As we look back on the 2015 year in sports, we will look back on a year that was remarkable in many ways: We had the first four-team BCS playoff in college football, a controversial lead up to a remarkable Super Bowl, an NBA champion led by the new face of the league, an NHL team cement its dynasty with its third title in six years, a fantastic Women’s World cup anchored by a historic final game, and a World Series Champion that hadn’t won in 30 years among other things. Yes despite all these brilliant performances, we also had some events this past year where the true spirit of sport did not shine through. For these, we’ve chosen to recognize the top ten sports grinches of 2015.
10. Donald Trump
Yes, it’s true that The Donald is not a sports figure or is directly associated with the sporting world. However, earlier this month Trump made headlines where he criticized President Barack Obama for stating that we have American Muslim sports heroes. Trump asked who these Muslim heroes were and the internet responded wonderfully by listing such figures as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins, and Hakeem Olajuwon among others. However, in true Trump fashion, The Donald forgot a Muslim athlete that he helped to acknowledge at at event in New York City in March of 2001 whom he described as a “good friend” at the time. That friend also just happens to be not only the greatest Muslim American athlete, but someone who may have been the best athlete period. His name? Muhammad Ali.
9. Ed Hochuli
Unfortunately for the country’s most popular sport, it seems like the National Football League has yet to establish clear and consistent rules week in and week out. Not only has this been frustrating for the casual fan, but it has now gotten to the point where even some of the league’s most visible superstars are visibly upset about a lack of uniform rules and regulations. In September, Carolina Panthers QB and leading-MVP candidate Cam Newton was allegedly denied a penalty by veteran NFL official Ed Hochuli who stated that Newton “wasn’t old enough to get that call.” Hochuli denied this statement; however, Newton was frustrated and many believe rightfully so. Many casual fans have long stressed that certain starts get preferential treatment and this incident with Hochuli seems to solidify that belief. By telling a player there are different rules for different skill sets, Hochuli is essentially saying he and all other NFL referees selectively enforce the rules to benefit the best players. Not a good look for a league that routinely fines players for conduct “detrimental to the game.”
8. Rajon Rondo
This past month, Sacramento Kings point guard Rajon Rondo was suspended for a game by shouting homophobic slurs at veteran NBA referee Bill Kennedy. Three days later, Kennedy issued a statement announcing that he was gay and that nobody should be ashamed for who they are. It was a tribute to Kennedy for not only taking the high road but also using the incident as a chance to promote equality for gay men and women nationwide. However, for Rajon Rondo, a veteran point guard who won a championship as a member of the Boston Celtics, there is no excuse for his actions. Rondo got ejected after picking up two technical fouls and immediately lost his cool with Kennedy, the official who ejected him. For someone with Rondo’s status and experience to lose his cool and shout homophobic slurs was not only disappointing but it was also disheartening for a player who has reached the sport’s highest level.
7. Virginia Tech Football
College athletes today are indentured servants. They make millions of dollars for their schools but have no legal representation. They are not allowed to profit off of anything they do while in school and should they become injured they are simply discarded and left to fend for themselves. Despite having scholarships, many students struggle to find financial means to buy food during the week due to a hectic practice and travel schedule. In an effort to placate athletes, the NCAA instituted a first-time policy this year that gave student-athletes a weekly stipend for incidental expenses. This meager stipend ended up being roughly $100 a week that students were expected to use for food and other expenses not covered by scholarships. However, Virginia Tech University saw this as an opportunity to use the stipend against the students and defensive coordinator Bud Foster implemented a monetary system that fined players for minor offenses such as missing a meal or having a dirty locker. The system was shut down immediately after it was discovered but it was the latest example of a top-tier NCAA athletic program denying its student-athletes the basic right of human decency.
6. Stephen A. Smith
ESPN has long since abandoned hard-hitting journalism for cheap, cookie-cutter programs and nobody better represents this decline than ESPN’s own resident shock-jock, Stephen A. Smith. Smith has made a career out of being provocative in that he showers his favorite players with extraordinary praise while demeaning others with extreme criticism. Unfortunately for Smith, he also has proven himself to be a serial misogynist through a series of comments he has made on women throughout his career including having defended domestic abuser Floyd Weather and having insisted that Ravens running back Ray Rice’s fiance was to blame for his domestic assault against her. Smith made headlines again this year when in June he made a misogynistic comment during the Women’s World Cup that the women didn’t want to block a free kick because it would “mess up their hair.” Despite Smith’s documented history of misogyny, he wasn’t disciplined by ESPN and only had to offer a Twitter apology. It must be nice for someone like Smith to have job security regardless of what he says.
5. Louisville Basketball
Ideally you want your college basketball program to become a national champion through hard work, dedication, and commitment. For the University of Louisville that combination seemed to have worked with one added caveat: Sex. In October, a book was released by a woman named Katina Powell who claimed she was hired out by the men’s director of basketball operations Andre McGee to provide strippers and prostitutes to perspective recruits during their visit to the Louisville campus between 2010 and 2014. Coach Rick Pitino has denied any knowledge of this situation but several former players gave their testimony in the book that they were both aware of and also took part in one or several of the 22 parties held at the men’s basketball dormitory during the time in question. In addition, Powell claims she was paid $10,000 by McGee and that she kept a journal of her dealings with the team because she wanted people to know “how young kids are persuaded to do certain things by sex, drugs and alcohol.” Although the team has not received any sanctions for this incident, one of the years in question is the 2013 season during which the team won the NCAA men’s basketball championship. It appears this win-at-all-costs mentality may have worked in the short-term but may have unintended consequences for the long-term stability of the men’s basketball program.
4. Syracuse Basketball
For the first time in 39 years, Jim Boeheim is not coaching the Syracuse men’s basketball team in December. The reason is the result of heavy sanctions imposed upon the team after an eight-year investigation by the NCAA. That investigation found that the team had members of the been involved in academic misconduct and had received extra benefits from boosters while the team itself had failed to follow proper NCAA drug-testing policies. Due to these violations, the team received a five-year probation period and had to vacate 108 wins from 2004-2012. Despite denying knowledge and involvement with the violations, Boeheim was heavily criticized in the report for not taking accountability for the basketball program. It was Boeheim who was personally involved in the hiring of the director of basketball operations Stan Kissel, who was heavily involved in the academic violations. Boeheim essentially threw Kissel under the bus and defined him as a “rogue” employee who engaged in activity that the coach was unaware of. However, if this was in fact the case, it speaks poorly to Boeheim’s professional judgement. If this wasn’t the case and it is revealed that Boeheim knew all along, that in itself could represent even larger issues for the coach that has had his entire legacy tarnished by these violations.
3. UNC Basketball
The UNC men’s basketball program is currently ranked #7 in the country heading into ACC play and there are those in Chapel Hill who are hoping the team makes a deep run into the NCAA tournament. The hopes are built up not only for the talent on this year’s roster but the impending knowledge that the team will be soon be facing unprecedented sanctions. In June an NCAA investigation discovered that over 1,500 athletes, including many members of the men’s basketball team, were taking “paper class” that contained little to no academic coursework between the years of 1993 to 2011. These classes never actually met and students solely had to submit a final paper that often times were written by counselors who worked with student-athletes. Despite head coach Roy Williams denying knowledge of the paper classes, the NCAA charged the university with 5 counts of academic fraud related to the classes. However, the University of North Carolina later found even more academic violations in the fall with other sports programs which meant that they would have to resubmit several reports to the NCAA before sanctions could be handed down. This ended up working out swimmingly for the men’s basketball program as they will be able to complete their season before any of the sanctions take effect in the spring.
2. Sepp Blatter
To be removed from office for corruption and bribery is nothing new. However, for this corruption and bribery to kill thousands of people elevates you to whole ‘nother level. Such is the case with FIFA’s former president, Sepp Blatter. In May, several high-ranking FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland and charged with corruption and bribery. Although not indicted himself, Blatter later resigned before recently being banned from FIFA for 8 years. Part of the bribery scandal had to do with the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a Middle Eastern nation that seemed woefully unprepared to host one of the world’s largest sporting events. Although the event is still over six years away from completion, it has already caused the death of over 1,200 migrant workers with this number expected to balloon to over 4,000 by the time the event kicks off. This is more than simply stealing paper money; it is the death of 4,000 men, mostly poor Nepalese workers who have been forced to work in hazardous conditions in a country that should never have hosted the event in the first place. Sepp Blatter has blood on his hands and it is because of the corruption of him and his highest-ranking officials that thousands of innocent workers will lose their lives.
1. Roger Goodell
After a horrendous last year, you would have thought that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would at least pretend to care about his league and his players. But no, he can’t even do that. In fact, Roger Goodell didn’t do anything right this year from January to December. It started in January where he tried to frame the New England Patriots for underinflating footballs which caused the year’s biggest game to be embroiled in a nonexistent scandal. Eventually, Goodell hired an attorney and produced the Wells Report, which determined that New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady was “generally aware” of the alleged violations and this awareness earned him a four-game suspension. Brady appealed this suspension and this appeal was heard by Goodell who unsurprisingly upheld the suspension that he, himself initially handed down. Brady had no choice to seek out someone who was actually independent and appealed this decision to a federal judge in New York City. Judge Richard M. Berman ruled that Roger Goodell had abused his authority as commissioner and overturned Brady’s four-game suspension. This marked the fourth marquee instance where Goodell had been found guilty of overstepping his authority as commissioner.
As if the entire Deflategate scandal wasn’t enough, Goodell also managed to butcher other seemingly simple situations that any competent human being would be able to handle. In July, Goodell and the NFL refused to allow Junior Seau’s daughter to speak at his Hall of Fame induction because they were afraid she’d bring up Seau’s brain illness caused by his years of playing football. In October during the NFL-approved Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward was repeatedly fined for writing the name of his deceased father on his eye black. Since the start of the 2015 NFL season, the league has also had to deal with referee issues as well as losing a vast number of players to injuries. These issues only further showcase Roger Goodell to be the most incompetent man in all of sports and he is a deserving worst grinch of the year 2015.