2014 was a year filled with unbelievable exhilaration and drama in sports. From Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the Legion of Boom leading the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title, to the Los Angeles Kings, after an incredibly gritty and determined playoff run, hoisting their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, to Madison Bumgarner leading the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series title in five seasons, to the excitement and drama of college football's first playoff tournament, professional sports has had an amazing 2014. That's not even considering the fantastic World Cup in Brazil that saw Germany reach the pinnacle for the fourth time.
Of course, there is always another side to every coin. For every bit of amazement professional sports has brought us in 2014, we've also seen a darker side of sports and professional athletes emerge. It has been a year filled with horrific stories that have cut across all sports. Perhaps it's the ever growing influence of social media, perhaps it's the traditional media really focusing in on the latest case of the day and magnifying it, or perhaps it's something else entirely, but 2014 seems to have been a year in which we've seen some of the worst stories involving professional athletes come to light.
The impact of these stories and scandals have been felt across a wide spectrum of the world and they have rocked people – as well as some professional sports leagues – to their very core. On the plus side, it has at least kick-started some conversations and changes that frankly, should have been handled long ago. But at least there are signs of progress.
2014 was a year that had incredible highs as well as incredible lows in terms of news stories. There was good, there was bad, and there was downright terrible. Let's look then, at just a few of the worst news stories to come out of the world of sports in 2014. And if you have some you think should have been mentioned, feel free to chime in...
11 Dishonorable Mention: Artie Lange's Freakish Fantasies
Comedian Artie Lange (though we thought comedians were supposed to be funny?!?) got himself into some hot water in November by sending out several Tweets that were racist, sexist, and just downright wrong. When referring to Cari Champion, a moderator on ESPN's “First Take” program, Lange showed us all the stuff of his fantasies – and our nightmares – when he Tweeted out:
“Here's the scenario I'm using to jer* off to chick on First Take I'm T. Jefferson & she's my slave. She beats the sh*t out of me & runs free.”
But Lange didn't stop there:
“I attempt to whip @carichampion cuz she disrespected the Jefferson Plantation but she grabs whip & beats me I c*m like a fat founding father.”
In the wake of his racist, sexist monologue, Lange's upcoming appearance on Comedy Central was canceled and he was slapped with a lifetime ban from all ESPN programs.
10 The Shine Comes Off of Johnny Manziel's Star
From the moment he stepped onto the stage at the NFL Draft, flashing his trademark money sign – of course, only after begging/demanding that the Cleveland Browns take him in the first round – the hype surrounding Johnny Football hit a fever pitch. Of course, Manziel being Manziel, a series of ill-advised photographs and incidents followed. Everything from his infamous money phone, to a drunken rookie riding an inflatable swan in a pool, to partying with Gronk in Vegas, Manziel has been all about the spotlight and the trappings of being a professional quarterback in the NFL – except of course, putting in the time and effort into being a decent quarterback in the NFL.
Given his first chance to start a game and show the world that the Browns were right to take him as high as they did, Manziel was an embarrassment. Aside from completing just 55% of his passes, and throwing for a meager 80 yards, Manziel tossed zero touchdowns, but did throw two interceptions. Even more embarrassing for the rookie, he posted a QB rating for the day of 27.3. We're pretty sure the peanut vendor in the stands could have posted a better rating.
After having his work ethic questioned once the Browns' season officially ended, and being called out by several teammates (though never directly by name, of course), Manziel vowed to be better, and to handle his business and his job better – because let's not forget, though it may be a game, this is a job for those athletes. Manziel vowed that he'd do better, learn from his experiences, and devote the time and effort required of an NFL quarterback, rather than continue to “look like a jackass.”
Of course, less than a week after those statements, Manziel was again photographed partying hard and looking like a jackass.
9 Slava Voynov Charged with Felony Domestic Abuse
Voynov proves that the issue of domestic violence is one that cuts across all professional sports leagues. A prominent figure of the Los Angeles Kings' two Stanley Cup teams over the last three years, Voynov found himself in serious trouble when he was arrested in October and charged with felony domestic abuse. After a fight at his Redondo Beach home, Voynov's wife sought medical treatment for injuries she sustained at the hands of her husband. The 24-year old Voynov arrived at the hospital where he was taken into custody by police who determined that the injuries sustained by his wife were consistent with domestic abuse.
Following his arrest, Voynov received an indefinite suspension from the league – with pay – until his case has been resolved. It's not looking good for Voynov, whose wife sustained a serious laceration over one eye – which required 8 stitches to close – had red marks on her neck, allegedly sustained from Voynov repeatedly choking her, as well as various cuts, scrapes, and bruises sustained from Voynov allegedly pushing her into a television, hitting her, and kicking her while she was on the ground.
Since his arrest after her initial statement to police, Voynov's wife has refused to cooperate with the investigation, saying repeatedly that she doesn't believe he intended to harm her. But the case is now out of her hands and is rolling forward. Voynov has formally been charged with felony domestic violence to which, he has entered a plea of not guilty.
8 Greg Hardy Convicted of Domestic Abuse – Sort Of
Greg Hardy, defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers – at least for now – makes a very good living at using his anger, rage, and explosiveness to punish opposing quarterbacks. And he's very good at what he does. Unfortunately for Hardy, he wasn't able to keep that anger in check, and keep it directed at opposing teams back in May 2014.
At 6'4” and weighing in at 290 pounds, Hardy is, physically speaking, far bigger than his now ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder. Far bigger. But that didn't stop him from beating her up and throwing her around in a fit of rage. According to the arrest warrant, Hardy and Holder engaged in an argument at his home. In a fit of rage, Hardy picked Holder up and threw her to the ground, threw her into a bathtub, threw her against a Futon, and also choked her. Even worse, Hardy allegedly threatened to kill Holder before tossing her onto a couch that was filled with assault-style weapons as well as shotguns.
A judge convicted Hardy of communicating threats and assaulting Holder, but under North Carolina law, he has the right to appeal his conviction to a jury trial, which is what he did. Until that jury trial is conducted and concluded, Hardy remains on the commissioner's exempt list – a double secret list where the NFL stashes the most heinous criminals until their cases are disposed of – and continues to draw a paycheck, including his share of the playoff money Carolina's players are earning.
7 Michael Richardson Channels His Inner Woody Hayes
Football is an emotional game where good sense is often lost in the heat of the moment. But not since the days of Ohio State's Woody Hayes have we seen anything like what transpired on the Texas A&M sidelines during their recent Liberty Bowl matchup with West Virginia University.
On two separate occasions Michael Richardson, a student assistant coach with the A&M program, physically assaulted a West Virginia player when they were driven onto the Aggies sidelines. Both times during the first half of the game, Richardson's bush league punches were caught on camera. After being made aware of Richardson's ridiculously cowardly acts, A&M coach Kevin Sumlin removed Richardson from the sidelines at halftime and has since dismissed him from the program permanently. Sumlin also apologized to pretty much all of West Virginia for Richardson's actions, as well as A&M staff and fans.
6 Did Oscar Pistorius Get Away With Murder?
On Valentine's Day 2013, Oscar Pistorius, aka the Blade Runner, shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through the closed and locked door of a bathroom in his home. Those facts are not in doubt. What is in doubt, was whether Pistorius, who rose to prominence as a track star despite being a double amputee, killed her in cold blood or whether, as he claimed, he feared for his life after hearing what he thought was an intruder in his home.
A judge found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide in the fatal shooting of Steenkamp, but said the state did not provide evidence enough to convince her to find him guilty of murder. Pistorius was handed a five year prison sentence, but was eligible to be released to serve out his sentence under house arrest in August of this year. A sentence members of Steenkamp's family believe was far too lenient.
Unfortunately for Pistorius, the judge ruled in early December, that the state could challenge her ruling and have it heard before a five person panel – the one caveat being that the state could not challenge the length of the sentence. Still, the ruling will more than likely guarantee that Pistorius won't be freed later this year, and if successful, could lead to him staying in prison for quite a bit longer than he expected.
5 Jameis Winston, the Teflon Don
Pretty much since the beginning of his tenure at Florida State University, Jameis Winston has been known for two things – winning football games, and getting into loads of trouble. But like John Gotti, the “Teflon Don” himself, Winston somehow manages to come through all of his legal troubles – some of them incredibly serious – unscathed and with nothing sticking on him.
From the time he was reported to be stealing sodas at a Burger King, to the time he was caught shoplifting crab legs from a Publix market, to the time he was detained after shooting a BB gun at squirrels on campus, to shouting vulgar statements in the FSU student union, to yes, the allegations – and botched investigation – of sexual assault, Winston has come through it all having been forced to miss just half of a meaningless game against Clemson and suffering no other punishment at all.
Now Winston, should he declare for the NFL Draft, stands to be a high pick worth millions upon millions of dollars, and will likely carry the belief that he can get away with murder.
4 Tony Dungy's Homophobia
Religion and religious statements in sports are nothing new. People have been expressing their beliefs on various playing fields for as long we can remember. What you don't often see though, are sports personalities making very public, and very homophobic statements, in front of a fully functional television camera. Former coach Tony Dungy decided to go all in on his homophobia when Michael Sam, after a solid career at Mizzou, entered the NFL draft and became the first openly gay player to ever be drafted.
In remarks made on the air, Dungy was very clear and emphatic in saying that he would not have drafted Michael Sam. Dungy further said that he wouldn't take Sam because he “wouldn't want to deal with all of it.”
Of course, the “all of it,” is a reference to the media attention Sam would likely have brought to whatever team was okay with “all of it.” Dungy later “clarified” his remarks saying that as a coach, he wouldn't want to deal with the distractions Sam would bring to a team. Some might not think that Dungy's stated refusal to draft Sam doesn't quite rise to the level of “homophobia,” and on its own, it might not. But add that to the fact that Dungy has raised quite a bit of money for anti-marriage equality groups, and it paints a much different picture.
And oh yeah, speaking of different pictures, the fact that Dungy was more than willing to embrace and welcome on to his team, Ray Rice – a very well noted domestic abuser – and Michael Vick – a very well noted abuser of animals – as well as the “distractions” and the “all of it” they would bring only serves to underscore Dungy's blatant hypocrisy – and lack of anything resembling credibility.
3 Hell Hath No Fury Like One of Donald Sterling's Exes Scorned
Don't cry for Donald Sterling. He may not have his LA Clippers anymore, but he still has billions upon billions of dollars to keep him warm at night. One of the longest tenured owners in the NBA, at the time, landed himself in some very hot water. Sterling was always considered one of the worst. Well, in April of this year, we learned that not only is Sterling a horrible NBA owner, but he's also a terrible person as well.
In April, TMZ released audio of Sterling – likely provided by his girlfriend V. Stiviano – in which the former Clippers' owner let loose on a racist tirade after Stiviano had posted pictures of herself with NBA legend Magic Johnson to her Instagam account.
Among other things, Sterling very ignorantly said, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people.”
Following the release of the tapes, NBA players from all generations joined together to condemn Sterling. Commissioner Adam Silver – having just taken over the job from the departed David Stern – dropped a hefty fine and a lifetime ban from all NBA activities on Sterling. Eventually, after much back and forth rigmarole, Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers and was allowed to take his $2 billion from the sale, slink back down into whatever disgustingly ignorant little hole he came from to never be heard from again. And we're all better for that.
2 Adrian Peterson's Disciplinary Problems
Peterson is one of the most prolific running backs in the NFL today. He's a freak of nature who combines size, speed, and an ability to bounce back from serious injury very quickly. But for all of his positive football attributes, many people will only be able to look at Peterson and see him as a child abuser at this point.
TMZ, of course, released some very disturbing photos that show Peterson's child with slash like wounds to his thighs, buttocks, back, legs, ankles, and even his genitals. Peterson calls it parental discipline – hitting his four year old son with a switch – while others call it straight up child abuse. The legal system is calling it reckless or negligent injury to a child – a charge to which Peterson pleaded no contest. The All Pro running back avoided jail time but as part of his plea deal, Peterson must perform 80 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $4,000 dollars.
For now at least, Peterson remains on the suspended without pay list until at least the spring of 2015. Though the NFLPA is pursuing legal remedies, there is no guarantee that Peterson will be allowed back into the Minnesota Vikings' facilities any time soon. Of course, there is also a school of thought which believes that Peterson has played his final game in a Vikings uniform. We'll have to wait and see on that latter.
1 Ray Rice Packs Quite the Punch
By now, most of the world has seen the footage from inside the elevator at the Revel Casino in New Jersey, when the former Ravens running back is seen knocking his then-fiancee out cold. It was horrific enough to watch that Roger Goodell and the league offices – very ridiculously, cluelessly, and ham handedly attempted to drop a suspension on Rice – even though they'd just suspended him for the first two games of the regular season for the same action. Adding insult to injury perhaps, the Ravens – the only team Rice has known since they drafted him in the second round of the 2008 draft – terminated his contract seemingly moments after the additional video went public.
Rice won an appeal of the NFL's clumsy double suspension of Rice, and has been reinstated already. Any team in the league is able to sign them if they choose. Of course, it will come with a load of negative baggage, perhaps more than most teams want to deal with, but you never know.