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Forget bad stuff! 2011 was great
Go ahead. Focus on the ugly. I don’t care. And I surely won’t debate that there’s no shortage of ugly to pass around.
But when I think back on the 2011 sporting year, I’m going to choose to look past the two words -- Jerry Sandusky -- that could (and perhaps should) spoil all of this year’s sporting beauty, all the heroism, all the wonder. I’m going to look past Harvey Updyke and his murder of the trees at Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner. I’m going to forget about the many other non-Sandusky scandals that rocked college sports.
No, I’m not going to excuse any of this behavior. But I’m going to remember the good and the heroic moments, because those are the moments that remind us why we turn to sports in the first place.
You take NL MVP Ryan Braun’s reported positive PED test and Albert Pujols’ jilting of St. Louis and talk about how they put a damper on the baseball season. I’ll remember that amazing final day of baseball’s regular season, and the stunning playoffs where the come-from-behind St. Louis Cardinals reminded us how baseball can be the purest, most unpredictable of sports.
You focus on all the things that put the NFL in the spotlight for the wrong reasons: the lockout, the concussions, the vicious, remorseless play of players like Ndamukong Suh and James Harrison. I’ll remember how Super Bowl XLV and the Packers’ near-undefeated 2011 heralded a new, Aaron Rodgers-led era in the NFL. I’ll make my storylines about Drew Brees chasing records and Tim Tebow chasing away critics.
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You use the Vancouver riots after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup Final as evidence of sports fans growing too obsessed with their teams. But I’ll tell you that riot didn’t overshadow the epic seven-game showdown and Tim Thomas’ goaltending magic for the Boston Bruins.
Maybe you’ll say this makes me a Pollyanna, relentlessly focusing on the good when there’s so much evidence of bad. And maybe you’re right.
Yet to me, it’s during those darkest of times when we need to remember why we turn to sports. At their best, sports are a diversion from all that’s ugly in this world. Earl Warren, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, once gave the single most eloquent reason for why we love sports: “I always turn to the sports section first,” he said. “The sports section records people’s accomplishments, the front page nothing but man’s failures.”
To be sure, that was from a time when journalists protected athletes from personal scrutiny. It was not a time when, two years after the fact, the lurid details of Tiger Woods’ sex life overshadowed the most quietly exciting comeback of 2011, when Tiger ended a 107-week drought and won the Chevron World Challenge.
I’m not positing that, when we look back at 2011 in sports, we should ignore all the bad. But in this TMZ-dominated world, it can be tempting to do the opposite, and overwhelm our sporting senses with cynicism. So let us remember the best of sports from the past 12 months, with the hope -- hopeless though it may be -- that 2012 will bring more of the good.
Let us remember Abby Wambach and the runner-up 2011 U.S. Women’s World Cup team, who reminded us how one team can, however briefly, unite a nation over sports. May the 2012 Summer Olympics bring more sporting moments to unite our divided country.
Let us remember Novak Djokovic, the 24-year-old Serbian tennis player who wrested the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal in the midst of one of the greatest tennis seasons of all time, winning three of four Grand Slam titles. May Djokovic win all four in 2012, reminding us all what true sporting greatness looks like.
Let us remember Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach, teaching us how to handle tragedy with grace as she announced her diagnosis of early-onset dementia. May Summitt’s Lady Vols win her a ninth NCAA title, showing us how to perform our best when things look their worst.
Let us remember Jon Jones, the wiry, acrobatic UFC fighter who became the youngest champion in UFC history when he won the light-heavyweight belt in March then defended it twice in 2011. May Jones’ soft-spoken class continue to shatter our brawling stereotypes of the UFC and show us the sport has some of the best athletes in the world.
Let us remember Dirk Nowitzki and the 2010-11 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, who reminded us basketball is a team sport, not a place for superstars to be tossed together and expect to win. May this season continue that tradition, and may LeBron & Co. learn that teamwork beats individual heroics.
Let us remember Derek Jeter and his storybook 3,000th hit, a home run on a perfect July afternoon at Yankee Stadium on Jeter’s 5-for-5 day. May Jeter’s career serve as a testament that the best baseball players aren’t the ones who hit the ball the longest but instead the ones who are consistently solid over a career.
Let us remember Tim Tebow, not the man whose religious orthodoxy and quarterbacking unorthodoxy divided a nation of football fans, but instead the man who wowed us with fourth-quarter determination and defied us by maintaining his good-guy, team-player persona in the face of media scrutiny unique. May Tebow continue to prove his critics wrong, and prove that determination can, in fact, beat all.
And most of all, let us remember John Buck, the catcher for the Miami Marlins, who reminds us that true heroism has nothing to do with what happens on the field. Earlier this month, Buck and his wife were driving out of their South Florida neighborhood to pick their son up from school. They saw a palm tree shaking. It was from a car accident that happened moments before. Buck saw a car upside down, and a hand reaching out the window. Buck and two other passersby pulled two elderly women from the smoking car.
May Buck’s act of doing the right thing when it matters most remind us of one last, important thing before we start a new year in sports: That despite the bad news that can be overwhelming, sports at their best are a place where we can divert our attention from all that, and focus on the good.
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at email@example.com.
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