December 28, 2013

2013 will be known as the year of the lie in sports

Say it isn’t so, Lance Armstrong, Nellie Cruz and others who ’fessed up (or not) to telling some whoppers.

The year of the lie. *  That was 2013. *  Manti Te’o said he was lied to. *  Lance Armstrong admitted he lied. Nelson Cruz quit lying. *  Jason Collins said he was living a lie. *  And prosecutors say Aaron Hernandez and Oscar Pistorius are lying about their involvement in high-profile murder cases. *  NCAA investigators said Johnny Manziel did not lie. *  Jerry Jones? He’s in complete control, that’s no lie. *  Here are the 13 most significant events of 2013, with a few others worth noting.

Tales of two girlfriends

January and February introduced the world to two bizarre stories involving the girlfriends of celebrated athletes.

The first involved news that not only had Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o never met his purported girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, the Stanford University beauty who served as inspiration for Te’o and the Fighting Irish’s run to the BCS National Championship Game also didn’t have leukemia or die in a car accident.

She didn’t even exist.

“Lennay” was merely someone’s imagination. An investigation conducted by officials at Notre Dame concluded that the star football player was indeed duped, the victim of a dope named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a buddy of the Heisman runner-up.

The second story was far more tragic.

On Valentine’s Day, paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, the first double-leg amputee to compete in an Olympics, in London in 2012, shot and killed his girlfriend at his home in Pretoria, South Africa.

He claimed he mistook Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder. Prosecutors have a different story to tell: Pistorius intentionally killed his girlfriend in an act of premeditated murder.

Officials are expected to call witnesses to support that narrative during a trial that is set to begin in March. Pistorius faces life in prison.

NHL lockout ends

The NHL and its players association joined hands in January in coming to a collective-bargaining agreement that both sides hoped would lead to much-needed stability for a game that has suffered under the duress of labor strife in recent years.

The negotiating stalemate, which began in September, claimed more than 600 games and lasted 113 days but ended when the parties made the necessary concessions on two contentious issues: the salary cap and player contracts.

In addition to a $64.3 million cap, each team must spend at least $44 million on players’ salaries. A seven-year limit on player contracts was agreed upon, or eight if a player re-signs with his team.

A 48-game schedule salvaged the season.

The Stars concluded the lockout-shortened season 22-22-4 and last in the Pacific Division, a finish that cost general manager Joe Niewendyk and coach Glen Gulutzan their jobs.

A different direction is where owner Tom Gaglardi wanted to go.

To that end, he brought in Jim Nill, a longtime employee of Detroit’s front office, as general manager, and veteran coach Lindy Ruff to manage the bench.

‘One big lie’

Lance Armstrong lied for years but said he could no longer deceive his son.

So the cycling legend raised in North Texas summoned Oprah Winfrey to come clean about his seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999-2005.

Despite his denials at the time, Armstrong, a cancer survivor, told the talk-show goddess that he became cycling’s standard-bearer and inspiration for millions by using performance-enhancing drugs.

It was, he admitted, “one big lie.”

There was, he said simply, no way to compete in a sport in which doping was so prevalent.

It wasn’t a competitive environment he invented, but he also “didn’t try to stop the culture.”

Instead, he joined in. His cocktail was banned testosterone, EPO and blood transfusions of his own enhanced blood.

“I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people,” Armstrong told Oprah.

Including those who knew and whom he intimidated and strong-armed to stay silent, including a team masseuse of the United State Postal Service who testified to doping and the means used to cover it up.

No question: Jerry is calling the shots

Cowboys drama knows no off-season, but it became cloaked in mystery soon after the Super Bowl when owner Jerry Jones vowed to make everyone “uncomfortable” in the wake of a disappointing 8-8 2012 and second consecutive season out of the playoffs.

Gone was defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, replaced with Monte Kiffin and a new 4-3 scheme.

Not so clear was speculation that Jones would strip head coach Jason Garrett of play-calling duties and make Bill Callahan, the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator in name only, the chief signal caller.

Garrett had called the plays from his position on the field but encountered stiff criticism that the responsibility had hindered his ability to manage games, particularly in terms of time management.

The issue remained seemingly unresolved for months. Jones and Garrett walked around it as awkward as a dinner host who sees a cockroach on the wall.

Finally, in June, Garrett acknowledged that Callahan would indeed call the plays from the coaches’ booth.

The experiment, which has been modified slightly after offensive woes plagued the Cowboys in 2013, is a work in progress.

Boston Marathon

The 116th running of the Boston Marathon in April became the site of global terrorism when two Chechen brothers allegedly ignited bombs at the finish line.

Three were killed and more than 260 wounded.

Authorities said a manhunt eventually pinned down the culprits, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, reportedly the mastermind of the attack. Dzhokhar was captured while hiding in a nearby community, while Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police.

Coming out

Sports in America has often served as a platform for groundbreaking social change.

The NBA took that stage in April when Jason Collins, in a first-person account, wrote in Sports Illustrated: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

With those words, Collins became the first active athlete from one of the four professional leagues in North America to come out.

It was the Boston Marathon bombing that moved him to “live truthfully,” he wrote.

The decision might have ended his career, though it’s hard to determine whether he remained unsigned because of his sexual orientation.

Collins, 35, was a marginal player over 12 seasons, averaging 3.6 points and not quite four rebounds a game.

Mavericks and Dwight Howard

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban broke up his NBA championship team two seasons ago, arguing that to keep it in place would hinder the team’s financial flexibility under the new collective-bargaining agreement.

There was, after all, significant free-agent talent on the horizon for the Mavericks to bid on that would better complement and eventually replace aging star Dirk Nowitzki as the team’s franchise performer.

The high-stakes strategy backfired. Only a season after winning it all, the team floundered in 2012 after missing out on the top target of free agency the previous off-season, Deron Williams. Dallas missed out on the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.

Cuban’s scheme to fix his team was to stay with the strategy, only this time the player was Dwight Howard, the premier player in the unrestricted free-agent class.

The Lakers’ campaign to lure their star center back to the team started with billboards imploring the 27-year-old to stay. Los Angeles also had the advantage of being able to offer Howard $30 million more than anyone else because of a stipulation in the collective-bargaining agreement that provides flexibility to teams trying to re-sign their own free agents.

The Dwight Drama made a tour of Atlanta, Golden State, Houston and Dallas.

Howard chose the Rockets and less money.

Cuban said Howard was an “idiot” not to choose the Mavericks, yet, in the end, said his team was better off without the mercurial star.

Instead of one maxed-out contract, the Mavs signed free-agent guards Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon and kept their draft pick, taking Shane Larkin of Miami.

Murder, he wrote?

The NFL off-season took the worst of twists when Aaron Hernandez was accused of murdering Odin Lloyd, a semiprofessional football player, in North Attleborough, Mass.

Law enforcement authorities said Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée, was shot five times execution style in an industrial park.

The 24-year-old Hernandez immediately became a person of interest after police discovered that Lloyd was with the New England Patriots tight end the night before his killing.

Prosecutors have painted an unflattering picture of the former Florida star, portraying him as a gun-running thug addicted to PCP whose friends include criminal gang members.

In addition to human life, gone likely are Hernandez’s promising career — he had scored 18 touchdowns in three seasons — and his $40 million contract.

“I’m a great dude,” Hernandez said in a jailhouse letter. “Don’t believe all the negative publicity.”

Say it ain’t so, Nellie

The Rangers’ season got off to a bad start in January when a newspaper story in Florida linked right fielder Nelson Cruz to performance-enhancing drugs.

Cruz admitted that he had bought substances banned by major league baseball through a now-defunct clinic, Biogenesis, and its owner, Tony Bosch.

Cruz said he turned to the drugs after losing 40 pounds from a gastrointestinal illness during the 2011 off-season. He had concerns about maintaining a high competitive level entering spring training.

“I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility,” Cruz said at the time of his suspension in August, which cost the Rangers a much-needed bat down the stretch of the pennant race.

The investigation into Biogenesis netted much bigger catches.

Former NL MVP Ryan Braun, who had been cleared of allegations only two years ago because of a technicality, also admitted guilt. He was suspended for 65 games.

Alex Rodriguez’s case endures. The world awaits word on the appeal of his 211-game suspension that has big money (and lawyers) involved.

Worth his weight in signatures

Scandal threatened the legend of Johnny Football in August when the Texas A&M quarterback with the cult following was alleged to have been paid for autograph sessions, an act that could have compromised his amateur status and his eligibility to play the 2013 season.

ESPN reported that memorabilia dealers claimed that Manziel had been paid for signatures on about 4,000 items.

An NCAA investigation cleared Manziel of the most serious charges.

Instead, A&M and Manziel accepted a finding that the quarterback had violated a rule prohibiting student-athletes from using their names or likenesses for commercial purposes.

Manziel’s punishment was suspension for one half of the Aggies’ season opener against Rice.

Johnny Football lived.

Bully pupils?

Sports in 2013 took on another social stigma: bullying.

Many believed a new standard of silly had been reached when a parent from Fort Worth Western Hills formally accused Aledo coach Tim Buchanan and his staff of bullying in a 91-0 District 7-4A victory.

The Bearcats, the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state, had scored 84 — twice — and 77 points in their three previous games.

A few weeks later, Aledo ran up 72 on the district’s runner-up.

The allegation was dismissed without action after officials determined that the Bearcats weren’t bullies. Rather, they were just very, very good. Probably one of the best teams to grace a high school football field in Texas.

Aledo proved it by winning the Class 4A Division II state title in December.

What exactly went on between Miami Dolphins linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is anybody’s guess.

What is known is that Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the team for bullying Martin. The case is ongoing.

A case of bullying cost Rutgers coach Mike Rice his job in March.

A video caught Rice looking like Moe Howard on crack during a practice.

Rice was seen hurling balls at players, grabbing and shoving them and yelling obscenities, including anti-gay slurs.

That’s a big no-no at institutions of higher learning and good form, especially those where a gay student committed suicide after his roommate secretly filmed a homosexual encounter in a dorm room.

So long, Nolan

Nolan Ryan apparently was the victim of a high, hard one.

The Rangers’ CEO resigned his position after being on the losing end of a reported power struggle with Jon Daniels, who was promoted a year ago to president of baseball operations with control over all baseball decisions.

The change in hierarchy left Ryan without a voice in the team’s future.

Ryan was the face of the team’s most successful era, including two straight World Series appearances.

Missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons was bad enough, but the news in October of Ryan’s departure from the front office was a real bummer for Rangers fans.

Head injuries

The issue of the long-term effects of concussions on football players took on a new face, even in the wake of the NFL’s multimillion-dollar settlement with former players.

Former Cowboys star Tony Dorsett said he was among five former players who have been diagnosed with signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition that scientists have linked to head trauma and can cause depression and dementia.

The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner said he sometimes has trouble with the simplest of tasks, such as remembering where to drive his daughters to sports activities.

Autopsies of more than 50 former NFL players, including Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, showed signs of CTE.

News of Dorsett’s condition came in the aftermath of the league’s $765 million settlement with 4,500 former players who had filed a lawsuit against the league, contending that it concealed the dangers of concussions while promoting and profiting off dangerous hits and tackles.

Worth noting

Harbaugh Bowl: Super Bowl XLVII will be as remembered for featuring coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh as the 34-minute blackout that some Ravens players believed was staged to get the 49ers back in the game.

The oddest of odd couples: Basketball strange man Dennis Rodman and dictator weirdo Kim Jong Un struck up a friendship over basketball.

A blasted Brit: Andy Murray became the first Englishman to win Wimbledon in 77 years.

He’s just fast: Jimmie Johnson won his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and closed to within one of tying legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who share the all-time lead with seven.

Bye-bye, baseball: Mariano Rivera retired as baseball’s all-time leader in saves, as did Bud Selig, who announced he would leave as commissioner in January 2015 after overseeing one of the most controversial periods in baseball history.

Just a little swim: Diana Nyad, 64, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida — taking off from Havana and landing in Key West — without a protective cage, successfully completing the 110-mile swim on her fifth try in 35 years.

Tokyo wins 2020 Summer Games: The International Olympic Committee announced that the Summer Games would return to Japan for the first time since 1964.

The King and Queen: LeBron James, who won a second consecutive NBA title and a fourth MVP, and Serena Williams, who won her 16th and 17th Grand Slam titles, were selected The Associated Press athletes of the year.

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