Don't worry: it's not the vuvuzela.
With 2010 finally over, the time has come again to unveil the recipient of the most coveted award in Nonsports!, the Nonsportsman! Of The Year! Award!, given annually to that nonsportsman -- a nonathlete, noncoach, nonsports"writer" -- who had the biggest impact on the world of sports in the previous twelve months.
This is a distinguished award whose recipients represent the best and brightest among Nonsportsmen -- not a felon among them, unlike certain awards I could name -- and the competition is always fierce. Who wouldn't want to join the ranks of past luminous winners like the 2007 recipient, the asterisk, and the 2009 recipient, (I'm Still President) Barack Obama?
And, as usual, the selection committee (Me, and Mr Bunches, but he mostly spent his time watching this Funny Cats video:
on Youtube while I did most of the work), and Mr F (who's contribution this year was to say Gleek at appropriate moments). I also wanted to ask The Boy, but he was out with his friends.
There were lots of nonsportsmen to consider this year -- persons, places and things (only nouns and pronouns are eligible for this award, after all) that had a huge impact on the world of sports, beginning with the second runner up, the vuvuzela,-- ha! I mentioned it anyway! -- which for a while there threatened to take over the world of sports-talk as the number one thing people like to complain about.
The vuvuzela, as we'll all never forget, was the plastic horn that South Africans use at sporting events, previously unknown to most of the world until the World Cup stopped off at the tip of the Dark Continent and people learned that it existed -- and people learned that, as a species, our tolerance threshold has dipped dangerously low, with the fact that the vuvuzela, like us, came from Africa providing an interesting juxtaposition: the race that managed to survive the sun-battered savannah, outwitting animals who were better adapted for killing than us, spreading across the globe and evolving to the point where we could survive in any environment including outer space... that species could not stand even a moment of buzzing noise.
Most scholars (me, and Mr Bunches) previously thought that nuclear war or an asteroid would be necessary to do in the human race -- or maybe even we'd last until the sun turns into a red giant and we all get to find out that it's not the humidity but the heat, after all -- but it turns out that we're a lot more fragile than we thought, as the level of concern over the vuvuzela showed. Judging from the level of commentary over it, in 2010, humanity was very nearly wiped out by a toy plastic horn, and only the quick action of sports officials in America -- like how the toy was banned at the Harvard-Yale game-- managed to save the U.S. from the catastrophe that I'm sure struck the rest of the world as the vuvuzela noise laid waste to mankind. I'm sure that if you travel outside the US now, it's a bleak, post-apocalyptic deserted world filled with corpses rotting next to brightly-colored toy horns, but thanks to the foresight of our college and pro officials, we in the US were spared the calamity and have managed to cobble together a life post-Vuvuzela.
The fact that it was obviously a threat to all life on earth would have marked the vuvuzela as this year's recipient of the Award! -- but the ban in the US (the only country that counts, after all) ended the vuvuzela's brief run atop the short list, which brings us to the First Runner Up, Tiger Woods' Putters.
(Tiger Woods' pitching wedge is ineligible for this award, as it made news in 2009, not 2010, and also, it's still in the police evidence locker.)
Tiger Woods, as we all know, came back from his brief vacation from golf, and was more focused than ever -- thanks in part to a renewed (and entirely fake, PR-serving) commitment to his children (shortly after publishing an essay on the joys of making mac-and-cheese with his kids, Tiger was reported to spend almost no actual time with the children) and thanks in part to threats by his caddy to kill anyone who bothered to mention Tiger's off-course troubles.
Despite that focus and the death-threats, though, Woods struggled on the course, and even though everyone in the world suspected it was because he was bothered by giving up nearly a million dollars to his ex-wife because he couldn't withstand the wiles of a local Perkins' waitress, and even though everyone suspected that his decision to milk his late father's memory for a creepy Nike commercial might have been troubling him, we all learned that it was actually the putter's fault, as Tiger first switched putters to improve his performance, then switched back to improve his performance, and then, for all I know, used three or four different putters simultaneously in a move that'll eventually be called "The Tiger Stroke."
Er... I could've probably picked a different title for that.
Nonetheless, the fact that it was Tiger's putters, and nothing else at all you'd better shut up or Steve The Caddy will burn your house and strangle your dog so give it a rest it was the putters okay!?!?!! which were causing him troubles was almost significant enough to earn Tiger's putters the award -- because anything that hurts the play of the single most magnificent athlete ever to grace the planet/magazine covers deserves to be reported on and not covered up and not glossed over, right? -- except that there was something even bigger in the world of sports, and that thing is the actual recipient of the 2010 NC! Nonsportsman! Of the Year! Award!
And that thing is:
I wanted, really wanted, to go with the giant fake dung beetle that was part of the opening ceremonies at the World Cup:
But I didn't, for two reasons: First, it turned out that I'm the only person who remembered that South Africa for some reason opted to compare the ball used to play the "Beautiful Game" to a ball of animal poop. And, second, as embarrassing as that was, and as potentially earth-shattering as it was to learn that opening ceremonies can be used to secretly make fun of the sporting even being opened (take note, NFL; at the Super Bowl, I'll expect at least one dance number in which dancers dressed like Favre and Rapistberger harass dancers dressed like cheerleaders at halftime), as great as that was, it wasn't as momentous, or fun to talk about, as the fact that Cleveland became, on international TV, the girl who didn't get the rose-- and who then stormed off in a trailer-park-y snit.
(Plus, when I thought of giant ball of dung, my thoughts naturally progressed to Cleveland.)
Cleveland, as a city, has been around since 1796, and in that time, has become synonymous with sporting failure. This city has failed at nearly every single sport, including hockey and women's basketball, which barely count as sports at all, but that didn't stop Cleveland from failing at them, sometimes more than once.
Cleveland once lost a professional sports team -- the Barons, of the AHL -- to Worcester, Massachusetts, a city I could have sworn was made up just to have a funny name to say on old-time radio shows. It was awarded one of the first franchises in the WNBA -- and that team then finished first in its conference twice without ever making the league's finals, ultimately folding for financial reasons (i.e., people don't want to pay money to watch the WNBA.)
The Cleveland Indians, as a baseball team, tried to claim that they had a curse -- trying to cash in on the losing-but-loveable baseball tradition of teams claiming a curse when they can't win, but couldn't do that right, either, as the supposedly-cursing player, Rocky Colavito, denied he'd ever cursed the team. Despite being only fake-cursed, the Indians were so linked with losing that they were picked as the terrible team to star in the 1989 movie Major League. Even then Cleveland couldn't win, as the film about it's team going worst-to-first was made largely in Milwaukee. The team last one a world series in the 1940s, when the players wore suits and ties to play, and last appeared in the 1990s, likely having to listen to Jesus Jones music during the warm-ups. And the Indians' hopes for the future can be summed up by this Wikipedia heading:
The Browns fare no better-- and marked the first time the city got professionally dumped, when Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore and then won a Super Bowl. Cleveland's consolation was that the NFL ruled that the new Browns would get to keep the old Browns' records -- kind of like the ex-wife getting the photo albums while the new wife gets the jewelry. The Browns also got to be coached by Bill Belicheat before he discovered video cameras, and thus never had the type of success that the Patriots* have enjoyed under Bill2.0. I suppose it counts as something that "Cleveland Brown" is a name of the only Family Guy character to get his own spin-off, but the fact is that even there, Cleveland was chosen because he was the least popular one, and FOX didn't want Seth MacFarlane using his talent to help with the spin-off.2010–Present: Rebuilding
Which brings us to the Cavaliers and The Decision. The Cavs shared that particular Cleveland specialty, the let's finish first and then not in any way capitalize on that success move -- in 2009, they finished with the best record, winning 66 of the NBA's meaningless 82 regular season games, getting seeded number one, becoming the first team to win 8 straight playoff games ever, and then losing to Orlando, which, I'll note, having once been there, isn't even a city. It's a collection of theme parks loosely linked together by chain restaurants.
Despite the history of losing, Cleveland still somehow expected that people would want to play for its teams, and collectively held its breath when LeBron James appeared on TV to announce whether he'd decided to never ever ever have a chance to win a championship in his career, period, or was instead going to a different team. Even though nobody in the world thought there was a chance he'd stay, Cleveland still seemed surprised and went through the sports equivalent of the walk of shame-- but couldn't even hold their head high, as they then lost to LeBron when he returned to the city.
(Note to Cleveland, Green Bay, and other cities that get jilted: if you're going to burn people in effigy after they dump your city/team, at least have the guts to beat them in their first return home. Letting Favre walk all over Lambeau last year, and LeBron take the floorboards home with him this year is embarrassing. What's that they say about people's ability to walk the walk vis a vis their talking the talk? And, yeah, I know, Green Bay, your team beat Favre this year. Big deal. That's not what people are going to remember. Nobody, in the future, will say "After Favre left Green Bay and then returned to give them a solid whooping on their home field, Green Bay many months later managed to win one against him." Do it the first time, or shut up.)
Upon learning of the dumping, Cleveland fans reacted with all the class and dignity of Lindsay Lohan doing... well, anything Lindsay Lohan does: they screamed, stomped their feet, wrote poorly-spelled tweets, came up with lame chants... and continued to generally suck and lose, while LeBron went on his multi-millionaire way.
Not only did Cleveland dominate the sporting news for the better part of 2010 -- from the hype before The Decision to the fallout after it to the Return Where Cleveland Inevitably Lost-- but in doing so, it transformed sports in ways we've only started to explore. In the past, when players left a team, they did so ignominiously and circuitously: Favre had to spend a year in New York City harassing... I mean not cooperating with the investigation into harassing ... cheerleaders and then go play for the Packers' rival, with people trading in his jersey. Joe Montana got kicked out of San Francisco, as did Jerry Rice. Barry Sanders had to quit playing entirely just to get away from Detroit.
Even when there wasn't really a connection, dumping a city could have longterm effects: Eli Manning's image suffered until he took out the Patriots* in the Super Bowl. Some people still remember that Elway refused to play for the Colts when he was drafted - -and those people still throw it in my face when I said that I didn't like Manning's dumping the Chargers.
But when LeBron dumped Cleveland, all that began to change. LeBron didn't wake up quietly, slip his shoes on, and head out the apartment door. He put his dumping on TV. We've all heard about those guys who put their proposals on a billboard or at the ballpark on the scoreboard. But who ever heard, before this, of dumping someone via mass media? Of calling a press conference to say "I've found somebody hotter, plus she's rich?" I bet athletes around the world-- including Tiger Woods -- took note of this. "You mean we don't even have to pretend anymore?" they must have been saying. "We can openly admit that we're doing this for a job, that we want to earn money and don't really give two $*$&# about the fans or the history of the city or bringing home a championship and all that crap?"
(That is, they were all saying that except for Ben Rapistberger, who simply repeated over and over "I want my lawyer. I'm not answering questions." Little did he know the cops were simply going to get DNA off the half-gnawed steak he left on the table.)
LeBron's actions threw open the door for athletes to point out they were just doing it for the money, which is, I'll note, the exact same reason that you and I and everyone else go to work, too, so don't get all huffy because you'd leave your job this very second if I offered to give you a huge raise and get you out of the snow, and some effects were immediate: Favre held the Vikings hostage for a couple extra million to come back this year (although his primary motivation was to be nowhere near Deanna when the Sterger story broke), and the effects hit even the college level, where players sold their college awards to make some money before they even got to the pros, or simply demanded money to come play for a given team, but in the long run, LeBron's dumping of an entire city -- a city that pretended to be his hometown even though it really wasn't, the way girls sometimes pretend to like sports just to hang onto a guy -- set the stage for a future where athletes, who've demanded free agency for years and whose embracing of the ability to jump from team to team has helped erode the bond between fans and players for years -- an erosion that only the athletes noticed, but which they never remarked on -- can begin to treat sports like the business they are, and thumb their noses at the fans more than they do already. It used to be a secret when you'd use your signing bonus to buy your girlfriend a boob job even though you were going to one of America's most-impoverished cities, but in the brave new world of sports, athletes won't have to do that anymore. They'll be free to flaunt their money and their lack of connection to the teams they play for, the cities they live in, and the fans who make up the crowds that cheer for them -- and we'll have no choice but to root for them anyway.
And we have Cleveland to thank for it. Yet another feather in your cap, Cleveland. Enjoy your award, and maybe find something other than sports to pay attention to, would you?
Your 2010 Nonsportsman! Of The Year! Award! recipient: