A Look Back: A Few Bright Spots in a Dark Year
The St. Louis Cardinals came from behind twice to win the thrilling sixth game of the World Series and go on to take the championship. The Green Bay Packers and their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, won Super Bowl XLV to let us finally put Brett Favre behind us, and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship to end the braggadocio of the Miami Heat and LeBron. ames.
Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit as a New York Yankee quite emphatically by slamming a home run.
Mike Krzyzewski of Duke set the record of 903 victories as a major college men’s basketball coach and keeps adding to it. A Serbian, Novak Djokovic, became the world’s No. 1 tennis player by winning three of the year’s four major tournaments, and Keegan Bradley, a 25-year-old Vermont native, won the PGA Championship to end a record string of six consecutive victories in the major golf championships by non-Americans.
Yani Tseng, a 22-year-old Taiwanese, continued to dominate women’s golf, ranking No. 1 in the world as she won two majors this year, the LPGA Championship and the Women’s British Open. Luke Donald, an Englishman without a major triumph, remained No. 1 in the men’s world of golf as he became the first golfer ever to be the leading money winner on both the European and American tours.
In a major surprise, Texas A & M beat Notre Dame, 76-70, to win the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship as the usual powers in the game such as Baylor, Stanford and Connecticut faltered.
Those were just some of the memorable happenings we would like to believe were indicative of another grand year in the good old world of sports.
Unfortunately, the year’s moments of glory that usually shine so brightly in our memory banks were smothered under a deluge of misconduct. These dark moments ranged from charges of heinous criminal acts of sexual misconduct that brought down highly regarded men and institutions to rules violations that tarnished National Championships and labor disputes that hurt everyone involved.
There continue to be very serious National Hockey League and National Football League head injuries causing concussions that must be addressed. There was a bloody fight ending a major college basketball game. Major League Baseball must face up to the fact that the “steroid era” may not be over as it so fondly wished. Thirty-seven players and officials of a Russian pro hockey team were killed in an airplane crash.
Year Provided a Mixed Bag
The past dozen months in sports provided a mixed bag of magnificence, horrible transgressions and tragic misfortunes. Even the Super Bowl last February in the new Cowboys Stadium was something of a downer when nearly 1,000 ticket holders were not properly accommodated because temporary seating was not completed in time. But the Packers’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in that Super Bowl was impressive, and Green Bay continued winning this season with a league best 13-1 record going into tonight’s game against the Chicago Bears.
The NFL had its bleak moments last spring and summer when there was a 130-day lockout by the owners before that labor conflict with the players was settled and the season was saved with a new 10-year contract. Then the NFL got a very big black eye 10 days ago when Sam Hurd, a Chicago Bears wide receiver, was arrested by federal agents and charged with conspiracy to possess and sell cocaine and other drugs. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
Similarly, Major League Baseball was truly shocked when the National League’s Most Valuable Player for 2011, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, tested positive for a performance enhancing drug. He claims innocence and is appealing the drug test that may result in a 50-day suspension to start the coming season.
The National Basketball Association is trying to give us a big Christmas gift with five nationally televised games today to start its long delayed 66-game season. A 149-day lockout (nearly five months) by club owners was finally settled last month when players agreed to a contract.
Colleges Faced the Music
The NCAA penalized the University of Connecticut basketball program last February for recruiting and other violations just a few weeks before the Huskies won the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Then, after winning the title, Connecticut was penalized again by the NCAA as its basketball team failed to meet minimum academic requirements.
Other institutions of higher learning, such as North Carolina and Ohio State, continued to face the music before the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Some athletes at the University of Miami were accused of accepting cash and other gifts from a booster who is now serving time in jail for running a Ponzi scheme. Ohio State and North Carolina each fired its head football coach and hired a new one during the year and the Buckeyes were given additional punishment last week by being banned from bowl competition after next year’s football season.
The University of Cincinnati and Xavier basketball players got into a bloody free-for-all at the end of their Dec. 10 nationally televised intercity match won by Xavier. Four players from each team were suspended for one to six games.
But the most repulsive scene of all during this troubled year in sports was exposed on Saturday, Nov. 5, when Jerry Sandusky, a longtime former assistant football coach at Penn State, was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing children, including child abuse on Penn State property before and after serving on the staff of the highly respected head coach, Joe Paterno.
Paterno, who had just set the record for a major college head football coach with his 409th victory, was fired by the Penn State University Board of Trustees, who also dismissed the university president, Graham Spanier. Neither man was charged with any crime.
However, Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a university vice president in charge of the campus police, were arrested and charged with perjury and failing to disclose to authorities information they allegedly knew about Sandusky’s behavior.
Then, on Nov. 17, three young men came forward to accuse Bernie Fine, an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University for 36 years, of molesting them when they were children serving as ball boys for the Orange basketball team in the 1980’s. Fine has not been arrested or charged with any crime thus far. But Syracuse University fired him.
Since the initial charges against Jerry Sandusky were made, the Pennsylvania State Attorney General has added more charges, and a fourth person has come forward to charge Bernie Fine with molesting him as a child. Syracuse University and its head basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, have been sued by one of the men charging Fine with abuse.
Accentuating the Positive
But nothing will ever obliterate from our memories that spectacular game six of the World Series as the St. Louis Cardinals, down by three games to two to the Texas Rangers, were counted out twice in the game when they were down to two outs with two strikes on the batter in the bottom of the ninth, and again in the bottom of the 10th, only to come back and tie the game each time. That set it up for David Freese to hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th to send the series to a game seven that the Cardinals won for the championship.
Following this big victory, the Cards’ manager, Tony La Russa, retired and Albert Pujols, with 455 home runs and a .328 batting average in 11 seasons as the Cards’ first baseman, signed a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of the American League.
Sports, our economy and worst of all, our politicians, were seriously flawed in 2011. But there were enough good signs at times so that I was reminded of the old Harold Arlen tune for which Johnny Mercer wrote the following lyrics: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”
Then I hope all of you have a very Merry Christmas!
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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