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The Sports World's Biggest Hits And Misses This Year


Time now for sports.


WESTERVELT: With just a few days left in 2014, NPR's Tom Goldman is back with us to talk about the year in sports. He's here with me to hand out awards for the year's biggest hits and misses. Welcome back, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Eric. Thanks a lot.

WESTERVELT: Scott's away so the Chicago Cubs and their woes get the day off. Let's start with the big one. It was really the year sports and social issues collided.

GOLDMAN: I can't ever remember a year like this. The NFL became as much about domestic violence as it is about the games and the league has followed that two-track reality all season. The case with Florida State star Jameis Winston lingered all year as well and reflected the growing concern with sexual assault on college campuses.

Race and ethnicity were front and center with the Donald Sterling saga and the protests over the name of the Washington Redskins. And while the move toward same-sex marriage swept the country, athletes came out, most prominently Michael Sam in the NFL.

WESTERVELT: And most of these stories are still ongoing. They're unresolved, especially when it comes to the NFL and its domestic abuse policies.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely, you know, and that's appropriate because none of these social issues is tied up and resolved either. You know, with the NFL, groups that battle the problem of domestic violence are watching the NFL closely to see if, once attention fades away, will the NFL keep its promise of confronting the issues in a meaningful way?

There's also the investigation by former FBI head Robert Mueller. That's supposed to reveal details of how the NFL dealt with the Ray Rice case. With Jameis Winston, a judge ruled a week ago that Jameis Winston did not violate his school's code of conduct policy in relation to the rape allegation against him from 2012. But there are still those who think Winston got away with something because of his status as a star football player. And with Michael Sam - first openly gay man drafted by an NFL team, but he was waived by the Dallas Cowboys in October and it'll be interesting, Eric, to see if he gets another chance.

WESTERVELT: It will be, as it was a fast start and a fast end to his career.


WESTERVELT: Let's get to the awards. Drum roll please. 2014

Award for the Worst Sport's Governing Body - Tom, give us your envelope.

GOLDMAN: The winner, Eric, is FIFA - soccer's international governing body.

WESTERVELT: In a runaway.

GOLDMAN: In a runaway. Put on a doozy of a World Cup in Brazil over the summer, but critics claim that FIFA recently whitewashed an investigation into alleged bribery and corruption in the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The man who conducted the investigation resigned his post in protest and FIFA head Sepp Blatter said a week ago those two World Cups would go on as planned and not be relocated despite lingering concerns about both locations.

WESTERVELT: Several sports icons made big moves this year. Which will stick with you, Tom?

GOLDMAN: Yes, the Sports Icon Passages Award - let's call it that - LeBron James went home to Cleveland. It's been an up-and-down year so far. We'll get a year idea in June if it was the right basketball move. I'm sure friends and family are happy to have him home, regardless of how the Cavaliers do this season. Derek Jeter said farewell and touched off a spirited debate about whether his career was worth all the fawning tributes. It probably was.

WESTERVELT: Tom, who is your Athlete of the Year?

GOLDMAN: I was fortunate to see some spectacular moments. San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner was sublime in the postseason...

WESTERVELT: Yes, he was.

GOLDMAN: ...Especially his bottom of the ninth-inning performance in game seven of the World Series - Mario Gotze, of Germany, with his amazing World Cup winning goal, Mo'ne Davis taking the Little League World Series by storm - a 13-year-old girl with beautiful pitching form and a 70-mile per hour fastball.

But, Eric, my award is not going to them or any other super athletes. Now, full disclosure, in giving this award, I'm inspired by my two children. Both good basketball players - one playing in college, one in high school - but they're not getting as much playing time as they'd like. But they are both being fantastic teammates, cheering on the players on the court. So in honor of them and the thousands from youth leagues to the pros who are staying positive on thousands of benches, you are my Athletes of the Year.

WESTERVELT: Nice, nice, I like it. Tom, we can't leave without handing out one more trophy - Best Athlete Interview of the Year. Who's your winner?

GOLDMAN: Oh, hands-down, Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch hates the media, or at least talking to the media, and he's been fined for not doing it. So he has found a rather creative way to get around the problem. He is technically talking to the media.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Marshawn, can you describe the 79-yard touchdown run?

MARSHAWN LYNCH: Thanks for asking.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How about the stomach issue early in the game?

LYNCH: I appreciate you asking about my stomach. Thank you.

WESTERVELT: (Laughter) Tom, who will win the Super Bowl?

GOLDMAN: Thanks for asking, Eric.

WESTERVELT: (Laughter) NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: Thanks for asking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.