It seems as though every year the world of sports provides its fair share of awkward moments, but 2015 seems primed to offer far more than the usual array of discomfort. Whether it is a player returning to a team following a long suspension, or a team taking a chance on an oft-maligned individual, there are a host of uncomfortable and awkward returns slated for the 2015 sports year.
The NFL will dominate this list, as it had one of its worst years in terms of off-field issues. Commissioner Roger Goodell saw his reputation take a huge hit, and many of the players that helped cause the trouble for the commissioner will take the field again in the coming season. In some cases, these players will likely be welcomed back by their respective teams, but many will also have to deal with the difficulties created by a high-profile issue or case while creating an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.
Of course, the NFL is not the only league that has faced issues with players and their off-field issues. And it isn’t always the case that a returning player is solely responsible for creating the awkward situation. There are also instances in which a player that has been traded returns to face their former team, and if there was some animosity between the player and the team at the time of the trade, it is likely to create an awkward situation upon that player’s return. While there are a variety of circumstances that help to create these situations, each of the following shares in the fact that there is a significant degree of awkwardness for the returning player and any of the teams involved.
10 Ryan Howard
The Philadelphia Phillies have finally admitted that it is time for a long-overdue rebuild, and general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has already said this offseason that the team will be better off without Howard than with him. The Phillies have been openly trying to trade Howard, but the first baseman is able to block trades to 21 teams and has little trade value. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg have dropped hints that Howard may not see much playing time this season, perhaps hoping to motivate the former All-Star slugger to accept a trade and move on. If this situation is not resolved by Opening Day, it ought to be a very uncomfortable situation for Howard and the Phillies.
9 Johnny Manziel
“Johnny Football” was one of the most discussed players in the NFL this season, and more often than not it was due to some off-the-field issue. Whether it was partying in Las Vegas, showing up late to team functions or allegedly throwing the party that led to a one-game suspension for receiver Josh Gordon, Manziel made a number of headlines, and almost none of them were good. Now it has been reported that Manziel has entered rehab, and there are also reports that the Browns may be again looking to draft a quarterback. The team is bringing in a new quarterbacks coach for 2015, and that coach has already been working out with Marcus Mariota, leading to speculation that the Browns are seriously considering a move up the draft board. If that is the case, there will be a great deal of awkwardness in Cleveland in 2015.
8 Chris Davis
In the midst of an outstanding season that led to a trip to the playoffs, the Baltimore Orioles learned that they would be without their power-hitting first baseman for 25 games, including the playoffs. The Orioles won the AL East despite losing Davis, but were ultimately swept by the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs. Davis will return to the Orioles this season and has received a medical exemption for Adderall (the substance he was suspended for having in his system), but given the team’s failure in the playoffs without him and their lack of offseason activity, it may be the case that there is some ire directed Davis’ way.
7 Pete Carroll
The Seattle Seahawks looked to have the Super Bowl locked up for the second consecutive season, but a flawed play call led to a devastating goal-line interception that gifted the New England Patriots yet another Lombardi Trophy. Seattle fans love the Seahawks, but there is no doubt that many of those fans will be very conflicted regarding Carroll’s infamous decision. The first Seattle home game should be interesting, especially if the Seahawks bring back mercurial running back Marshawn Lynch, who many teammates believe didn’t get the run on the game’s final play to prevent him from winning the Super Bowl MVP, according to CBSSports.com.
6 Matt Kemp
Kemp was the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise for nearly a decade, and fans of the club saw him develop from a promising prospect into an MVP-caliber star. Injuries have robbed Kemp of a great deal of his athleticism, and the outfielder was traded to a division rival in the San Diego Padres. Kemp will return to Los Angeles on Opening Day, facing off against his former team and its formidable ace, Clayton Kershaw. There were rumors that Kemp was responsible for some of the Dodgers' clubhouse dysfunction, so his Opening Day return to Hollywood should prove to be a compelling storyline.
5 Greg Hardy
Hardy has had off-field issues even before entering the NFL, and he spent almost all of 2014 on the commissioner’s non-exempt list after facing charges relating to domestic violence. He was actually found guilty of those charges, but filed an appeal and ultimately had those charges dropped after the prosecutors could not locate the alleged victim, who they believe reached a civil settlement with Hardy. He is now a free agent, and given his talent, will be signed by a team looking to fortify its defensive pass rush. Whatever team signs him will likely have to answer questions about Hardy’s character and have to explain why they would sign a player who had been convicted on two counts of assault on a female and one count of communicating threats.
4 Ray Rice
Rice is going to have a tougher time finding work than Hardy, but he is also now eligible to return to the NFL after serving his suspension relating to his highly publicized domestic violence incident with his then-fiancee. Rice was first suspended for just two games, but when the video of the incident emerged, the NFL opted to suspend him indefinitely. He appealed the suspension and won, but remained unsigned after being reinstated in December. Now a free agent, Rice can sign with any team, and his return will be exceptionally awkward for a league that is trying to rehabilitate its image after far too many high-profile incidents involving some of its best players.
3 Adrian Peterson
Like Hardy, Adrian Peterson spent most of the 2014 season on the commissioner’s non-exempt list, and when his case was settled in a plea agreement in November, he expected a relatively quick return to the field. Such was not the case, as he was ultimately suspended for the remainder of the 2014 season. Though a number of high-profile members of the Vikings’ front office publicly expressed that they would like to see Peterson return, other members of the Viking organization -- namely the team’s executive vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer Kevin Warren -- reportedly worked diligently to help the NFL keep Peterson off the field. There is also the issue of his contract, which the Vikings may try to restructure in order to keep from paying Peterson the $15.4 million he is owed for 2015. Peterson wants the full amount, so a contractual dispute combined with highly publicized off-the-field issues should make things quite uncomfortable in Minnesota – or wherever Peterson ends up -- for 2015.
2 Richie Incognito
Incognito sat out all of 2014 after the bullying scandal involving several other members of the Miami Dolphins offensive line. The target of the bullying, Jonathan Martin, moved onto the San Francisco 49ers, and Incognito has now signed with the Buffalo Bills. While the Bills seem ready to give Incognito a second chance, the city of Buffalo may not be so eager. The director of the University at Buffalo's Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention, Amanda Nickerson, has already spoken out against the signing, saying, “It does feel like a slap in the face that this is happening right here in Buffalo," and, “It's a juxtaposition to have this center and knowing that most of the national attention Buffalo is getting right now is negative in regards to bullying.” Incognito’s Buffalo debut will certainly be a center of significant controversy when the NFL season begins in 2015.
1 Alex Rodriguez
Of course A-Rod sits atop this list, as there has been a solid 18 months of acrimony between the New York Yankees and Rodriguez, not to mention his team of lawyers. A-Rod is finally returning to baseball after a yearlong suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, and the two sides are already arguing over the incentive clauses in A-Rod’s contract that give him $6 million each time he passes Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds on the all-time home run list.
Aside from all of the steroid allegations and the subsequent attempts at a cover-up, there is also the question of A-Rod’s ability, and whether or not he is even capable of being a productive ballplayer at this point in his career. He has had serious hip issues and other injuries and, at age 39, it is doubtful that Rodriguez will ever be anything more than a designated hitter, and even then he may only be used in a platoon situation. Given A-Rod’s seeming focus on his career milestones, he is sure to be frustrated by a limited role with the Yankees, and New York fans will certainly not spare A-Rod if and when he does appear on the field in pinstripes.