Sports memories of 2013

LeBron James continues to prove he is the best basketball player on the planet as he wins the NBA Championship and  Finals MVP in consecutive years.

LeBron James continues to prove he is the best basketball player on the planet as he wins the NBA Championship and Finals MVP in consecutive years.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

Every year has a unique sports identity and 2013 had a number of trends that immediately come to mind. This year the sports world treated us to fantastic moments like a Super Bowl that was decided in the final minutes and thrilling plays throughout a seven-game series in the NBA Finals. Game 6 of the NBA Finals might be viewed as the game of the year as it provided us with scintillating plays all the way to the end.

Ray Allen (r) makes what might be the play of the year in 2013 as he drills a 3 pointer to tie Game 6 in the final seconds of regulation over Tony Parker (c) and Kawhi Leonard (l).

Ray Allen (r) makes what might be the play of the year in 2013 as he drills a 3-pointer to tie Game 6 in the final seconds of regulation over Tony Parker (c) and Kawhi Leonard (l).

We also witnessed serious tragedy in sports, headlined by the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While there was something memorable about the different sporting events throughout 2013, there were some trends that connected the various sports.

 

Derek Jeter (l) and Kobe Bryant (r) are hoping to fully recover from their injuries and have a much better 2014.

Derek Jeter (l) and Kobe Bryant (r) are hoping to fully recover from their injuries and have a much better 2014.

Superstar injuries: 2013 was a year in which some of the biggest names in sports spent a great deal of time on the injured list. Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rob Gronkowski, Matt Harvey, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kemp, Rajon Rondo, Arian Foster and Russell Westbrook were just several of the many All-Star caliber players  who suffered lengthy injuries this calendar year. Adrian Peterson has altered the perception of the impact of some of these injuries as he returned in record time to win the 2012-13 National Football League (NFL) MVP award after tearing the ACL in his knee at the end of the 2011-12 season. It is becoming apparent that Peterson’s recovery was exceptional and that it seems unreasonable to expect any athlete to return to action and be better than they were before the injury.

 

Serena Williams raises her title as she continues her dominance at the U.S. Open.

Serena Williams raises her title as she continues her dominance at the U.S. Open.

Elite performances by the elite performers: The 2013 calendar year was tremendous for the best players in almost every sport. Peyton Manning set NFL records for quarterback in the 2013-14 season en route to a likely fifth MVP award. Miguel Cabrera proved to be the best offensive player in Major League Baseball (MLB), winning the American League (AL) MVP award for the second consecutive season. Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal each won two out of four Grand Slam titles this year on the tennis tour. Tiger Woods reclaimed his position as the number one ranked golfer in the world while winning five tournaments in 2013. Perhaps no performance stands out more than LeBron James capturing his second consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals MVP award and fourth league MVP award this year as he led the Miami Heat to back-to-back championships.

 

Mariano Rivera was classy as he watched the mess that is New York sports crumble around him,.

Mariano Rivera was classy as he watched the mess that is New York sports crumble around him.

Tough year in New York sports: The Yankees and Mets both faced numerous injuries to key players and failed to make the postseason this year. The Yankees had to watch their rivals the Boston Red Sox win another title. They also have to try to cope with the retirement of legend Mariano Rivera, the loss of their best offensive player Robinson Cano, the unavailability of currently suspended, scandal-plagued player Alex Rodriguez while hoping that Derek Jeter is going to be healthy and productive all season. The Giants and Jets both had mediocre seasons and will be watching the upcoming NFL playoffs from home, missing the chance to play in the Super Bowl which will be played in their hometown. Both football teams will likely make numerous player changes as they look to rebound next year. The Knicks and Nets are off to painfully slow starts to the 2013-14 NBA season. Any talk about NBA championship contention for either team seems extremely far-fetched as both teams have a long way to go just to make the playoffs this year.

 

2013 Boston Marathon participants are emotional wrecks as they witness copious innocent people injured on the street.

2013 Boston Marathon participants are emotional wrecks as they witness copious innocent people injured on the street.

Sporting world’s negative headlines: The two bombs that exploded during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 may be the most unfortunately memorable event that took place in sports. With approximately 264 people injured and 3 spectators killed that day, the tragedy unfolded slowly over the next few days after the marathon as the manhunt, shootout with one alleged perpetrator and eventual capture of the other alleged perpetrators played out on television like harrowing scenes from the FOX Network show 24.

Many were surprised to witness Aaron Hernandez being arrested in connection with a murder shortly before the start of the NFL season.

Many were surprised to witness Aaron Hernandez being arrested in connection with a murder shortly before the start of the NFL season.

2013 was also witness to the arrest for murder and gun charges of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is currently imprisoned as he awaits trial for the serious charges. The Miami Dolphins sparked greater debates about bullying in athletics as news surfaced about Jonathan Martin walking away from the team after alleging that he was bullied by teammates, specifically Richie Incognito. The NFL is still investigating this matter. Meanwhile, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was able to perform on the field while being investigated by local Florida prosecutors after he was accused of sexually assaulting a female who also attends Florida State. The prosecutor’s decision to not pursue charges against Winston still raised questions about whether some athletes get special treatment from law enforcement as the attorney for the accuser remains adamant that her client was violated. At the same time, Winston consistently asserted that his encounter with the accuser was consensual and that he “did nothing wrong.”

The Louisville Cardinals honor injured teammate Kevin Ware as they celebrate winning the National Championship in college basketball.

The Louisville Cardinals honor injured teammate Kevin Ware as they celebrate winning the National Championship in college basketball.

2013 was quite an eventful and memorable sports year. Kevin Ware breaking his leg during the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament was a gruesome sight but provided the impetus to propel the Louisville Cardinals to the national title. College football’s Nick Saban, coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Women’s college basketball’s Geno Auriemma of the Connecticut Huskies proved to be the dominant coaches in their sports as they led their teams to another national title.

Ray Lewis' last game in the NFL ended with him holding the Lombardi Trophy as the Baltimore Ravens were victorious.

Ray Lewis’ last game in the NFL ended with him holding the Lombardi Trophy as the Baltimore Ravens were victorious.

The Minnesota Lynx (WNBA) and Miami Heat (NBA) won championships in 2013 and have been in the finals each of the last three years. “Big Papi” David Ortiz led the Boston Red Sox through the post season again to win the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, Ray Lewis was able to retire on top as the Baltimore Ravens pulled out a narrow victory over the San Francisco 49ers. With the Winter Olympics in Russia and World Cup in Brazil (for which the U.S. team was placed in the Group of Death) on docket, 2014 seems poised to garner even more interest than 2013 did in the sports world.–OnPointPress.net–

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com.

Mixed bag in FIFA World Cup groupings, English-speaking Caribbeans excluded

Defending World Cup Soccer Champions Spain, with the trophy.

Defending World Cup Soccer Champions Spain, with the trophy.

By Carmen Glover

Immediately after the FIFA World Cup groupings were released last Friday, U.S. sportscasters began to panic publicly. Watching the forlorn expression on the face of ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, as he debated the U.S. team’s prospects with his Pardon The Interruption (PTI) partner Michael Wilborn, was priceless. “We’re in the Group of Death,” he moaned, as Wilborn shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Kornheiser was referring to the U.S.A’s placement in group G with soccer powerhouses Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Although the U.S.A. team is coached by former German star Jurgen Klinsmann, the team’s chances of making it out of their group are bleak, at best.

USA Soccer team and their fans are bemoaning their spot in the "Group of Death," for World Cup 2014.

USA Soccer team and their fans are bemoaning their spot in the “Group of Death,” for World Cup 2014.

But for passionate fans from the English-speaking Caribbean nations, the groupings revealed a more disturbing reality: World Cup 2014 in Brazil will not have a single team from that region. No appearance by Jamaica’s thrilling Reggae Boyz who excited the masses in France in 1998 when they became the first English-speaking Caribbean team to make it to the World Cup . No appearance from the Trinidad and Tobago team, which made its first appearance in 2006.

Jamaica's Reggae Boyz thrilled World Cup fans in France in 1998 but failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz thrilled World Cup fans in France in 1998 but failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

Judging from statements made recently by the presidents of FIFA and CONCACAF, the paucity of representation from English-speaking Caribbean nations and African countries at the World Cup is a trend that has not gone unnoticed. Speaking recently about the matter, CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb said he would create a panel to explore the formation of a professional Caribbean soccer league designed to ensure that more teams from that region qualify for the World Cup.

Trinidad & Tobago participated in World Cup 2006 but failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

Trinidad & Tobago participated in World Cup 2006 but failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

“We have so much talent in the region and the game needs a professional league and professional approach,” he said from his base in Cayman Islands, according to news reports. CONCACAF is comprised of 35 nations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. And although the entity will be represented by countries such as the United States, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica for World Cup 2014 in Brazil, the absence of representation from the English-speaking Caribbean is an open wound to soccer diehards in the region who have nurtured dreams of playing in Brazil, soccer’s mecca.

CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb is exploring the formation of a Professional Caribbean Soccer League.

CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb is exploring the formation of a Professional Caribbean Soccer League.

Jamaica feels the impact much more profoundly than many of its regional competitors because of the high esteem the country holds for Brazil and its iconic face of soccer: Pele. Embracing a strong Brazilian influence, Jamaica hired Brazilian Rene Simones to manage the team in the late 1990s, in preparation for World Cup 1998. Simones methodically recruited Jamaican-born soccer stars and players who boast Jamaican heritage, from across the globe, to join the team. The result was the nation’s first World Cup appearance, where they had a robust presence. However, the Reggae Boyz failed to qualify for the most recent Word Cup games.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter agrees that more teams from Africa and Asia need to compete in the World Cup.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter agrees that more teams from Africa and Asia need to compete in the World Cup.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter addressed disparity in representation in an article appearing recently in the FIFA Weekly magazine. Describing the need for total globalization and equity in the selection of World Cup berths, Blatter wrote: “It cannot be that European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup, because take together they account for significantly fewer member associations (63) than Africa and Asia (100).” Combined with Webb’s plans to explore the feasibility of a Caribbean soccer league, Blatter’s comments seem to indicate a shift in the consciousness of the FIFA World Cup governing body and a belated realization that the game needs to be more globally representative.

Brazilian Soccer Legend Pele displays his numerous medals and serves as an enduring ambassador for soccer.

Brazilian Soccer Legend Pele displays his numerous medals and serves as an enduring ambassador for soccer.

Noel Street, a Toronto-based businessman who played soccer in Jamaica from elementary school through college, said that unless funding, marketing and good infrastructure are put in place, a Caribbean soccer league won’t work. “The Caribbean had a professional soccer league between 1992-1995,” he said. The league failed due to poor management. “If FIFA is taking an active role in creating a new Caribbean Soccer League there will be more funding and marketing so it could work,” he said.

In the meantime, no tears are being shed for the U.S. team for its grouping in the “Group of Death” for the very reason why the English-speaking Caribbean teams are excluded. While the U.S. team falls under the CONCACAF umbrella, many teams in the English-speaking Caribbean yearn for the resources that the U.S. team has and they believe that if those resources were available they would give the U.S. team strong competition every qualifying season.

“Casual Caribbean soccer players have more raw talent than the U.S. players but the U.S.A. team has more funding, infrastructure and marketing which is why they have made more World Cup appearances that the Caribbean countries have,” Street said. Others are more generous in their sentiments about the U.S.A. team.

USA Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who propelled his German teams to World Cup victories, has to strategize to face the formidable team from Ghana in the first round.

USA Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who propelled his German teams to World Cup victories, has to strategize to face the formidable team from Ghana in the first round.

“I feel sorry for poor U.S.A because they are in the hardest group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana,” Jamaican musician Paul Kastick said when he evaluated the groupings, while visiting Malaysia. But he expressed excitement about seeing Spain and the Netherlands re-play the World Cup of 2010. “You know that the Netherlands will be looking for revenge in that first game,” he said of Group B which also has Chile and Australia.

Ines Bebea, a New York-based sports journalist who is originally from Spain, is confident that Spain is in good shape to repeat as champions in Brazil. “The team from Spain is intact from the last World Cup and most of the players of the team play professionally for Barcelona and Real Madrid,” she said in assessing Spain’s prowess. Regarding the strong European presence in World Cups when compared to nations from Africa and the English-speaking Caribbean, she said the reason is simple. “The European teams have a better system and their infrastructure is stronger than other regions,” she explained. “Europe is like the NBA of soccer.”

The World Cup trophy which is at the heart of global competition that will take place Summer 2014 in Brazil.

The World Cup trophy which is at the heart of global competition that will take place Summer 2014 in Brazil.

Street agreed with Bebea, stating that “European Clubs are more serious about the business of soccer, sponsoring students from very young ages with resources from their soccer clubs, some of which have schools as well,” he said. For the Caribbean teams to compete, he said, “Caribbean governments have to fund soccer leagues like social programs. When the league develops then businesses will give their support. If the teams make it to the World Cup then they will get funding from FIFA simply for participating in the World Cup,” he explained. The challenge, it seems, is not to create a new Caribbean Soccer League, since that has been done in the past. Rather, it is to put the right foundation, funding, marketing and support in place to ensure that it is a viable and well-funded product that will generate interest and enthusiasm to be sustainable.

As the momentum builds for the upcoming World Cup on Brazilian soil, it will be interesting to see if both Blatter and Webb follow through with their ideas about creating a more balanced system to ensure a more broadly representative World Cup for the future. Soccer fans from English-speaking Caribbean nations, Asia and Africa will be watching.–OnPointPress.net.