Dec 10, 2011
2011 in Review: The Year Sports Imploded
As I go through these posts, though, I want to do something different than just a recap. I am not qualified enough to give a thorough rundown of the importance of events. And I am biased. Things that don't interest me would not be included - even if the rest of the world think they are important. Looking at Yahoo!'s top news stories of the year, they had the Casey Anthony trial and the death of Amy Winehouse. Those may have been notable - but I never would have listed those. I also don't know how many of these I'll do. It's like Christmas - surprises around every turn.
I'm going to start with sports. Again, I don't plan on just recapping who won the different titles. If it isn't my teams (it's never my teams) then I really could care less once the event is over. I had to think for a minute to even remember who the title winners were this year. Instead, I want to look at how sports in general progressed (or regressed . . . mainly regressed) in my view. This year will be forever remembered (by me) as the year the sports world lost its collective mind. It also will be the year that, for the first time, my affection for sports was smaller than my disdain for sports. If I were being polled on if I viewed sports favorably or unfavorably, it is definitely unfavorably. Here are some of the biggest reasons.
NBA LOCKOUT: Personally, I was more irritated by the NFL labor situation than the NBA one. But I am putting them in this order so that I can highlight some points. The NBA lockout was frustrating on many levels. The biggest is no matter how noble some of the points were, the basic concept of millionaires fighting with billionaires over money still is hard for most Americans to stomach. But it didn't affect me that much. I don't usually watch basketball until the All Star break anyway. I'm too busy with football. So the NBA starting late didn't bother me. And the reasons FOR the lockout were somewhat understandable: player salaries are out of control, there needs to be some level of revenue sharing, fans of small teams need some hope. So I could see that and realize something needed to be done. What I hate about these labor situations, though, is that the people who get hurt the most aren't the players or owners. They are the complementary industry people. Living in Orlando, I was made more aware of stuff like this. The city paid a LOT of money to open a new arena for the Magic. There are tons of companies whose existence are completely dependent on the Magic playing. The city itself was counting on the All Star game. It was awarded because of the new arena. And it was constantly threatened. People lost their income; some lost their jobs. And for what? At the end of the day, nothing seemed to change. Immediately after the new agreement was signed, owners started overpaying players, players in small markets started manipulating the new rules to escape to big cities, and the teams took the opportunity to cut staff. The Magic had promised they would not cut positions during the lockout. Immediately after the agreement was reached, the team laid off twenty employees and eliminated twelve seasonal positions that had not been opened yet this year. Good job, guys.
NFL LOCKOUT: Basically, take the offensiveness of the NBA lockout, remove the legitimate concerns. There's the NFL lockout. Where the NBA one at least was somewhat about reconstructing a flawed system, the NFL was purely about money. It was two sets of extremely wealthy individuals fighting over EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS. Bill Simmons likened to Scarface, with the giant pile of coke on the table. Except with this lockout it was a gigantic pile of dollar bills - and there was a gang war over who got the most. Yes, there were some peripheral issues that were addressed. But those could have been dealt with during a conference call or small meeting. The lockout was strictly money. I don't know about you, but that is extremely hard for me to accept. The cities are the ones who built the stadiums, who provide the fans, who create the secondary companies. And they are basically told to shut up and sit on the sidelines while the money is split up. Lots of people have already forgotten the lockout and moved on. I'm not like that. I never really was interested in baseball after their last labor problem. I can still enjoy a game, but I never have been as invested in. I have a feeling this lockout (along with #8) will have a similar effect on me. I rarely check my fantasy lineups. I only watch games when I'm with my in-laws. That's pretty bad for a guy whose favorite sport (by far) is football.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL SCANDALS: It seems like scandals have ben a part of college sports for as long as I can remember. I very clearly recall SMU getting the "death penalty" in football back in the 1980s. I remember when Florida won the SEC and couldn't take the title. But this past year seems like it was one of the worst I can remember - not even including #4. Ohio State sent Jim Tressel packing due to coverups. USC can't play in a bowl game from numerous issues. Miami penalized themselves to try to avoid bigger sanctions. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was surrounded with controversy as he won the national title. The national title game was jokingly referred to as the battle for which team would earn the right to forfeit the title in five years. Even my beloved UCF was caught up in recruiting violations all over the place. Throw in the inappropriate behavior by the Fiesta Bowl officials and the questionable movements by lying head coaches and you have a for a very rotten system. Of course, that all pales in comparison to the next point.
PENN STATE and SYRACUSE SCANDALS: I wrote about the Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal when it first surfaced. And it just seems to get worse. That is coupled by the accusations that emerged about the Syracuse men's basketball program. Both schools have many similarities - a small city that is completely wrapped up with the university in question, a long time head coach who seems to transcend other authorities in the area, a long time assistant coach who has almost as much power as the head coach and is shielded by the head coach. Both are heinous. Due to the scope and detail of the Penn State case, it is worse. It seems like just the tip of the iceberg has been discovered, too. What happened to that D.A. who was investigating and disappeared? How in the world can Sandusky be so adamant about his innocence? How many more kids will come forward? These were two of the "good programs" in college sports. They didn't deal with the scandals and the negative garbage - or so it seemed. Instead they were hiding horrific secrets.
NBA PLAYER MOVEMENT: One of the biggest stories of last year was LeBron James stringing along the people of Cleveland (and New York) before bolting to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a "super team." One of the biggest stories of this year was James choking the Finals as the Heat lost to the Mavericks for the NBA title. At least, that is the story to average people. To NBA stars, it showed that James' plan to bolt and partner with his buddies instead of making a career in one city worked. Remember, this was the FIRST YEAR in Miami. They didn't even figure out how to make all those egos work until half way through the year. They will probably run roughshod over the league this year, now that they have had time to work together. It was like the floodgates opened. Now, big shot players started to force their owners' hands to allow them to leave for bigger markets. Carmelo Anthony held Denver hostage until they sent him to New York to partner with Amare Stoudemire. Deron Williams did the same thing in Utah, ending up in New Jersey. So, one of the big sticking points in the NBA lockout was finding a way to keep these big name players tied to their teams - even if it was in a small market. So, what happened? The agents had figured out a way to circumvent the process before it was even started. A player could sign for far more money with their current team than any other in free agency. So, instead of playing out their contract, now these players are forcing trades a year early so they can resign with their dream team. It is dirty pool. Chris Paul did it the Hornets. Then David Stern went completely bananas and voided the trade with NO GOOD CAUSE. It was perfectly legal. Stern was just ticked that the players were able to go around the rules so fast. Now Dwight Howard is about to do it Orlando. These guys all want to team up and, in effect, create a handful of "super teams." You'll have superstar jammed teams in Boston, Miami, Chicago, L.A., New York (which includes the Nets now). Then the other teams will basically be the farm system to the big teams. It is going to turn into baseball. The small teams draft and develop talent, get a few years out of those players, and watch them leave to win titles. As a Magic fan, I detest this. I know all the fans of big teams love it. Yet another reason to not care a whit about basketball.
MLB PLAYER MOVEMENT: For years, I have hated how the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Phillies poach big name free agents from the smaller teams. I have learned to really like the Tampa Bay Rays. They play in a division with the two richest, most loaded teams in the sport. Yet, they still make the playoffs on a regular basis. They have a payroll that is a third as big as the Red Sox, but they eliminated Boston from the playoffs last year. The problem is, they can't keep up. The Rays had an amazing team a few years back - one that easily could have won a World Series if it had five years to play together. But they got one shot. Then they got poached. The thing is, those players that flee for bigger paychecks seem to be disappointing more often than not. Take Carl Crawford. On Tampa he was the big dog - making all the right plays. He was a legend. In Boston, he's getting booed. He's just another overpaid player who isn't reaching the impossible to reach expectations. It is the perpetual question for these superstar athletes. If they stay with their original team, they will become legendary. But they will probably leave money on the table and may only win one title (or they may never win one). If they leave, they COULD become one of the biggest stars ever. Chances are they won't, but they will at least be rich. Look at A-Rod. If he had stayed in Seattle his whole career, he would have been seen as the greatest of all time. He probably would have one ring at the end. Now, though, he is seen as the flagship example of the overpaid athlete. He's widely mocked and ridiculed. He still could be the greatest of all time, but no one likes him. And he still has just one ring. My hope had been that things would be different with Albert Pujols. He was so synonymous with the Cardinals. He is such a nice guy and good model. I hoped he would be willing to buck the trend. Instead, he listened to his horrible jerk agent (seriously, go read about that guy) and signed with the Angels. Now he's just another big name on a big team. Another owner trying to outspend the rest for a title. Pujols will be richer. But he'll never be as loved or legendary as if he had stayed.
COLLEGE CONFERENCE INSANITY: Boise State is in the Big East. That is all you really need to know to understand just how stupid this whole conference realignment process has been. It was a mad scramble to consolidate power. No one wanted to be left out of the big money. And, like with the lockouts, no one wanted to share. The big teams don't want to see other teams develop and enter their ranks. They want to keep the other teams down. If big schools had their way, they would pare down their own conferences and just have a mega conference with only the elite schools. Instead, we had a massive reshuffling of the deck. Syracuse and Pitt are in the ACC? Nebraska is in the Big 10? Colorado is in the Pac 12? Rivalries, histories, allegiances. All of those went out the window. All that mattered was getting a piece of the pie. Texas and Texas A&M aren't in the same conference any more. Neither are Nebraska and Colorado. Then the Big East, the weakest and most vulnerable of the BCS conferences, had to find some way to survive. So they pulled in two Texas teams, one California team, probably one Colorado team, and Boise State. It was all about getting Boise State. And for the Broncos - the team with the best record in the nation over the last five years - they got tired of watching the big paydays from their dorm rooms. So they needed a seat. As a UCF fan, I'm not going to lie and say I'm not excited to be in the Big East. I will now get to see a real rivalry with USF develop. I will be able to watch some of the best college basketball teams in my own backyard. And I'll have the chance to watch the incredible Boise State Broncos play my Knights. I just hate the machinations that happened to get things there. And I realize that for those teams left on the outside looking in, their hope to ever play for something significant is basically dead.
FOOTBALL CONCUSSION PROBLEMS: The concussion issue has been bubbling at the surface for a few years now. The studies have been out there. The arguments have been starting. But it seems like in 2011, things accelerated. The NFL had enacted measures last year to try to avoid concussions and help players who had suffered them. But this year we watched as players who obviously had experienced a head trauma go back into the game. We saw multiple retired players die unexpectedly and under suspicious circumstances. We also saw college and (especially) high school players get seriously hurt - or even die - from head injuries. Football has become a sport that is on the verge of improving itself to death. The rules that were enacted decades ago do not take into account how fast and strong modern players have become. The human body is not built to take that much damage. And if we see athletes from the 80s dying due to complications from head injuries, how much worse is it going to be with modern players? (The same thing goes for professional wrestling. How many wrestlers have to die in their 40s or start to act completely irrationally before we realize there is a serious problem?) I have not been able to enjoy football anywhere near as much since I started reading about concussions. And with every story like Dave Duerson's, I get detached a little bit more.
There were some great sports moments. But it seemed like this year had more than its share of negative ones: Dan Whedon dying in a wreck and the Oklahoma State coaches dying in a plane crash, the idiotic riots in Vancouver when they lost the Stanley Cup, the attack by Dodger fans on the Giants fan. It used to be that sports was an escape from the ugliness of the news. Instead, it has become just another source of disappointment and stuff I don't want my kids to hear or see. And I am less and less interested in it. I think there is a larger divide between sports and the common person. I can't relate. I don't understand why it is necessary to squeeze every dollar out of a contract. Isn't $220 million enough? Why does it have to be $250 million? I don't see how it benefits colleges to screw over other colleges. I can't understand how you can turn a blind eye to children being abused or players knowingly getting seriously hurt or your own employees suffering. There are certain qualities I find important in my own life. And I find that those are less and less represented in the world of sports. I know there are people out there who will cry, "You are so old fashioned! You can't impose your values on other people! Wouldn't you take a higher paying job if you could?!?" I am old fashioned. I miss being able to cheer for a player and know they will spend their career with one team. I believe in loyalty. I have taken less money (or no money) to work at a place I believed in. More than anything, I guess my love affair with sports has ended because we just grew apart - like Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries did. Sports and I don't want the same things. We have irreconcilable differences. It has been this way for a while. I suppose this year was the one where I couldn't take it any more. Sports just went too far. It wasn't one moment; it was a lot of moments. That's what I'll remember about 2011 when I think of sports. It was the year it went nuts.