Friday, December 29, 2006
Updated: January 1, 12:24 PM ET
The heart of the matter
By Scoop Jackson
Note: There's a difference between the biggest sports stories of the year, and the most important sports stories of the year. Here, Scoop Jackson lets you in on his annual list of what he personally felt mattered most in 2006.
1. USA: S.U.C.K.S. Those should have been the letters plastered across the chests of everyone from these states who participated in global sporting events this year -- and on gear worn by all of us who supported and cheered them on. In every world sporting event -- the World Baseball Classic, the Ryder Cup, the World Cup, Davis Cup, the basketball world championships -- we embarrassed ourselves, dominating nothing. And if any one athlete typified the arrogance and apathy that suddenly has become associated with American sports, it was Bode Miller. He represented us. His Olympic performance was the sorry embodiment of everything that was sports for the USA.
2. "Forty Million Dollar Slaves." We've been waiting for a sports bible ever since David Wolf wrote "FOUL! The Connie Hawkins Story," and finally William C. Rhoden wrote the epistle that documents not the lifestyle of this modern era of African-American athleticism but the mentality and the athlete's place in society. As years go on, this book will become more and more relevant. Critics who panned it will hail it as a classic 20 years from now, sort of like they did with Muhammad Ali. It's been documented that slavery ended more than 140 years ago. "$40M" reminded us that slavery never really ended, it just got expensive.
3. The Home Shopping Network. The fact that no media outlets made a big deal about this says more about the state of the media than it does the fact that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling (in the paraphrased words of Kanye West) "Don't like black and Mexican people." Yes, his team had a great year thanks to players he wouldn't rent an apartment or sell a condo to, and his Clippers finally began to find an identity in L.A., but name another high-profile owner of a professional sports team who could openly racially discriminate against potential homeowners the way Sterling did and the media wouldn't make noise about it. Didn't think you could.
4. "We humbly fumalk apoplia." Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly began the campaign last year, but the results came in this year -- 17,000 people donated $1.2 million, which meant 150,000 mosquito nets were sent to Nigeria, cutting down on the cases of malaria that were killing children and possibly saving thousands of lives. Yes, a sportswriter did this this year. A sports columnist was responsible for saving lives, not destroying them. Between Reilly's should-be-recognized-by-the-Nobel-Prize-committee humanitarian efforts and those done this year by the NBA Cares Program and Dikembe Mutombo opening up his hospital in Kinshasa in the Congo, the world -- specifically for those living in parts of Africa -- was a much better place than it was this time last year.
5. The Large Professor. On "The Sports Reporters," they gave it up. Big-time. Albom, Ryan, even Lupica. All said his name as The One, athlete of the year, the white Tiger. But even with their critically acclaimed endorsement, nothing much was said about what Federer achieved this year, not to the degree it should have been. Maybe it was because he's not American (he's Swiss), maybe because he plays tennis and not golf, maybe because he's scandal- and drama-free, maybe because Agassi's retirement received more attention. Regardless, the year Federer had should have been honored the same way Gretzky was in '82, Jordan was in '88 and '92 and Secretariat was in '73. Because all year he was the main source; for those who didn't miss it, we got to watch Roger do his thing.
6. The Whitlock/Jackson Episode. Normally when someone calls you to tell you that your name is in the sports section of the USA Today, you think it's either a byline or you are part of a scandal. But to be part of a public beef, one that makes what Michael Eric Dyson is doing to Bill Cosby seem pale, that borders on the Jayson Blair side of embarrassment. Especially when the episode gets mentioned in your Wikipedia entry. Nothing positive came of this. It was professional sports journalism at its worst. This is what America could rightfully call black-on-black crime on a higher level.
7. Racer X. Mark this date: March 18, 2007. Site, Australia. Event: The Formula One Australian Grand Prix. This kid from London, 21-year-old Lewis Hamilton, floated under the radar all year long only to emerge last month on McLaren's Mercedes team after winning the GP2 Series on his first attempt and becoming the soon-to-be first black F1 driver to appear in a major championship race. And although it won't happen until next year, what young Lewis Hamilton did in 2006 to get the nod needs to be fully recognized.
8. The Tank Johnson Effect. At the beginning of the year we thought Stephen Jackson was going to be the end of it. Little did we know: Sebastian Telfair, Juan Uribe (accused), Jamaal Tinsley and Marquis Daniels (both with Jackson), Tank Johnson. In 2006, guns and athletes took on a whole new relationship. They almost became synonymous. Many questions were asked, not many were answered. The rationale and reasons are still untold, and many of us are still uneducated on why these $40 million "brothas" feel the need to keep heat around them 25/8/366. And now there's Johnson's bodyguard's dead body, in a scenario different from Rae Carruth's, similar to Ray Lewis'. And 2006 was not the worst year for these episodes -- just the beginning.
9. The Tawana Brawley Remix. The Duke University rape case was easily the biggest sports story of the year, if not the biggest non-war news story of 2006. Yet as much as it was about sex, class, race, gender, lies, due process, a hell-bent DA and no DNA, at the root of this disturbing soap opera is an incident that should have and easily could have been avoided. And now that all the evidence is coming out and it's getting closer to the truth that the young dancer lied, what impact will the outcome of this case have on college athletics?
10. Come Back, Charleston Blue. The Dennis Rodman, AI, Michael Vick, TO, Joey Porter, Ben Wallace era of sports worshipping is over. There's a new model of icon in town, and America is lovin' him. It's the return of the nonthreatening (perfect) black athlete. In an era when middle America is afraid of tats and braids and the thugged-out appearances of their sons' and daughters' heroes on the playing field, the sports version of the Justice League finally has come to save those parents. And if you think I'm joking, who are arguably the three new (if not best players) faces of each professional American sport? LaDainian Tomlinson, Dwyane Wade and Ryan Howard. All won or are going to win some form of MVP award this year, and all are the best thing each sport has seen in a long time. All, to so many, came along just in time. All are so necessary.
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He appears regularly on "Quite Frankly" and other ESPN shows. He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.