Last week, Sports Illustrated announced Madison Bumgarner as its 2014 Sportsman of the Year. Bumgarner was a deserving choice if not an inspiring one. When your name is mentioned with the likes of Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford among others, you must have done something quite special on the pitcher’s mound. And Bumgarner did just that, hurling the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series title in five seasons.
When I think about baseball in 2014, I’ll think of Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, the remarkable lefties who produced historic campaigns that evoked tales of yesteryear. But when I think about sports as a whole … well, I see a more negative portrait. Bumgarner’s dominance shined a light in an otherwise bleak calendar for sports. There were others, too — the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Kings, Rory McIlroy, Serena Williams and the incomparable Mone Davis — whose performances did the same.
Yet, as we inch to the close of December, it’s hard to not think of 2014 as the year of Roger Goodell and Ray Rice, or Donald Sterling and the farce of post-racial America. Luis Suarez bit a man on the pitch for the third time. Even as the year began, the protests against Putin’s Russia, with its stringent anti-gay policies, disrupted the good feelings promised by the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Adrian Peterson fell. So, too, did the venerable Tony Dungy, who admitted he wouldn’t draft the openly gay Michael Sam but would welcome back Rice to his football team.
Neither of them made our list, nor did many others who inspired shame. If there’s a glass half-full viewpoint to 2014 it’s this: We no longer blink at the ignorant — we stop and stare. Because of Sterling and Rice, and in some regards Goodell, we’ve engaged in conversations about race and domestic violence that had been quieted for too long.
We can take solace in that. We can also be glad this nightmare of a year is almost over.