The Year In Sports

NPR's Robert Siegel talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about the big sports events of the past year.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, to some of 2010's most exciting moments in sports.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: ...Oh, can you believe this? Go. Go, USA.

SIEGEL: That's the dispassionate call on ESPN from the World Cup this summer, when soccer star Landon Donovan scored in the last seconds to put the U.S. over Algeria.

For more, our regular sports contributor, Stefan Fatsis, is here. Hi, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And you were in South Africa to witness that. Were the U.S. fans as excited as the guy who called the play on ESPN?

Mr. FATSIS: More excited. I was in the stands. I was not press credentialed for this World Cup. And I think my voice is still sore and back still hurts from all that frenzied hugging that I experienced with strangers and NPR's Mike Pesca.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: A huge moment, certainly for Pesca.

And what were some other big moments in sports for you this year?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, you know, Spain winning that World Cup for the first time. New Orleans winning the Super Bowl post-Katrina. Butler reaching the finals of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Sidney Crosby scoring an overtime goal to give Canada a three-two win over the United States in the gold medal in Men's Ice Hockey at the Olympics in Vancouver.

And finally, just this week, the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team winning its 89th-straight game, breaking the UCLA men's record from the 1970s. Though, I must add, not coming close to Trinity's men's squash team, this month running its unbeaten streak to 228.

SIEGEL: Two hundred twenty-eight. Now, Sidney Crosby aside, a lot of the sports personalities we followed this year, well, very often they were not being so much heroic as sports anti-heroes. Here's what might be the most infamous sound bite from one of them.

Unidentified Man #1: LeBron, what's your decision.

Mr. LeBRON JAMES (Basketball Player): This fall - man, it was very tough. In this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.

FATSIS: Oh, yeah, very, very tough for LeBron James, announcing - during "The Decision," his one-hour show on ESPN - that he was going to leave Cleveland and go to Miami and play with another superstar, Dwyane Wade.

You know, short of scandal, Robert, I think this had to be one of the quickest image transformations in sports. He went from Cleveland idol, really respected basketball player, to I think loathed egocentric.

But it wasn't a scandal, and if you're going to go to scandal for our anti-heroes, it's going to have to be Tiger Woods in 2010. His own staged announcement that he was going to leave the golf tour for a while after those reports of numerous infidelities might have been the most painful-to-watch media moment of the year.

Woods still has not climbed back to top of his game, as has our other sports antihero, number three of 2010, Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles. A year and a half out of prison, the dominant player in NFL.

SIEGEL: There were, of course, other scandals in sports this year. This announcement by Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer's international ruling body FIFA, got your hackles up.

Mr. SEPP BLATTER (FIFA): The winner to organize the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Qatar.

(Soundbite of applause).

FATSIS: Yeah, look, I love the World Cup on the field. I can't stand it off the field. The decision to award Qatar or Qatar or however we're going to pronounce it the 2022 World Cup over the United States was business as usual by this unregulated international sporteaucracy in the face of multiple reports of bribery, vote-rigging and other activities.

FIFA makes me mad. The other stuff just makes sigh in sports. College football, you had this year a former Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush returning his award and his school getting sanctioned because he took improper benefits when he was playing there.

You had a current player, Cam Newton, the quarterback at Auburn, not getting sanctioned by the NCAA, even though his father solicited payment from at least one school.

And then yesterday, five Ohio State football players were suspended for selling rings, jerseys and other awards, including a sportsmanship award from a bowl game last year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FATSIS: You know, but these guys aren't going to get suspended until next season. So they get to play in the Sugar Bowl on January 4th.

SIEGEL: Now how about a look ahead to 2011?

FATSIS: Well, here are my questions for 2011. Will there be National Football League and National Basketball Association seasons? There are lockouts possible in both sports. You've got a Women's World Cup in Germany in soccer. Can the U.S. win for first time since 1999?

And will NFL take serious steps to protect player health, including but not only limited to head injuries?

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis, who talks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports.

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