As 2023 approaches, it gives media outlets opportunities to do wrap-ups, year-end lists, and rank anything else in the timeframe of the past 12 months. It’s really the only upside of time being arbitrary and a construct of people in power to make sure the plebeians arrive at the salt mines at 9 a.m.
OK, rant over. Now onto the best and worst sports trends of 2022 that I definitely didn’t unapologetically rip off from a G/O Media sister site. I’m not going to label them as good or bad — that’s on you, the reader to determine — because one of the trends I’ve learned in 2022 is to never label anything or anyone.
The Best - Player empowerment 101
The NCAA’s power over college athletics is waning, and the shift is going where it should have been for years: to the “student-athletes.” Name, image, and likeness deals (NILs) are a convenient workaround for universities who do not want, or can not afford, to pay their unpaid workforces, and it’s led to Bryce Young popping up in Dr. Pepper and Heisman house ads. Wide receiver Decoldest Crawford signed a deal with a heating and cooling company in Nebraska that was a fantastic and creative way to dole out some extra cash, and had the potential for a Scott Frost crossover if he was still employed in Lincoln.
Player empowerment 101 (cont’d)
He’s not, and Crawford is taking his talents elsewhere as he entered the transfer portal, which also has overrun college athletics. No longer forced to sit out a year as a penalty for transferring, the portal has created free agency periods in college sports, with the NCAA creating (and botching) transfer windows to try to stop the sport from further spiraling into the “Wild West.” (I think we can all agree that calling college football the “Wild West” was this year’s “new normal” candidate for shit that should stay in the past.) Coaches can no longer run programs like dictatorships, and I’m all in on anything that threatens Nick Saban’s hold over college football.
The Worst - Host countries ruining world sporting events
The year began with the Winter Olympics in China and ended with the World Cup in Qatar. While both countries treated the showcases as such, trying to skew the narrative that they’re destinations above reproach, we — the media — spent a large portion of those weeks covering stories like athletes being confined (imprisoned?) to their dorms over COVID in China, Qatar treating migrants as a disposable workforce, and rebuking the host countries’ PR campaigns.
Host countries ruining world sporting events (cont’d)
The cons of holding these massive events have barreled ahead of the pros for some time, and they’re essentially vanity projects at the expense of the residents. We’ll see how Paris, Milan-Cortina, and North America handle the next round of Summer and Winter games, and World Cup, but I’m extremely skeptical in general. The Women’s World Cup in 2023 is split between Australia and New Zealand and perhaps it will provide a suitable template to ease the costs of hosting such events. Divvying up the responsibilities could be a great trend, but that’s for next year.
The Best - Celebrating some true GOATs on their way out to pasture
A few massive stars retired in 2022, and even though some came back, or haven’t realized it’s time to cede the spotlight, Father Time can only be avoided for so long. Serena Williams bowed out of tennis at the US Open after giving us a vintage night or two. LeBron James averaged 30 points last year, but it was in between injuries during a lost season, and this year is quickly headed that way. Tom Brady stepped away only to come back a few months later for a depressing season — on and off the field. Aaron Rodgers is no longer doing the Discount Double Check celebration every Sunday, and we’re just left with discount Aaron Rodgers.
Celebrating some true GOATs on their way out to pasture (cont’d)
Roger Federer also retired, but he was all class about it as has been the case throughout his career. Serena teased a Brady-inspired return, but hopefully, she’s been keeping tabs on how poorly that’s going and won’t return to the court. We’ve been incredulous about the lifespan of these greats, constantly asking, “How long can this continue?” Now the proverbial writing is on the wall. Who chooses to heed it — well, that’s up to them.
The Worst - LIV Golf versus the PGA
How do I properly sum up the growing rift between golfers on the PGA Tour and the new Saudi-backed LIV tour? What started off as a quarrel between Phil Mickelson and the PGA regarding compensation turned into an all-out war for the future of the sport.
LIV Golf versus the PGA (cont’d)
The independent contractor model the PGA employs is unfair and fucks over the guys struggling to make the cut as they have to cover their own expenses. However, selling your soul to the Saudis was not the next logical step. Big-name golfers defected for huge payouts to make appearances at tournaments with spur-of-the-moment rules. And those little guys that Phil was looking out for aren’t getting a lump sum of blood money because they don’t move the needle. Mix in Donald Trump, and Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson, Lefty, and the rest of the rogues’ gallery have successfully politicized golf. Crazy how the people who screamed the loudest about keeping sports and state separate are all about it when the grievances come from people who look like them.
The Best - Bill Belichick, no longer inevitable
The way Mac Jones’ rookie season went, it felt like the Patriots model was going to churn out another winner. He may not be Brady, but no one is. However, Jones has all the tools and appeared to be an ideal medium for Belichick to mold into another masterpiece. Yet, the Hoodie might be going senile.
Bill Belichick, no longer inevitable (cont’d)
He’s got a couple of his boys on staff, and has welcomed a few prodigal sons back into the mix. There’s no amount of micromanaging in the world that will turn Matt Patricia or Joe Judge into quarterback whisperers, and yet Belichick entrusted his prize pupil to them. Not only has Jones regressed, but the team is also beating themselves in ways that never used to happen in New England. Late turnovers and missed kicks cost them against the Bengals in Week 16. And they went full “Band is on the field” in a tie game against the Raiders and lost in the most nut-punch way possible. Belichick still gets pissed about being questioned, but this time, the queries are more than valid.
The Worst - Sports gets into the streaming wars
It was only a matter of time before $10 to $15 bucks a month wasn’t enough to support Big Streaming’s spending. There’s a finite amount of subscribers, yet the number of platforms keeps growing, and you can’t try them all. It’s like hard seltzers. Unless you’re in early, it’s very hard to break through, and people often only trust the brands they know.
Sports gets into the streaming wars (cont’d)
Well, the most trusted brand of any television product is live sports. It’s the one thing you still need to watch in real-time. You can catch all 22 footage or condensed versions to see what you missed, but if a score gets spoiled, it’s on you — and not the asshole who leaked the Superman cameo in Black Adam. That’s why Amazon gave the NFL a cool $1 billion for the rights to the Thursday night slopfests, and YouTube paid $2.5 billion for NFL Sunday Ticket. I don’t know who is getting who into the canary eating party between Jeff Bezos, Roger Goodell, and the cabal that runs Google, but I’m sure an invite to eat with a napkin over your head was a part of the deals as well.
The Best - Owner accountability
One of the more refreshing happenings to take place in 2022 was this newfound effort to hold owners accountable for being distasteful misanthropes without video evidence of Robert Sarver dropping N-bombs, or Daniel Snyder leering at cheerleading tryouts from his owner’s box. Getting canceled without an appearance on Alex Jones was unheard of if the offenses didn’t merit jail time.
Owner accountability (cont’d)
Now, the court of public opinion can get you gone, which is why Jerry Jones has been such an adamant supporter of Snyder throughout the gamut of investigations that the Commanders’ overlord has faced. Owners in the NBA are only slightly more progressive than in the NFL, so it took LeBron and Chris Paul issuing public statements about the former Phoenix owner to get that momentum going.
Ironically, a few players have overcome arrests or court cases. Deshaun Watson — who allegedly sexually harassed most of the masseuses in the Houston metro area (but has denied the allegations) — went to the Browns for a huge amount of capital and got a huge contract. Miles Bridges, who was accused of beating the crap out of the mother of his children — he pleaded no contest to the charges — has been in talks with the Hornets about rejoining the struggling team. Trevor Bauer just got reinstated, too, so hoo-ray accountability!
The Worst - Sportscasters getting the IP treatment
A ramification of the aforementioned streaming wars and the new platform it created was a new booth. We got an Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit mutant likability combo. They’ve been alright. Herbstreit’s enthusiasm isn’t grating, and Michaels can make anyone interesting. Unfortunately, those powers don’t work if the product is subpar, and Thursday night is always subpar.
Sportscasters getting the IP treatment (cont’d)
The WorldWide Leader took notice of the splashy hires and followed suit. There are a plethora of reasons why ESPN has had such a hard time nailing down a booth for Monday Night Football, but none of them are money, so they just said fuck it and threw Disney money at Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. After a long stint of calling consistently good games in Fox’s Sunday afternoon window, they’re now getting paid by the gallon to try to muster up fervor for Colt-Chargers.
Of course, the financial windfall has not touched every corner of the sportscasting world as Deadspin Senior Writer Carron Phillips has pointed out many times. Apparently, the life hack is to just identify as Italian.