Thursday, November 24, 2016

Loosen your belt and enjoy the Turkey of the Year Countdown

It's Thanksgiving. So naturally, while Roberta is relaxing blissfully in the kitchen (something about getting dinner ready), I am doing real work: putting together my 18th annual Turkey of the Year Countdown.

Lest I end up on this list myself, I do hope everybody knows I'm joking. Robbie is working hard in that kitchen. As she should, being a woman at all. (That's for you, President Trump!)

Anyway, on with the task at hand - "honoring" the sports year's losers, lame-os, louts, haters, hypocrites and hacks.

Previous "winners" (and by that, I mean losers):

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells and Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno and the Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012); Alex Rodriguez(2013); Roger Goodell and Ray Rice (2014); Derrick Rose (2015).

Sharp readers will notice that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did their gobbling in Chicago or the Midwest. Because I columnized for the Copley newspaper group in Chicago, where the annual countdown got its start under my predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour, I naturally favored that region. (The Cubs were particularly well-represented, taking the "honor" six times in a 7-year span in the aughts ... but that obviously isn't the case this year!) Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

OK, enough appetizers. Time to get to the main meal ...

12. JIMMY HASLAM. Since buying the Cleveland Browns in 2012, they are 19-56 - including 0-11 so far this season, when they will miss the playoffs for the 14th straight year. Haslam already has shot through four coaches and three GMs, and he doesn't even have a GM now because he hired a baseball guy to focus on Moneyball-type analytics. Good luck with that. Can't LeBron buy the team?

11. NICK KYRGIOS. Tennis is the only mainstream sport in which even high-ranked competitors routinely tank games: Player is losing 5-1, so he or she barely moves to save energy for the following set. The enigmatic Kyrgios took tanking to an absurd level in a Shanghai Masters loss to Mischa Zverev: He literally didn't try almost the entire match, tapping serves barely over the net, walking away as Zverev returned shots and saying out loud that he just wanted to go home to Australia. Fans, who had paid hundreds for tickets, booed - and Kyrgios cussed them out. Nice guy.

10. TIGER WOODS. I faintly remember him being a pretty fair golfer. I've won as many majors as he has the last eight years.

9. CHRIS SALE. Flipped out not because the crappy White Sox became laughingstocks in Cubbieland but because he didn't want to wear an alternate jersey the team was promoting. Apparently oblivious to the fact that such promotions help pay ballplayers' astronomical salaries, Sale went comically ballistic, cutting uniforms to shreds in the clubhouse. It probably was the first step in Sale's eventual departure from the team. Hmmm ... maybe he knew exactly what he was doing all along.

8. COLIN KAEPERNICK. I have no problem with him declining to stand during the national anthem as a protest against police violence against blacks. (Nor do I have a problem with those who dislike him for it.) But when Kaepernick wears socks depicting cops as pigs, when he says something idiotic like Trump and Hillary are equally racist and when he decides to not even vote ... well, he undermines his own cause.

7. TONY ROMO. The Cowboys finally seem ready to contend for the Super Bowl, and their snakebit QB - injured yet again - gets "Wally Pipped" by Dak Prescott. Romo is healthy enough to play now but can't get his job back. The classy Romo has said Prescott should stay in the lineup, so this Turkey mention is more about his doggone bad luck.

6. RYAN LOCHTE. First, he swam in Rio as if he had an anchor tied around his neck. Then he lied about being robbed at gunpoint. Then he came back to America after the Olympics and staged a pathetic apology tour. I'm not sure what's worse, athletes who dope, or dopey athletes.

5. BRIAN KELLY. It isn't easy to make Notre Dame football completely irrelevant, so Kelly deserves special congratulations for that. Oh, and the team just had to forfeit 21 wins for academic malfeasance under his watch. Predictably, he says he had no knowledge of the situation. Either he is lying or he is ignorant; neither speaks highly of the man in charge. Touchdown Jesus is mortified.

4. CAM NEWTON. The year started great, as the NFL MVP passed and ran and dabbed the Panthers into Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to go but down. Getting little help from his teammates, he didn't play especially well in the big game, and he deserved the grief he caught for not even trying to recover a late fumble that sealed Carolina's fate. He then demonstrated how not to conduct a post-game press conference. This season, he has been only OK and the Panthers likely will miss the playoffs. He also got himself concussed when a defensive player blasted him at the goal line after Cam slowed down instead of simply running into the end zone. I'm a Panthers fan - and a Cam fan - so I hope this was just one of those years and he'll come back strong in 2017.

3. HOPE SOLO. The U.S. soccer goalie gave new meaning to "poor sportsmanship" - and to "Ugly American" - when she reacted to an Olympic quarterfinal loss to Sweden by calling the Swedes a bunch of cowards. What got Solo so perturbed? Did the Swedes play dirty? Did they call U.S. players names? Did they spike the U.S. team's Gatorade? No ... they had the temerity to employ a slow-down strategy that helped them win in a shootout. Of course, the U.S. could have won the shootout had their goalkeeper made more saves ... but it's easier to lash out than to look in the mirror.

2. DRAYMOND GREEN. Who knew that the statistic that would have the biggest bearing on the NBA Finals would be not points or assists or rebounds or turnovers but crotch shots? Green, one of the Golden State Warriors' best players, turns out to also be one of basketball's dirtiest. He started kicking opponents in their man-zones earlier in the postseason and kept it up in the Finals. Finally, when Green changed things up a bit by using his hand to swat LeBron during Game 4, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had little choice but to suspend Green for Game 5. The Warriors had a 3-1 series lead but lost without Green. He then played poorly in Game 6 as the Cavs won again, setting the stage for Cleveland's remarkable, entertaining and historic win in Game 7. For Draymond Green, that must have been quite a kick in the, um, teeth.

And now, friends and fans, the 2016 Turkey of the Year ...


What? Am I suddenly making this a political "award." Well, only kind-of.

McCrory almost did the impossible. In a state that decisively elected Trump and pretty much every other Republican on the ballot, McCrory seems to have managed to lose his job as governor. (I say "seems to" because a recount appears to be in the offing, but the odds against him winning remain very long.)

What's especially interesting is that North Carolina has created jobs during McCrory's tenure and even has a budget surplus. The state is growing, as newcomers pour in. Formerly a popular Charlotte mayor, he won easily in 2012, getting millions of votes from Democrats. As the incumbent, he should have cruised to victory - and if there had been any doubt, he could have ridden the coattails of Trump, whom he supported vocally. Instead, he trails Democrat Roy Cooper, the attorney general, by about 8,000 votes.

How did this happen?

There might have been a few reasons. He is perceived by many Republicans as too moderate and by most Democrats as exceedingly right-wing. He is seen as a feckless leader, bullied frequently by legislators from his own party. He refused to take a stand against toll roads that will cost North Carolina commuters dearly. But perhaps the overriding factor was a piece of legislation called House Bill 2.

HB2 - or Hate Bill 2, as detractors call it - strips antidiscrimination protections away from LGBT residents. It prevents counties, cities and towns from raising the minimum wage. And, most famously, it mandates that transgender people use bathrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates.

Almost immediately, corporations scrapped plans to bring jobs to North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen and other high-profile entertainers canceled concerts. Large groups moved their conventions to other states.

And - here's where the sports comes in - those in charge of professional and college leagues expressed serious doubts about whether they wanted to hold major events here. The NBA gave N.C. leaders a few months to try to rectify the situation, but when the state refused to back down, the league pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

The ACC followed, taking its championship football game out of Charlotte. Greensboro was supposed to host two NCAA basketball tournament rounds - but not any more. Numerous other college sporting events pulled up stakes to go elsewhere.

In addition to being embarrassing, all of that activity is costing North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. McCrory and his people keep trying to downplay the losses and to blame those who are moving the events. The soon-to-be-ex-governor does everything but take responsibility for his own mess.

HB2 was rushed into law during a one-day special session and signed within minutes by McCrory, who since has admitted that he didn't know some of what was in it. McCrory has defended it as a common-sense law that protects women and little girls from sexual predators. This despite the fact that there have been zero instances of transgender people committing deviant crimes in the hundreds of cities that allow them to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Besides being pretty much unenforceable, the law actually requires transgender men - who look like men, act like men and might even have facial hair (think Chaz Bono) - to use the ladies room. Why? Their birth certificates say they are female, so they have to pee in stalls next to the little girls McCrory purports to protect.

Oh, and McCrory supported Trump, who has bragged about going into locker rooms at beauty pageants, many of which involved teenage girls. If only HB2 had banned Agent Orange!

It is so much hypocrisy, all in the name of hate and exclusion. It has cost North Carolina the NBA All-Star Game, thousands of jobs and considerable humiliation. And now it apparently has cost McCrory his governorship.

Channeling his inner Hope Solo, he is refusing to concede. Channeling his inner Trump, he is alleging voter fraud despite there being no evidence that wide-spread fraud cost him the election. But the more votes that are being counted - all by Republican county election boards - the further behind McCrory is falling in the race. Classic.

It's a performance well deserving of the highest honor in the land, The Baldest Truth's Turkey of the Year.

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