As impossible as it was to imagine Penn State football without Joe Paterno, it may have been even more difficult to foresee exactly how his final days were going to play out. Less than a week after a grand jury released findings that suggested Paterno and other Penn State officials were aware of accusations that his former assistant Jerry Sandusky (pictured) had sexually assaulted several young boys, yet had done little to address those allegations, Paterno’s 46-year tenure at the university was over.
Steroids won't go away
MLB’s steroids problem was one of the worst stories of 2007, but reared its ugly head in the final month of this year. Between Barry Bonds’ light sentence (we really went through all this for 30 days of house arrest?) and the revelation that reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun had tested positive for a banned substance just a few weeks before winning that prestigious award, we were reminded that it’s unlikely that this issue is ever going to be confined to a single calendar year.
Our genteel neighbors to the north proved to be not-so-genteel in the wake of the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Upon being denied the first championship in franchise history, disgruntled fans rioted in the streets, resulting in at least 140 reported injuries, 101 arrests and more than $5 million (Canadian, admittedly) in property damage.
Chris Paul fiasco
Conspiracy theorists have long held that NBA commissioner David Stern was capable of orchestrating outcomes — from the draft lottery to the Finals matchup — in his league. Well, Stern gave the black helicopter crowd ample ammunition with his decision to void a three-team deal that would have sent the Hornets’ Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. Then to make matters worse, he approved a trade that landed Paul in Staples Center ... but to play for the Clippers.
They seem almost quaint in comparison to the college sports scandals that would soon follow, but at the time, the flouting of the NCAA rulebook at Ohio State and Miami was widely seen as the scourge of the sport. Free tattoos ultimately sent Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel (pictured) into an early retirement and Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor into the NFL supplemental draft, while earning OSU a one-year bowl ban. That could pale in comparison to the punishment awaiting Miami, where booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided extra benefits to no fewer than 72 current and former ‘Canes.
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State (see No. 1 on this sordid list), two former Orange ballboys emerged to renew their accusations that Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine (pictured) had molested them. While an expiring statute of limitations saved Fine from prosecution, a damning tape in which his wife seems to confirm the story of one of the accusers resulted in his being fired after 35 years as Jim Boeheim’s assistant.
The not-so-friendly rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers turned tragic on March 31, when 42-year-old San Francisco fan Bryan Stow was brutally attacked in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after LA’s 2-1 Opening Day win. Stow suffered severe injuries to his skull and brain and was briefly placed in a medically induced coma. The father of two has shown recent signs of improvement, but his lawyers say his medical care could ultimately end up costing in excess of $50 million.
The 2011 IndyCar Series season finale in Las Vegas was supposed to go so differently. But 11 laps into the event it turned into a tragedy when a 15-car pileup claimed the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. In the months since the Oct. 16 accident, the blame game has focused on multiple parts of the sport without any real answers.
In trying times, sports can be a welcome diversion. That wasn’t the case this year, when the NBA and NFL lockouts only served to illustrate the gap between the haves and have-nots as both leagues argued over how best to divide billions in revenue. After a combined nine-and-a-half months of protracted negotiations, we lost one NFL preseason game, 16 games off of the NBA’s regular 82-game schedule and a little bit of our love for both sports.
Fighting to live
A good hockey fight has always been one of sports’ guilty little pleasures. But only in 2011 did we realize just how guilty. Within a span of four months, three of the sport’s more notable brawlers — Wade Belak (pictured, left), Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard — were dead under circumstances believed to be related to their pugilistic exploits. Belak and Rypien were confirmed suicides, while Boogaard’s death was ruled to be the result of a prescription drug overdose.