2012: Crime and Scandals Dominate Year in Sports
Despite the magnificent XXX Olympic Games in London during which the United States was dominant, plus many other joyful athletic achievements in 2012, crime, scandals and disgrace created the prevailing, discordant tone throughout the world of sports this year.
And oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Penn State, victim of its own long-standing isolation and hubris where football became the tail that wagged the dog, was discredited by the horrible crime of pedophilia committed by a former assistant football coach on its campus.
Jerry Sandusky was found guilty last June of 45 counts of child molestation that included sexual attacks on boys in the Penn State football facilities. The 68-year-old former coach was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison.
Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, submitted a report on the Penn State affair implicating the deceased head coach, Joe Paterno; the former Penn State president, Graham Spanier; and two other officials of covering up the Sandusky crimes for years.
Never able to defend himself, Paterno died of lung cancer last January. Spanier and the other two university officials await trial next year on various charges related to this terrible scene.
Penn State, once highly regarded for its meld of academics and major college football, was penalized severely by the NCAA, whose president, Mark Emmert, described the case as the worst chapter in the history of intercollegiate sports.
The University of North Carolina also lost considerable luster as its 2-year-old case of academic fraud involving football and basketball players continued to turn up incidents of cheating when a faculty whistle blower spoke of such actions going back to the 1990s.
Holden Thorp, the university chancellor, announced he would step down next June as a result of this unresolved, multifaceted athletic/academic scandal that also involved gifts to former football players.
Ohio State’s mighty football team went undefeated under its new coach, Urban Meyer, but was barred from the BCS bowl championship because the Buckeyes were suspended from postseason play by the NCAA for improper conduct by the former head coach, Jim Tressel, and some players who are no longer at Ohio State.
Another fallen hero was Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven consecutive Tour de France victories by the International Cycling Union in October and banned from cycling competitions for life. The ICU took this action after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued findings that Armstrong and numerous of his teammates doped on steroids and blood boosters during his career as a professional cyclist.
The New Orleans Saints’ head coach, Sean Payton, was suspended by the NFL Commissioner for this season because the team had a policy of bounty for injury. Some of the Saints were told to inflict injury on opposing players when hitting them.
Four Saints players were also suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for their part in this scheme. Goodell’s predecessor as commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, serving as an arbitrator, overturned the player suspensions but upheld the coach’s suspension.
Major League Baseball also had its discredited heroes, including Melky Cabrera, the All-Star Game MVP, who was suspended for 50 games in mid-August after the San Francisco Giants outfielder tested positive for testosterone. One week later he was joined by the Oakland Athletics’ pitcher, Bartolo Colon, a former Cy Young Award winner, who was also suspended for 50 games following a positive drug test.
Tragic Episodes Take Toll
Even the dangerous overabundance of guns in our society became part of tragic episodes in the lives of some famous athletes. First was Junior Seau, the former star linebacker for the San Diego Padres, who committed suicide with his own gun last May.
Then, on Dec. 1, Jovan Belcher, a 25-year-old linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend and mother of their daughter, before killing himself with another gun.
Seau’s death at age 43 was apparently one more suicide committed by an NFL player suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or severe and lasting brain damage as a result of repeated concussions during football games.
Hector Camacho, former world lightweight boxing champion, was shot Dec. 5 in his hometown of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He died three days later.
The Brighter Side
The enjoyable aspects of this year’s competitions were highlighted in midsummer by the English people, who for a fortnight put on an Olympic Games that was one of the best, if not the best, ever staged, starting with an opening show that included Queen Elizabeth II and her No. 1 spy, James Bond.
When the games ended, the United States once again came home with more medals and more gold than any other country —- 46 gold medals and 104 medals in all. And it was our women who led the way by winning 29 of those 46 gold medals and a total of 58 medals.
U.S. women’s teams that contributed to this impressive gold medal count included the eight-oared rowing shell, the soccer team, two track relay teams and the basketball team. Missy Franklin with four gold and one bronze in swimming and Gabby Douglas, with two gymnastic gold medals, were impressive teenagers. Douglas was the first African-American to win Olympic gymnastics events.
Michael Phelps did his thing by winning four gold and two other medals in swimming for Olympic career records of 18 gold medals and 22 total medals, more than any other Olympian in history.
For its magnificent efforts in London, the entire U.S. women’s Olympic contingent is my personal choice for Athlete of the Year.
LeBron James became the second person to play on an Olympic gold medal basketball team for the U.S. after winning both the MVP award in the National Basketball Association regular season and the NBA playoffs while leading his team, the Miami Heat, to the NBA title. Michael Jordan did it in 1992.
Serena Williams won the Olympic Gold in women’s tennis after taking the Wimbledon title in July. She also won the U.S. Open. Serena and her sister, Venus, won their third Olympic gold medal in women’s doubles.
Andy Murray of Scotland finally broke through to the delight of the U.K. fans in London when he won the Olympic men’s tennis gold medal. He followed this with his first grand slam title in the U.S. Open.
The European team of a dozen pro golfers, trailing the U.S. squad, 10-6, entering Sunday’s dozen singles matches at Medinah in Illinois, shocked the U.S. by winning eight matches and halving one to get 14½ points and retain the Ryder Cup.
Bubba Watson won the Masters, Webb Simpson the U.S. Open, Ernie Els the British Open, and Rory McIlroy the PGA Championship.
In a surprising surrender to gender equality, the Augusta National Golf Club, home to the annual Masters Tournament and a very restricted, exclusive men’s club since its founding in the early 1930’s, opened its membership to women by admitting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore.
Other Big Winners
Winning teams this year included the New York Giants, who came from behind late in the game to beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl; Alabama, which beat LSU for its second BCS National title in three years; Kentucky and Baylor, winners of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championship, respectively; the Los Angeles Kings, winners of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup; the San Francisco Giants, who beat the highly favored Detroit Tigers in the World Series; the Indiana Fever, winner of the WNBA championship, and Notre Dame’s undefeated football team that is ranked No. 1 but is an underdog to once beaten Alabama for the Jan. 7 BCS National title game.
Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ slugging third baseman, became the first MLB player to win a triple crown of batting in 45 years; Chipper Jones retired after 19 seasons with the Atlanta Braves; Hideki Matsui, best Japanese position player to play U.S. MLB, retires; Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten head group that buys bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion; Mariano Rivera, MLB’s greatest closer, injured in May and misses remainder of Yankee season; Peyton Manning left the Indianapolis Colts for the Denver Broncos where he led that team to the NFL playoffs this season; Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M quarterback, became first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy; Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels had one of best rookie seasons in history; Jeremy Lin gave the New York Knicks a boost toward the end of the last NBA season and then took his “Linsanity” act to Houston when the Knicks wouldn’t meet the Rockets offer; Usain Bolt, the “world’s fastest man” won the 100 and 200 meter gold medals in London as expected; Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s double leg amputee who won legal battles in order to compete in the London Olympics, finished second in his opening 400-meter heat and then last in the semi-finals for what was truly a major triumph.
The 2012 necrology includes Lee MacPhail, baseball management; Marvin Miller, baseball labor leader; Alex Karras, among the former NFL players afflicted with dementia possibly from too many football concussions; Darrell Royal, Texas football coach; Art Modell, NFL owner; Johnny Pesky, Red Sox star of yore; Sarah Burke, Canadian world champion superpipe skier killed in a training accident; Gary Carter, baseball catcher; Emile Bouchard, defenseman on four Montreal Canadian Stanley Cup-winning teams; Beano Cook, a dear friend and the smartest college football man in journalism.
May next year be happy and free of guns and scandals in sports and all corners of our lives.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
More like this story