By Alex Wong / @steven_lebron
Sports is fun. It's always fun because it can be so rewarding. The stories of Serena Williams or LeBron James — people who made the cool list — are partly why we watch sports, to see athletes mesmerize and dominate to the point where it seems what they're doing is incredibly boring because the superb becomes the routine. But on the flip side, sports can be frustrating. Individual players not living up to expectations, managers not making the right decisions, and entire organizations and leagues taking steps to alienate fans, even if it's all done indirectly, for the sake of their personal interest. These stories — the people I've deemed the uncool — are important too. They help remind us of why sports can be so terrible sometimes and to think about how things can be better. The following is not by any means a comprehensive list, but who I believe to be the most important uncool stories of the year.
The Sacramento Kings organization
If you’ve ever been part of a corporation — or read any books from the business section at your local bookstore — you know about the saying that the tone from the top is always important.
To put it nicely, the tone from the top for the Sacramento Kings was not so great this year, and the trickle-down effect was there for all of us to see.
To start, a financing plan for a new arena with the city of Sacramento was tentatively agreed to by the Maloofs earlier this year, only for it to fall apart. It led to a bizarre war of words between the Kings owners and the city, which led to nobody being sure still what exactly happened.
By the end of the year, there were whispers and then much louder noises that the Maloofs were gauging interest from representatives from Virginia Beach, with the plan to accelerate the relocation process that would allow them to move out of Sacramento by next season.
Talk of relocation alone is enough to distract and anger fans, but to further those feelings, the team itself appears to be an even bigger mess.
Gone are the days of Webber, Bibby, Divac, Stojakovic, Brad Miller, Bobby Jackson, the best home crowd in basketball, and a perennial contender in the West. And that’s fine. Teams don’t contend forever. Sports are cyclical. They rebuild. It takes time. But with the Kings, it feels like there’s no such direction at all. There’s always hope at the end of the tunnel, or maybe not.
The roster offers very little upside, even with a handful of lottery picks over the past few years. And the one piece that appears to be capable of being a franchise building block — at this point: in talent, but not character — has been mismanaged and placed in a poisonous environment, handled so badly that there appears to be no way for the player and organization to move forward, putting the Kings in a position to have to part with a player who will most likely realize his potential elsewhere.
That player of course is DeMarcus Cousins. We don’t need to go through all the suspensions and run-ins, except to look at the latest one. Cousins was suspended indefinitely by the team after directing some harsh words at head coach Keith Smart. The Kings wanted to make a statement with the suspension, so naturally it was lifted after just one game. But then the Kings decided not to play Cousins in first game back in uniform.
Can the Kings make up their mind about whether to punish your star player or not, to stay in Sacramento or just come out and be honest with their intentions to move? It’s hard to find a straight answer or one that makes sense in the Sacramento Kings organization these days.
Granted, Cousins has not exactly been a model citizen, but at the draft, his temper and maturity were mitigating factors that saw a few teams in the lottery pass on him so the Kings should not be surprised at what they’ve had to deal with. Almost two years in, they still seem unprepared on how to manage their only valuable asset.
And to top it all off, it’s no longer Arco Arena … that place is called Sleep Train arena.
Forget about tone at the top, and turmoil on the court, for that name alone, they deserve to be on any uncool list.
In a year where Roger Goodell should easily take the worst sports commissioner slot on this type of list, Gary Bettman decided he was going to make a charge in the final months of the season and take the spot instead.
Congrats, Gary, you’ve earned it.
We are now officially past 100 days in the NHL lockout — I know, because the local sports networks here in Toronto reminds me every day — and even though it looks like a shortened season will commence in January, if you are a hockey fan, would you be comfortable having Bettman steering the ship?
The lockout itself highlighted a lot of problems with the league and the people running it, where negotiations were so infrequent and the willingness to communicate and salvage the season were so unapparent, it was as if the league was blatantly telling the fans to have a prolonged timeout in the corner while the big boys figured out how to settle their billion-dollar cat fight.
It’s true that lockouts in sports are never pretty, but it’s the overarching messages it sends that reverberates after the games start again that matters. And Bettman has made it clear these past several months that he’s happy to run things his way even if the long-term effects of the lockout are dire.
When hockey returns, we’ll still have too many teams in markets that aren’t viable, too many players with contracts that make no sense — a product of the last collective bargaining agreement — and the league that still seems to be confused as to how to police itself when it comes to inappropriate violence in the game.
And we’ll still have the person who believes everything is all right running everything.
Well, the Jets got really tiresome in a hurry didn't they?
I set up a Google News Alert for “Tim Tebow Mark Sanchez” before the season started and was planning on writing a weekly diary on the hilarity that was about to play out all year. I got sick of the alerts after two weeks in the preseason. The final straw was when I read three articles about Tebow going topless in practice in the rain.
The oversaturation of a mediocre quarterback competition is not Rex Ryan’s blame, but the fact that we got to this point is.
The offense has been broken for years, never really been right except for spurts since Ryan arrived — but their two conference championship appearances behind a stout defense afforded Ryan time to bypass those questions, never really truly addressing the problems and instead exacerbating them by extending Mark Sanchez to … to what exactly … boost his confidence?
Giving dollars to players not for past performance, or future performance, but to boost a player’s confidence, especially at a quarterback position, is never a good thing. It’s even worse when you do it under the NFL’s salary cap system.
Not only that, but the Jets brought in Tim Tebow and then spent a whole season not utilizing him, and had to deal with that sideshow.
Then Rex ended the season by benching Sanchez, starting his third-stringer to terrible results, upsetting Tebow in the process creating more controversy, and then going back to Sanchez.
All the talking and boasting is long gone for Rex, and the Jets are back to being how I remember them.
And for a while there, I actually thought Ryan might be the one to truly change the culture of the franchise.
Uncool of me. Uncool of Rex.
Roger Goodell and the replacement refs
My head hurts when I try to figure out the entire impact the replacement refs had on the NFL this season, an impact that will still be evident throughout the playoffs.
The easiest one is of course the Green Bay-Seattle debacle. If they had made the right call, the Packers would have a first-round bye despite a Week 17 loss to the Vikings, right? And then there were other games from earlier this year — penalties in the New England-Baltimore Sunday nighter that might’ve resulted in a Patriots victory, meaning the Bengals could’ve won the division — that together created this butterfly effect of things that I’m still sorting out.
The point, a bit exaggerated above I admit, is this: Referees make mistakes, whether they are replacements who are usually high school referees or the professionals who returned to rousing ovations. But for the league to sit idle and not put forth the best available option to start the regular season even when it had an entire preseason of mistakes to warn the men in charge of what was to come was arrogant and ignorant to the quality of their product.
You want fans to look back on the season and wonder what would’ve happened if their quarterback made that one throw, if their kicker hadn’t hit the uprights on that one field goal, or if their defense could’ve made that one goal line stand. But to allow fans to look back and wonder why their team’s season could’ve gone differently because the best referee crews weren’t made available for a few scant dollars in a petty negotiation? Entirely uncool.
I don’t like writing about the Penn State scandal. I don’t like talking about it. I suppose that’s how it is when things make you realize that the world can be truly ugly and horrifying. But because of the man’s involvement with a sports institution that decided to go blind to the issues of child abuse, we as sports fans were subjected to the gut-wrenching details of the incidents and had to uncomfortably watch someone like Jerry Sandusky continually proclaim his innocence even in court.
There are lockouts, replacement refs, poorly run organizations and other things that are maddening in sports, and then there are monsters like Sandusky. Two completely separate spectra of disappointment and horror.
Penn State returns to its football, and every college football and sports institution hopefully took a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror to make sure that none of this happens again. But where terrible things usually come with a silver lining, I feel doing so would be disrespectful to everyone who was impacted by Sandusky’s actions.
The world is a terrible place sometimes, with terrible people, and because of these people, lives are changed forever, and not for the better.
I hope that the culture changes in sports, in the world, and we can get to a place where the degree of damage brought on by this event will never be replicated again. And we can get back to talking about sports in a better light.
I write about sports in my spare time, which is all the time. I try to get the Popeyes three piece for $3.99 daily deal on Thursdays even if my fiancee's cooking dinner at home. I'm looking for a Michael Dickerson Vancouver Grizzlies jersey so if you have one, let's be soulmates.