As always, 2015 had its share of moments in professional sports. And they weren’t all great. Sure, it was inspirational to see the Golden State Warriors win an NBA title after 40 years and the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series in 30 years. And yes, the Chicago Blackhawks can lay claim to a dynasty of sorts after winning their third Stanley Cup since 2010. As can the New England Patriots after winning their fourth Super Bowl title in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. But along the way, we were also treated to a number of scandals, injuries, questionable calls, even more questionable decisions, and bad behaviour by players, coaches and even officials. It all adds up to the 10 worst sports moments from the past year.
10. The Seattle Seahawks Game Losing Play Call
The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event of the year. No other sports competition attracts as many television viewers or advertisers. So with some 115 million people watching Super Bowl 49 this past February, it looked like the Seattle Seahawks were on their way to winning their second consecutive Super Bowl title. After all, the team had the ball on the one yard line at their opponent’s, The New England Patriots, end zone; there were only 20 seconds left on the clock and they had four attempts to punch the ball into the end zone, score six points and win the game. Oh, and they had the best running back in football, Marshawn Lynch, at their disposal. Understandably, the game seemed over. That is, until head coach Pete Carroll opted to have Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson throw the ball, rather than hand it off to Lynch, aka Beast Mode, to run the ball a single yard. The result: Patriots undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl 28-24. Now known as the worst play call in NFL history. For Pete’s sake!
9. Bill Simmons Is Fired by ESPN
He’s arguably the most influential sports commentator and analyst of his generation, but that didn’t stop ESPN from firing Bill Simmons this past year after the broadcaster ran afoul of his corporate bosses. Starting at ESPN in 2001, Bill Simmons created a number of popular vehicles for the network—including the Grantland website, the 30 for 30 television documentary series, and his own podcast called the B.S. Report. However, Simmons’ strong opinions and penchant for inflammatory remarks frequently got him into trouble with executives at ESPN. In late 2014, ESPN suspended Bill Simmons after he criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. Bill Simmons accused ESPN of censorship. The spat got very public and messy, and in May of this year, ESPN President John Skipper announced that the network would not be renewing Simmons contract, which was due to expire in September. A few days later, Bill Simmons took to Twitter to say he was done at ESPN effective immediately. This left legions of sports fans scratching their heads in bewilderment. Fortunately, Bill Simmons signed a lucrative deal with HBO in July and is now providing his popular sports comments at that network.
8. Former Patriots Star Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty of Murder
It may have been a foregone conclusion, but on April 15th of this year, former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was formally found guilty of first degree murder in the killing of fellow football player Odin Lloyd. For his crime, Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It was a steep fall for Aaron Hernandez, who previously had a five year deal with the New England Patriots valued at $40 million. Now, the former star athlete has to get used to living in a cramped jail cell without even the ability to watch a football game on television. The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center where Aaron Hernandez is serving his life sentence is a maximum security prison and one of the toughest in the U.S.
7. Toronto Blue Jays/Texas Rangers Seventh Inning Nightmare
The Toronto Blue Jays baseball team enjoyed their most successful season in a generation in 2015—making the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years. The team did well to win the American League East Division title and make it all the way to the American League Championship Series. However, all the Blue Jays’ success was overshadowed by a bizarre seventh inning that took place in Game Five of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. The inning lasted 53 minutes and involved both teams’ benches being cleared twice; an 18 minute delay as Blue Jays fans pelted the field with beer bottles and other assorted debris (very un-Canadian); several errors on the part of both teams; and Jose Bautista hitting a three run homer (complete with a now infamous bat flip) to give the Blue Jays a 6-3 win and advance to face the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. The inning is only a couple of months old, but it is already going down in baseball folklore. In fact, Fox Sports has already produced a documentary on the incident called “The Unforgettable Inning.”
6. Jonathan Papelbon/Bryce Harper Dugout Fight
Speaking of baseball and bad behavior, how about the dugout fight between Washington Nationals teammates Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper that occurred during a game. After hitting a fly ball in the eighth inning of a September game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper hustled to first base before turning around and heading to the dugout. An agitated Jonathan Papelbon was there to greet Bryce Harper by grabbing him around the throat and choking him—in front of a live television audience. The melee escalated in the dugout until teammates and coaches pulled the two apart. Jonathan Papelbon was suspended four games without pay for his actions as the Washington Nationals (World Series favorites at the start of the season) ended up missing the playoffs. Interestingly, this wasn’t Jonathan Papelbon’s only suspension this year. The relief pitcher was also suspended three games for throwing balls at opponents’ heads. Nice guy.
5. Tiger Woods Leaves Golf—and May Not Return
Love him or hate him, professional golf is not the same without Tiger Woods in competition. So it was kind of sad this past year when Tiger Woods, after further struggles with his game, announced that he is leaving golf and has no timetable for a return. The former number one ranked golfer had back surgery in late summer (his third such operation in recent years) and then left many of his most ardent fans saddened with a news conference in which he said he has no timetable for returning to golf and spends most of his time now playing video games. Tiger, who is turning 40-years old at year’s end, left the news conference with the statement “I’ve had a good run,” leaving many people to speculate that the retirement of the 14-time major winner is only an unofficial formality at this point. This, as well as Kobe Bryant’s retirement announcement, was too much for some sports fans to take.
4. Serena Williams Fails in Her Quest for a Calendar Grand Slam
Many people consider her to be the greatest athlete of her generation—male or female. And with 21 Grand Slam titles to her name, a strong case can be made that Serena Williams is the best tennis player ever. However, while Serena Williams has won all four Grand Slams (Australian, French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) multiple times, she has never won all four in a calendar year to make it a true “Grand Slam.” 2015 looked like the year when Serena Williams would finally complete a calendar slam, as many pundits call it. Momentum grew after she won the Australian Open and French Open, and speculation grew to a fevered pitch when Serena Williams won Wimbledon this past July. She had only to win the U.S. Open in September to make history as the first woman to complete a true Grand Slam. Yet, it was not to be. Sadly, Serena Williams lost in the U.S. Open semifinals to Roberta Vinci in three sets—leaving many tennis fans and sports broadcasters heartbroken in the process. Many pundits called the loss the biggest upset in sports history. That might be a bit of a stretch. But it certainly was a bummer.
Did anyone come out looking good in the Deflategate controversy? The whole mess, which dragged on from the Super Bowl through to the start of the current NFL season, caused a lot of hot air that left everyone feeling, well, deflated. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the players’ union, the league front office and football fans everywhere got pretty sick of all the back-and-forth speculation and innuendo over whether the Patriots deliberately let out one pound of air pressure from their footballs ahead of an AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. What did Tom Brady know? Why did Brady destroy his cell phone? Why is the NFL targeting the New England Patriots, their model franchise? What is PSI or pounds per square inch? And why is Bill Belichick referencing the movie My Cousin Vinny during a press conference about Deflategate? The whole sad, sordid ordeal ended up being much ado about nothing as the NFL’s four game suspension of Tom Brady was thrown out by a New York-based judge. Yet, sadly, the NFL is appealing that decision and Deflategate is set to rear its ugly head again in March 2016. Will it never end?
2. The Dallas Cowboys Stand by Player Greg Hardy
There’s no question that Greg Hardy is a great football player. As a defensive end, he is one of the best in the National Football League. However, as a person, Greg Hardy has some work to do. In July 2014, Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting an ex-girlfriend and sentenced to 18 months probation, as well as being suspended 10 games by the NFL. This led the Carolina Panthers, the team that drafted him, to drop Greg Hardy. However, the Dallas Cowboys quickly swooped in and, this past March, signed the then-suspended Greg Hardy to a one year contract valued at $11.3 million. The suspension was reduced to four games by the NFL on appeal, and Greg Hardy looked strong when he took the field for Dallas in October. That may explain why Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett continued to standby Greg Hardy after photos of the bruised and battered woman he assaulted surfaced online. While football fans, and some other players in the league, called for Greg Hardy to be banned from professional football, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett continued to defend the much maligned player. A petition signed by 68,000 people calling for Hardy’s indefinite suspension was not even enough to convince the Cowboys to drop the troubled defensive end. This in an era where the NFL apparently has a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence.
1. Jon Jones Tests Positive for Drugs, Gets Arrested and Has Title Stripped
If there is one person who is probably happy to see 2015 come to an end, it has to be mixed martial artist Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion had his title stripped and was suspended this past year after he was involved in a hit-and-run car accident. While Jones was later reinstated by the UFC, his title is gone. The car accident came after Jon Jones failed a drug test in January prior to a UFC bout against Daniel Cormier. He tested positive for cocaine. Drugs were found in Jon Jones’ car at the scene of his hit-and-run, which he fled from on foot, leaving behind an injured pregnant women in the other vehicle. For leaving the scene of an accident, Jon Jones was charged with a felony. After a brief trial, Jon Jones was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and assigned to perform 72 charity and youth outreach appearances. No question it was a rough year for the man many people consider to be the best mixed martial arts fighter of all time.