2008's Top 10 Sports Stories
In a year that saw a Summer Olympics and a Euro football tournament, there was no shortage of things to talk about in the world of sports. Here is a list of 10 stories that had the sports world buzzing. Feel free to add your favorite sports stories of the year in our comments section.
1. Michael Phelps No doubt the 2008 Beijing Olympics were the biggest story of the year and Phelps was the biggest story of the Olympics. The American swimmer captivated the world's imagination by winning a record eight gold medals. Within hours after winning gold, Phelps became a national obsession. Everything about Phelps--his reported 12,000-calorie a day diet, his iPod playlist, his romantic escapades, his creepy SI Sportsman of the Year cover and his recent interview where he called host Dan Le Batard an "idiot"--grabbed the public's attention. Imagine how popular he would be if he was actually interesting.
2. Global Financial Meltdown Hits the World of Sports Like every other business, this year's global financial shitstorm affected the sports industry in a big way. The NFL recently announced a round of layoffs and the NBA cut 80 jobs. The WNBA's Houston Comets folded and the entire Arena Football League may be on the verge of shutting its doors.
The meltdown has also affected big sports franchises. Manchester United's main sponsor AIG need a major bailout from the US government, which indirectly means that Man U is now being sponsored by US taxpayers. Similarly, the New York Mets, who sold the naming rights of their new stadium to struggling Citi Group, have had to address concerns about the future of their new ballpark. More than a few US politicians are upset that the Mets will be receiving some of Citi Group's bailout money. In fact, two New York politicians suggested that the new stadium be named "Citi/Taxpayer Field".
Recently, the NHL has said that no teams are in danger of going bankrupt. Whether other leagues can stay afloat remains to be seen.
3. Spain wins Euro 2008 Most major international soccer tournaments end the same way: fans are angry about a terrible referee's call that costs their country a victory or they complain about an unfair penalty shootout that costs their country a victory. No matter what happens, the citizens of every country except one are upset.
That didn't happen this year. It was hard to argue with Spain's win at Euro 2008. The team went undefeated at Euro 2008 and it didn't need dodgy refereeing or a penalty shootout to do it. On top of that, they won by playing an attractive brand of football that hopefully other countries will emulate.
4. The US Election and Sports Clearly, the biggest story of the year was Barack Obama's historic election victory on Nov. 4. It's certainly not news that sports and politics have often been strange bedfellows. After all, George H.W. Bush played baseball at Yale, Gerald Ford played football, and George W. Bush was part-owner of the Texas Rangers.
Still, this year's presidential campaign found new ways to blend sports and politics. Both major parties fielded candidates with sporting backgrounds: Barack Obama was a decent high school basketball player and reportedly played pick-up basketball nearly every day on the campaign trail. In fact, Obama's top personal aide is a former Duke basketball player. NBA players are pleased with having a ball player in the White House. Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas even got an Obama tattoo.
Of course, Obama's love of sports didn't always play well with voters. Earlier in the year, Obama angered some Chicago Cubs fans by declaring his allegiance for the Chicago White Sox. During the World Series, Republican candidate John McCain accused Obama of flip-flopping on the World Series after Obama made positive remarks about both the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin also played high school basketball and once worked as a local sports reporter in Alaska. But Palin tried to associate herself more closely with another sport, proudly referring to herself a "hockey mom." Palin tried to build on that image by appearing at a Philadelphia Flyers game. Not surprisingly, Philly fans booed her lustily.
Now that Obama will be moving into the White House, don't expect sports to fall by the wayside. Obama has declared that he wants to work on creating a college football playoff system. Let's hope he find more productive ways to spend his time.
5. NY Giants Win Super Bowl It's easy to forget now that they are one of the best teams in football, but the Giants Super Bowl win in January was arguably the greatest upset in football history. Nobody was thinking the Giants could beat Tom Brady and the Patriots, who had just capped off an amazing 16-0 regular season. But the Giants defense neutralized Brady and Eli Manning became the second Manning in a row to quarterback a Super Bowl winning (surely, that's some kind of NFL record). The Giants win also introduced much of the world to a lovable young scamp named Plaxico Burress, who would provide the world with much comic relief before year's end.
6. MMA Bursts Into the Mainstream Many would say that this already happened years ago, but 2008 was the year when even MMA's harshest critics could not deny that the sport has become mainstream. For the first time ever, a major US network put on a mixed martial arts broadcast. Mind you, what was broadcast on CBS could largely be considered a farce.
The UFC continues to grow, hosting sold out event across the US and Canada. As 2009 approaches, the question is no longer whether MMA can compete with boxing, but can boxing compete with MMA.
7. The Return of the Lakers-Celtics For a lot of people, watching the Lakers and Celtics in the NBA Finals was like a glorious 80s flashback, the days of Larry Bird's crustache, Kevin McHale's short shorts, Michael Cooper's high socks, and A.C. Green's jheri-curl.
This year's NBA Finals didn't quite match up to the glory days of Magic and Bird, but it did show that the NBA is still relevant. And it was nice to see Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen--three quality players who play the game the right way--silence all those critics who said that they weren't able to win big games.
8. Lewis Hamilton Wins F1 For much of North America, F1 racing is not that big of a deal. But to much of the rest of the world Lewis Hamilton's win was historic. Hamilton became the first black driver to win the F1 championship and he largely did it with grace and class. Hamilton refused to engage racist Spanish fans who hurled epithets at him and wore Afro wigs, black face paint, and t-shirts that said "Hamilton's family." Just where did Spanish fans learn that it was OK to behave that way? Maybe it was from the Spanish basketball team.
9. Phillies Fans Don't Burn Down Philadelphia After World Series Win Self-hating Philadelphia sports fans finally had reason to celebrate after the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series. It was the first championship for the City of Brotherly Love since 1983. Many thought that Phillies fans would burn their city to the ground. Except for a few overturned cars, however, Phillies fans just had a lot of fun. Except maybe for this guy.
10. The Internet Continues to Change How We View Sports Like many other businesses, the sports world is still trying to figure out how to deal with that series of tubes called the internet. Earlier this year, veteran sports scribe Buzz Bissinger lit into Will Leitch, the founder of Deadspin about the role of sports blogs. Even TV host Bob Costas has referred to bloggers as "pathetic, get-a-life losers."
No doubt, blogs have changed the game for athletes and the media. Some blogs have actually broken stories long before they made their way into mainstream media. For example, Deadspin recently broke a story about Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage writing an obscene e-mail to a Browns fan.
The internet has also become a minefield for athletes. In an age of social networking, athletes find themselves increasingly getting in trouble for things that appear on sites like Facebook. Consider the case of Buck Burnette, a University of Texas football player who was thrown off the team after making a racist statement about Barack Obama on his Facebook page. Hell, even a relatively unknown quarterback like David Garrard can't dance at a wedding without having photos of his sweat stains end up on some dude's blog.
Some athletes have decided to embrace the new technology seeing it as a chance to connect with fans. A few weeks ago, Shaquille O'Neal created his own Twitter account in response to a fake account created in his name.
How will this all end up? Who knows? All we can tell you is that people seem to have an insatiable appetite for stories about Visanthe Shiancoe's penis.