A Sporting Chance

The good, the bad and the very ugly of athletics in 2000.

Al Campanis Prize for Public Speaking: We'll never know all the effects Ku Klux Kloser John Rocker had on his Atlanta Braves teammates in 2000, but what was likely the best club in the National League lost to St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs. As for the surly reliever, he managed to offend almost everyone on the planet with his redneck comments about minorities, foreigners, gays and kids with purple hair, which were published in Sports Illustrated. Not content to shut up and hit the books at sensitivity class, Rocker later threatened the offending SI reporter in a stadium tunnel and greeted the rest of the world with a defiant sneer. Rocker was sent briefly to the minors to work on "control problems," but there was no controlling his mouth. Even customarily reticent teammates turned against him. Alarmingly, though, some Braves fans at spring training and at Turner Field gave the man standing ovations. And those "Rocker for President" T-shirts were eyesores. Runner-up: Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, reputed to be one of the NFL's dirtiest players and certainly one of the most outspoken. Snared in a wrangle over the illegal use of prescription stimulants, Bad Billy remarked: "You wouldn't put regular gas in a Ferrari, would you?"

The Gordon Gekko Scholarships: Based not on need, but greed. The winners are former Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez and his predatory agent, Scott Boras, who sought a contract for the talented free agent a little larger than the national defense budget. In unsuccessful negotiations with the New York Mets, the pair allegedly demanded such perks as a Lear jet, a stadium suite, a private concession stand and, for all we know, the toll receipts from the Triborough Bridge. Instead, the Texas Rangers gave A-Rod an obscene $252 million for ten years -- more than the team's owners paid for the entire club in 1997. Runners-up: All those .247 hitters asking for eight mil a year -- and getting it.

National Association of Optometrists Personal Vision Award: Former Met, Giant, Dodger and Yankee Darryl Strawberry has recurrent cancer, which is a crying shame. He's also had more chances to clean up his act than a janitor on the night shift. In failing to do it, he's betrayed his fans, the game and himself. If a team of psychiatrists can now get the coke out of his life and save him, good for them. But he's worn out his welcome with the public. Runners-up: Bronco free-agent acquisition Dale Carter, suspended a year for repeat drug use, and Charlotte Hornet David Wesley, who on January 12 shot away from morning practice in a car race with teammate Bobby Phills. Phills's Porsche was going an estimated 107 miles per hour when he crashed and was killed. Wesley was doing 110 -- on a suspended license and with four speeding convictions. Meanwhile, let's not even talk about the 2000 auto-crash deaths of Kansas City Chief Derrick Thomas and the NBA's Malik Sealey.

Mike Tyson Trophy for the Advancement of Boxing: On September 15, popular Denver fighter Stevie "L'il but Bad" Johnston sought to regain the WBC lightweight championship he'd lost three months earlier to Mexico's Jose Luis Castillo. The rematch was staged at the Pepsi Center, and after twelve bruising rounds, Johnston was declared the winner of a split decision by three bout judges hired by the new Colorado Boxing Commission -- the first such regulatory body in the state since 1977. But wait. Scarcely ten minutes after Johnston had strapped on his golden title belt, the Japanese judge realized that he'd miscounted his scorecard. The result of the fight was actually a "majority draw" -- which meant that Castillo would retain the title. Bye-bye, championship. Bye-bye, Stevie. And a thundering KO to local belief in the Sweet Science. Runner-up: In January, when the aforementioned Mr. Tyson fought an unknown heavyweight named Julius Francis, students of the game had a pretty fair idea beforehand how things might turn out: Francis had been paid for a newspaper ad -- which appeared on the bottoms of his boxing shoes.

The Machiavelli Memorial Medal: For three decades, Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight practiced ruthless power politics with no fear of retribution, racking up three NCAA championships and 763 career wins while building a personal kingdom in hoops-crazy Bloomington. But the General's history of chair-throwing outbursts and player-choking tantrums finally caught up with him in September, when the university president and the trustees nailed him for violation of a "zero tolerance" policy on new incidents. (Knight had put his hands on a student while reprimanding him.) Defiant to the end, Knight refused to resign and was canned. He may be a sorry anachronism, but he pledges to struggle on: All the benighted Knight is looking for to resume his career, he says, is the right emotional matchup of coach and college. Runner-up: In August, Yugoslav soccer officials warned fans in Belgrade that they would be beaten by police if they yelled political slogans at games.

Better luck to us all next year.

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