As we put a period behind 2014 and move into the New Year, I’ve been spending the last few days reflecting on the last 365 days in sports.
2014 will probably be remembered for the sobering sagas of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the celebrated removal of bigoted NBA owner and moron Donald Sterling, 50 Cent’s mystifyingly horrendous first pitch at a New York Met’s game and the unflattering look behind the curtain that exposed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as anything but the moral authority that his carefully crafted image projected.
But amid the turmoil, there were some fantastic narratives that emerged from the sporting world. The San Antonio Spurs played some of the most beautiful team basketball ever seen as they ran through the NBA Playoffs en route to yet another championship in the Tim Duncan era, the Seattle Seahawks’ dominating defense folded Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos fold like a piece of cheap lawn furniture in the Super Bowl, and the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner authored one of the greatest playoff pitching performances in MLB history, accentuated by his five scoreless innings in a Game 7 victory against the Kansas City Royals on two days rest that sealed the World Series.
Mo’ne Davis becoming America’s favorite athlete this summer while pitching in the Little League World Series was special, as was Lauren Hill, a hoops player at Mount St. Joseph University suffering from inoperable brain cancer, getting an opportunity to play in a college basketball game. Derek Jeter's farewell season put a lump in the throat of every adult who grew up spending summer days and nights at the old Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, along with anyone for a true appreciation of the boys of summer.
But there was no more emotional moment for me than Kevin Durant’s heartfelt MVP acceptance speech. The sincere words of appreciation that he directed to each of his teammates spoke volumes about the type of young man that he is, but when he broke down while expressing his love and admiration for his mother, the entire speech became a rebuke to the convenient caricature and stereotype of the young, spoiled, rich professional athlete.
Despite the drama that surrounds him, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston had one of the most phenomenal seasons for any signal caller in the history of college football as a mere freshman as the Seminoles won the National Championship and recaptured their status as an elite program.
LeBron James’ return to Cleveland four years after his jerseys were burned in effigy was huge, Odell Beckham’s remarkable catch against the Dallas Cowboys made you believe that your eyes had the capacity to lie and Derrick Rose initiating the movement of athletes wearing their “I Can’t Breathe” shirts in protest of the lack of indictments in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City were all powerful in different ways, from bizarre feats of athleticism to following one’s heart to making a stand, endorsement opportunities be damned.
One of my favorite moments was the NCAA Tournament, where UCONN senior point guard Shabazz Napier dazzled en route to an improbable National Championship over a collection of talented freshman at the University of Kentucky.
And beyond his memorable performances on the court, he added fuel to the debate against the efficacy of the NCAA, when he noted that while contributing to the billions of dollars being raked in by the universities, the coaches, the sneaker companies, the television partners and other stakeholders in the financial bonanza that is March Madness, he was often without enough disposable cash to fight off hunger pains on some nights.
It’s hard to pick one moment as a favorite, but if forced to, it would have to be Richard Sherman’s adrenaline and testosterone-fueled interview with Erin Andrews after the Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49’ers in the NFC Championship game. It was a moment that elicited an intuitive, visceral and idiotic reaction from many who claimed that Sherman was all that is wrong with the world of sports and was nothing more than an outspoken, obnoxious thug.
I expressed my thoughts at the time on this wonderful platform, The Shadow League, and was fascinated by the debate and polarizing effect it had on people. Richard Sherman was just keeping it real, which is something that most people can’t deal with.
Keeping it real is something that we strive to do here at The Shadow League, to wade through the muck, to look at things from a cultural and societal perspective, to bring you stories from a point of view that delves beneath the surface and beyond the cookie-cutter.
Because after it all, sports is so much more than a game. And it takes an honest examination and discussion, beyond the final score, beyond the dunks and the touchdowns, where the true beauty of sports lies. At its very essence, from the eras of Jack Johnson on through Jackie Robinson until today, sports is merely a mirror that, if looked at closely with a critical eye, tells us more about ourselves as a society than most would care to acknowledge: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Thanks for riding along with us in 2014. We look forward to bringing you more great stories and discussions that you can’t find anywhere else, in the year and years ahead.