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Top sports controversies of 2010

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Jeff Gordon

FOXSports.com contributor Jeff Gordon is also an online columnist for STLToday, an Internet branch of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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This was a banner year for sports controversy.

Athletes and coaches suffered morality lapses left and right, generating tawdry revelations about lives led badly. Organizational corruption appeared rampant. Officiating incompetence marred major competition. Unbridled avarice fueled the college sports industry, further exposing the NCAA’s amateurism ideal as a sham.

Selecting the biggest controversies from 2010 was no easy task for FOXSports.com, but after much deliberation here is our Dirty Dozen:

LEBRON’S EXIT STRATEGY

NBA superstar LeBron James was free to relocate to any team. That he chose to leave Cleveland and the Rust Belt for sunny Miami (and a $9 million waterside home in Coconut Grove) was hardly outrageous. He, fellow newcomer Chris Bosh and incumbent star Dwyane Wade form the nucleus of a potentially great team.

Heat or 3peat

East vs. West

The Lakers may be eliminated, but the Heat are still shooting for the NBA Finals. Visit Heat or 3peat Central

But LeBron announced his move during a widely panned TV special, “The Decision.” The spectacle sent Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert over the edge, prompting him to post an epic letter to fans on the team’s official Website. Some highlights:

“This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

“The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank.”

THE COLLEGE CONFERENCE SHUFFLE

College sports programs are jumping conferences with increasing frequency, seeking the best possible opportunities to exploit student athletes.

The activity peaked this year when both the Big Ten and Pac-10 raided the Big 12 Conference. With the rival conferences exploring massive expansions — and the Southeastern Conference monitoring the scenario closely — the Big 12 appeared doomed to dissolution.

Then the University of Texas orchestrated deals to save the conference. Nebraska left for the Big Ten, Colorado fled for the Pac-10 (along with Utah from the Mountain West) and the Big 12 kept the remaining 10 schools together ... for the time being, anyway.

The Big 12 (Minus 2) schools not located in Austin, Texas, weren’t thrilled with the terms of survival, so expect further upheaval.

DIVORCE MCCOURT: DODGERS FUTURE ON TRIAL

High-priced attorneys remain locked in mortal combat in the divorce case of Frank and Jamie McCourt. The future of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise hangs in the balance, since both parties claim ownership stakes in the team.

The McCourts loaded the franchise with debt and slashed the team payroll. The on-field product suffered, and field manager Joe Torre bailed.

But at least this case has provided some entertainment, with allegations of Jamie’s dalliance with bodyguard Jeff Fuller and revelations of profligate spending. Have many other major league teams had an astrologer on staff with a six-figure salary?

The McCourts accumulated six homes and a condominium during their marriage. Why do they need so many residences? Sorrell Trope, an attorney for Frank, told the court that Jamie used one home exclusively for swimming and another to store furniture. That gave Dodgers fans pause for thought as they bucked up for high-priced Dodger Stadium beer.

FIFA STIFFS ENGLAND, U.S. FOR WORLD CUP

World Cup babes

WORLD CUP BABES

No wonder they call it the beautiful game. Just check out the babes at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The 2018 World Cup will be played in Russia. The 2022 event will take place in Qatar, a sandy Middle East nation boasting summertime temperatures pushing 120 degrees. The selection of Russia over England and other nations was surprising, but Qatar’s victory over the U.S., Australia and South Korea was stunning even by FIFA standards.

Sure, this group has long been suspected of rampant corruption. And, yes, Qatar was willing to spend billions of oil dollars to secure the event. But that Islamic nation seemed like a long shot until the counting began — the vote counting, that is.

The outcome left cynics howling, as FOXSports soccer columnist Jamie Trecker noted: “The run-up to the vote was marred by a series of high-profile corruption scandals, one of which led to two voting members being suspended by FIFA last month, and repeated accusations of collusion among bidding nations. Thursday's vote might be seen by many cynics as a confirmation of those allegations. Qatar and Russia had both been repeatedly accused of improper actions.”

GILBERT’S GUN SHOW

Maybe he was just horsing around. But Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas paid a stiff price for a locker room incident last Christmas Eve. He and teammate Javaris Crittenton pulled guns on each other during an argument — earning season-long suspensions from NBA commissioner David Stern.

That ban cost Arenas $147,200 per game. Both players pleaded guilty to gun charges in January and were sentenced to probation. Arenas, who pleaded guilty to a felony, also served 30 days in a halfway house.

Arenas apologized in a first-person story in the Washington Post, which read in part:

“Guns and violence are serious problems, not joking matters — a lesson that's been brought home to me over the past few weeks. I thought about this when I pleaded guilty as charged in court and when I accepted my NBA suspension without challenge.

“That message of nonviolence will be front and center as I try to rebuild my relationship with young people in the D.C. area. I know that won't happen overnight, and that it will happen only if I show through my actions that I am truly sorry and have learned from my mistakes. If I do that, then hopefully youngsters will learn from the serious mistakes I made with guns and not make any of their own.”

RICK PITINO EXTORTION TRIAL

Back in 2003, married University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino had table sex with Karen Cunagin Sypher at a local Italian eatery. Thankfully, the incident occurred at closing time and not the dinner hour.

The details of this incident remained private until Sypher sought additional payments in 2009 to keep quiet. Because she demanded millions, Pitino owned up to the indiscretion, notified police and opened his personal life to an unwelcome probe.

The investigation exposed the coach to great embarrassment, including revelations that Pitino funded Sypher’s abortion in the wake of the incident. (Pitino’s equipment manager, Tim Sypher, escorted the woman to that procedure and later married her. That’s a whole other story.)

Sypher was tried and convicted of extortion. During the proceedings, Pitino was forced to break down the sexual action for jurors. He told the court that the sex “took less than 15 seconds” and that he was sure he didn’t, um, plant his seed in his partner.

REGGIE BUSH GIVES BACK HIS HEISMAN

While at USC, running back Reggie Bush did not live like a typical college athlete. He and his family enjoyed an upgraded lifestyle, thanks to Bush’s association with a fledging sports agency.

An investigation by Yahoo! Sports uncovered many specific benefits. While rumors of impropriety are rampant in college sports, clear evidence of wrongdoing is hard to come by. That made the Bush case fascinating.

The Bush family lived rent-free in a home in Spring Valley, Calif., owned by one of his would-be agents. Cash payments to Reggie and his family reached five figures. Hotel rooms, airline tickets, loans, a payment toward the purchase of 1996 Impala SS ... the NCAA was able to verify every bit of it.

USC suffered major sanctions as a result, and Bush felt pressured to give back his Heisman Trophy — although he wasn’t compelled to actually admit his wrongdoing.

BIG BEN GONE WILD

TURNING ON BIG BEN?

 
Ben Roethlisberger
The underground T-shirt market in Steeltown shows how far Big Ben had fallen with his fans after his Georgia incident. Take a look.
 

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had too much offseason fun back in Georgia. Flanked by bodyguards, he went bar-hopping in Milledgeville on March 3 and bought drinks for starry-eyed college co-eds.

His actions led to a police investigation and NFL suspension. Roethliberger avoided arrest, but he tarnished his image — and the reputation of the storied Steelers franchise as well.

A 20-year-old student told police one of Roethlisberger’s bodyguards led her down a hallway of the Capital City Night Club. Big Ben arrived soon, his man part already exposed. She went through the first door she found, which was a bathroom. Over her objections, she said, Roethlisberger had sex with her.

“I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base,” Roethlisberger said in his subsequent public apology. “I am disappointed that I have reached this point and will not put myself in this situation again. I appreciate the opportunities that I have been given in my life and will make the necessary improvements.”

WORLD CUP OFFICIATING FIASCO

Sports officials are human. They make mistakes. Umpire Jim Joyce cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game by missing the 27th out on a not-that-close play at first base. Joyce apologized profusely, and Galarraga (and baseball fans everywhere) forgave him.

Soccer fans extended World Cup officials no such grace after various blunders marred the competition. Hapless Koman Coulibaly waved off a U.S. goal during its 2-2 draw with Slovenia, citing a phantom violation in the box. “I think there was nothing there,” U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said after the game. “I think it is a good goal, and that’s it.”

The Americans were not alone in their suffering. England scored a goal that didn’t count against Germany and lost 4-1. A shot hit the underside of the crossbar before clearly crossing the goal line, but neither linesman Mauricio Espinosa nor referee Jorge Larrionda saw it. Also, linesman Paolo Calcagnon allowed an obvious offsides goal by Argentina in its 3-1 victory over Mexico.

CAM NEWTON FOR SALE

Quarterback Cam Newton led Auburn to its berth in the BCS Championship Game. He won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide vote.

But his achievements were tainted by the actions of his father and scouting service director Kenny Rogers. They shopped him to the highest bidder as he came out of junior college. (Newton started his college career at the University of Florida but left after his arrest for possessing a stolen laptop computer.)

The NCAA verified that Cecil Newton sought between $100,000 to $180,000 from Mississippi State for Cam’s services. Investigators couldn’t prove Cam knew about the demands. Nor could they determine that Auburn offered any extra inducements to land him after Mississippi State balked at paying up.

So the NCAA restored Newton’s eligibility amid much clucking of tongues. As one coach told FOXSports.com columnist Thayer Evans: “What they’re saying is as long as the kid has nothing to do with the solicitation then you’re OK. It's a joke, man. This blows everything wide open. Now, it really becomes the haves and the have-nots. It'll be everybody doing the SEC money thing, but all across the country. Here we go. Get ready.”

BRETT FAVRE’S UNHAPPY RETURN

Drama king Brett Favre made still another comeback for the Minnesota Vikings. He shouldn’t have.

He played like a 41-year-old quarterback, throwing 18 interceptions and just 10 TD passes. The Vikings collapsed on his command and fell from the playoff race. He feuded with head coach Brad Childress, who got fired.

Favre suffered multiple injuries, including a shoulder sprain and hand numbness that finally stopped his consecutive games-played streak at 297. And, oh yeah, he also endured an NFL investigation for alleged sexual harassment back in 2008.

Jenn Sterger claimed she was the target of some unwanted advances during her days as a New York Jets sideline reporter — including text messages, voice mails, MySpace posts and a photo of Favre’s naughty bits. Deadspin.com broke this scandal with a video report featuring pleading voice mails from the married quarterback and a purported photo of his nether region.

TIGER’S TALE OF WHOA!

When Elin Nordegren Woods confronted her husband on Thanksgiving night in 2009 and he drove into a tree during his hasty exit, the saga had just begun.

Tiger Woods scandal

ONE YEAR LATER

Thanksgiving 2009 is not a time Tiger will soon forget. We consider the effect on him as we look back at the scandal that rocked Tiger's world.

It seems Tiger Woods was prone to infidelity. One by one, his mistresses stepped forward. The New York Daily News reported that his admitted list of strays reached 120. Woods eventually dropped off the PGA Tour for months and entered rehab to address his problem.

Some of his targets were logical enough — party girls willing to do whatever to globe trot with Tiger and his entourage. But what about his affair with the less-comely waitress/manager at Perkins and their Escalade trysts?

And what about the neighbor girl he knew since she was 14? The National Enquirer nabbed him for that, claiming Woods had sex with the 22-year-old on the couch of his home office. Lovely.

Tagged: Auburn, Cam Newton

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