More often than not, the field of sports plays out dramas that rival everything else in life.
In 2007, national sports headlines were much more than highlights of accomplishments gained in play. This year, fans were privy to more than they may have wanted to know of their heroes’ lives. Many heroes turned to villains seemingly overnight, while still others gave hope to a larger audience, offering themselves while achieving historically significant feats.
Life’s many travails have rarely been viewed so intensely among African-American athletes as this year reaches its end. In what has too often resembled Court TV, several notable Black athletes found themselves in legal battles that have rocked the American consciousness, dividing citizens down racial and geographic lines.
Possibly no other story reminded the nation of its differences more so than that of NFL superstar quarterback Michael Vick. Once one of the league’s most marketable talents, Vick’s career is in serious jeopardy as a result of his federal conviction and subsequent 23-month sentence for dog fighting. Though a continued career is not totally out of the question, Vick’s reputation has been forever marred by his off field decisions.
Others to see their reputations sullied through legal action include former track and field sweetheart Marion Jones, who joined MLB home run king Barry Bonds as targets of efforts to expose steroid use in sports.
Of course, the year of athlete’s legal woes could not be complete without the nation’s most polarizing sports celebrity, O.J. Simpson, returning to the forefront for his role in an incident in which he allegedly held memorabilia collectors at gunpoint to recover items he claimed stolen from him.
A result of the disturbing imagery pervading Black sports stars in 2007, the country’s racial divide often reared its ugly head. However, many African-Americans themselves bought into ill-conceived notions of Black athletes created largely from stereotypes. How else can one explain the introduction of terms like “Black KKK” and guilt placed on an athlete killed for defending his home and family, as in the case of Washington Redskins’ Sean Taylor?
Before the news was delivered of circumstances surrounding the Pro Bowl safety’s untimely death, commentators led a guilty before innocent charge, suggesting his past simply caught up with him.
As if Taylor’s demise was not enough, syndicated radio personality Don Imus’ derogatory reference to the Rutgers’ lady basketball team reminded that racial ignorance has no limits even in contemporary society.
Such shockingly pronounced off-field actions may suggest that sports disappointed where it matters most. On the contrary, while many athletes made noise for the wrong reasons, sports also gave the public an opportunity to smile, be enlightened and encouraged. Historically significant accomplishments were achieved in 2007, and were on the global stage for all to see.
From Tiger Woods’ continued assault on golf’s major record, to local young men Greg Oden and Michael Conley continuing their meteoric hoops rise, Black sports figures equally provided much for which fans could appreciate.
Arguably the most significant among these grand achievements, the image of coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith guiding their teams to Super Bowl XLI was one generations in the making.
For the first time in league history, two African-American head coaches were at the helm on opposing sidelines in the biggest sporting event in North America. In leading the Colts to their first ever Indianapolis Super Bowl title, Dungy in turn brought with him a reputation that warranted well-deserved attention. Already one of the NFL’s most well respected coaches, Dungy’s triumph was the stuff of legend. And, via his bestselling book Quiet Strength, which also debuted this year, Dungy’s celebrity conveyed an inspiring message that shone in a time of negativity and uncertainty.
If sports are indeed a microcosm of life, it was never more apparent than in 2007. As this year concludes, here’s hoping the next act is as entertaining.