Assessing 2014’s biggest sports stories
Author: john loeppky – contributor
The world of sports is abound with the talons of a lexicon all of its own. Within the athletic realm, buzzwords are the operative mode. Momentum is treated like the master of all unseen forces — forget gravity, save maybe the gravity of a situation. In baseball it’s a matter of descriptors. A five-tool player (an athlete that can throw well, field excellently, hit for power and average, and run the bases with both speed and efficiency) is the creature that, to traditional baseball scouts, are sent from the heavens, bat toting and all. One need only listen to postgame interviews to hear the daily cheesiness of post-game banter. With that said, each year, like the Oxford dictionary adds words to its seemingly endless list, a number of topics niggle their way into our day-to-day water cooler chats. Here are four words (ok, topics) that have loomed large over the last year.
Cue the theme music. Ready? Ok, well. The Spurs dispatched the Heat in five games. Ending LeBron James’ run in South Beach rather unceremoniously. The Giants were once again on top of the hill in Major League Baseball (get it?), the LA Kings reclaimed their place as NHL royalty (should I stop now? Yeah, I should stop now) and the Seahawks went into beast mode to get the job done in the National Football League. Outside of the leagues most of us care about, ze Germans were victorious in the World Cup, The Irish were winners of the Six Nations (Rugby, in case you were wondering), and the Phoenix Mercury were winners in the WNBA, for those of us who follow women’s professional basketball.
Entrances and Exits
With every season comes the inevitable entrances and exits. The wily old veterans — either playing so atrociously that they have to leave, or riding off into the sunset — and the young guns, not yet jaded, who are tasked with bringing in a new era of awesomeness (for lack of a better term). Notable retirements include: Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne (both of the Anaheim Ducks and Finnish National Team), Derek Jeter (Yankees demise filled retirement tour, aside), Jason Collins (we’ll get to him in a second), Dick Bavetta (NBA referee, even if he is best known for racing Charles Barkley backwards), NBA Commissioner David Stern, and Li Na (tennis champion). In terms of incoming talent, we had the Canadian kid, Andrew Wiggins, and a slew of other breakout stars get their start in the NBA. That particular list includes, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, another Canuck in University of Michigan alum Nick Stauskas, and the Raptors’ Brazilian draft pick, Bruno Caboclo. Adam Silver took over for Mr. Stern, and immediately had one of the biggest controversies of recent memory on his hands (but we’ll get to that later).
Equality and Controversy
Professional sports, long a stronghold for stark inequalities, got a little bit less intolerant over the past year. Becky Hammon, longtime WNBA star and Russian basketball team point guard became the first female full-time coach in NBA history when she joined the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff recently. In other news, Jason Collins and Michael Sam became the first openly gay players in any of the four major professional leagues (NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL). There is still a long way to go before those athletes in the LGBTQ community can feel completely at home in the professional team environment, but with a number of athletes stepping forward, the goal has become that much more attainable and, just as importantly, visible.
All is not perfect. Most notably, there is an outcry from female soccer players as they are demanding that their World Cup, to be played in Toronto next summer, be staged on grass (like their male counterparts) and not on artificial surfaces which, the athletes say, have been liked to higher injury rates.
On the controversy side of things (never a good way to start a paragraph if you’re looking for positivity, by the way), the world of professional sports saw its fair share, with the most major being the ousting of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after a recording surfaced which revealed him to have made racist comments to his girlfriend. A heated situation followed, as one would expect, with it all coming to a head as players and management of the Clippers alike discussed the possibility of boycotting a playoff series. That such a move was even considered shows the severity of the situation and, although the Clippers are now in the safe hands of a Microsoft billionaire, the messy divorce between Sterling and the NBA is not something that will soon be forgotten. Especially, not with comments like those made by Danny Ferry, the current Atlanta Hawks General Manager, who sent out a racially insensitive (to put it mildly) email and is now on a leave of absence.
And now to a much darker subject. As I’m sure you’ve heard, professional sports — in particular, the NFL — have been dogged with a domestic abuse scandal that is only just beginning to come to light. (Now former) Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice assaulting his wife, Arizona Cardinals Running Back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for domestic violence, and Charlotte Hornets Small Forward Jeffrey Taylor being charged with assault and subsequently was suspended for twenty-four games by the NBA.
And so, as with almost every year in sports, we, as fans, can look back with a sense pride. Pride in our favourite team, in the accomplishments (both on and off the field) which have enriched the games we love so much, and the steps that have been made in terms of equality and ridding the game of the insensitivities which have marred the professional ranks for years. However, we can also look in the rear view mirror and see what needs to be done. That the strides that have been made, while hey have been monumental, are just the beginning.