strike in which the owners lock the players out of coming to work until they meet, in this case, the owners’ somewhat ridiculous demands, is the NHL’s third in 20 years. The entire 2004-2005 season was lost to a lockout, during which the players agreed to a salary cap on top of a 24% rollback in then current salaries. Well, that wasn’t good enough. Now, despite increases in league revenues since then of about $1.2 billion, the owners want a provision limiting signing bonuses, the mechanism they were using since the last lockout to get around the salary cap. So it certainly seems that the owners are negotiating with themselves, or perhaps colluding would be a better word, to curb competitive business practices. No wonder the players’ union gave its board the power to dissolve it as a prelude to filing an anti-trust suit.
9) Back to the NFL, where a lockout of a different sort took place at the start of this season, giving Roger Goodell the distinction of being the only person to make this list twice, this time for what, in hindsight, seems like his petty decision to use replacement referrees instead of giving the regular refs what they were looking for. The result was a public relations disaster that culminated in the embarrassing call the replacement refs made on Monday Night Football in week 3, giving the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown and the win on the game’s last play.
10) No one, though, had a tougher 2012 than Lance Armstrong. Stripped of his record seven Tour-de-France victories, stripped of his sponsorships, most notably by Nike, stripped of his honorary degree by Tufts University, pushed out of his cancer fighting non-profit, Livestrong, the cyclist clings now only to his bronze medal, which he earned at the 2000 Olympics. Yes, Armstrong probably did what it seems most other cyclists who have reached his stature have done, but, unlike Jeff Loria, who is playing a legally rigged system, Armstrong was playing a system that’s rigged illicitly, one in which the greatest sin a cyclist can commit is not to cheat, but to get caught cheating.