The Box would like to award its Sportsman of the Year trophy. Regulars will recall that the trophy is a handsome bronze statue depicting a solitary professional athlete standing in an Iowa cornfield, weathered cap clutched tight in callused left hand, while manly right hand extends outward to receive a cashier's check for 10 million dollars. The trophy is awarded every August 1st to commemorate the Battle of Jutland.
We're running a little late this year.
No matter. Selected from this year's best columns, let's consider the candidates:
Arthur Blank, the kick-me Atlanta Falcons owner. His franchise quarterback goes to prison for torturing, killing, and gambling on dogs. And Bobby Petrino, his big deal University of Louisville college coach, the guy who signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with Blank, then went on to lead the Falcons to a 3-10 record and quit with three games left to play in the season. Literally snuck out of the Falcons complex, afraid to face his players. Left them a memo.
Then, Blank hires Bill Parcells to run his football operations. Now, Parcells is nothing if not an opportunist, but at least he's competent...and in this situation competent is good enough. So, Blank hires Parcells, at least Blank thought he had a deal, and so did the reporter Parcells called at 7:00 a.m. to talk about his new job with Atlanta. And then, a few hours later, Parcells accepted a better offer from Miami and went south before you can say, "Bonus."
The Tour de Syringe. The worst one yet. Fewer people care.
Marion Jones. Although she has been disqualified on a technicality (voter nausea), she does win the Athletic Slimeball of the Year award. Do you remember Jones's denials when her name was linked to steroids? Remember her threatening lawsuits, calling the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a "kangaroo court?" This was going on during the period Marion Jones was negotiating to become a government witness and drop a dime on her fellow athletes.
The 2007 College Football Season. I'll start with the best college-football game I've ever seen: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, played on January 1, 2007. Proceed with Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32; on to Illinois 28, No. 1 Ohio State 21; on to Arkansas 50, No. 1 LSU 48; finishing with Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23.
Iraq's 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup final. The game was played in Jakarta on July 29. Here's the stunner: it was a real Iraqi team with Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish players. Sadly, the goalkeeper's brother-in-law was killed right before play and the midfielder's relatives were kidnapped and murdered.
Honorable mention to Tim Donaghy, former NBA referee and convicted felon. However, David Stern is the nominee because he had the tougher role to play.
Donaghy had been showing signs of distress for a long time. In 1995, he was charged with harassing and stalking Dennis Van Zandt in Haverton Township, Pennsylvania.
In 2002, Donaghy was charged with disorderly conduct and harassment of his postman. Donaghy was suspended from Radley Run Country Club in 2004 for chasing his neighbor's wife around the golf course while shouting obscenities.
In 2005, Donaghy was sued by his neighbor Peter Mansueto, who claimed he was harassed by Donaghy who yelled obscenities at him, set fire to his tractor, and crashed his golf cart into a ravine.
Donaghy refereed for 13 years. During the 2-year period in question, he officiated 139 regular-season games, 8 playoff games, and 4 preseason games. When the forgoing became public, Donaghy said he would name at least 20 other referees who were involved in gambling activities.
Stern managed to make all this go away.
I wrote this back in July: "...we have an NBA spokesman telling the Sporting Press, '...the league won't comment further on the Donaghy investigation or any changes in its officiating policy until the federal probe is finished.'
"It's beginning to look like Rumsfeld's Abu Ghraib prison defense. First, announce that nine investigations are going on (we're on top of this), but you can't comment until the investigations are complete (and the trials and appeals), and then proceed as usual. If Donaghy is arrested and takes a plea bargain, then there won't be a public trial, which means no witnesses, no cross examinations, then the similarity between the NBA and Rumsfeld will be whole."
This is what happened.
Stern had his investigation, which came back and declared the NBA clean, "but, by golly, we're going to let our referees play poker from now on." No one has been fired. No one has been implicated. Everyone has gone back to sleep.
David Stern, our Sportsman of the Year!