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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 25, 2014

More to 2012 than ‘sad sagas’

By MICHAEL LEACH, Ledger sports editor | Dec 27, 2012

Yesterday I ran an Associated Press article titled “Sad sagas the story of 2012” by sports writer Tim Reynolds.

In it, Reynolds discussed all the terrible sports stories that have come to represent the year that was, and it’s hard to argue with his point. If you were paying even the tiniest bit of attention over the past 12 months, you couldn’t miss some of the negative headlines gracing the sports pages. Still, I’d argue some of the year’s most uplifting stories came out of the sports world, as well.

According to Reynolds, 2012 will be remembered for such stories as the disgraceful Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno/Penn State football program scandal, cycling hero and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong being stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles, and the NFL’s “Bountygate” scandal in which several New Orleans Saints players and its coach were suspended from the sport. Reynolds also mentioned legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt stepping down after being diagnosed with early onset dementia and the acquittal of former MLB pitcher Roger Clemens following charges he lied to Congress about performance-enhancing drug use.

Most recently this month, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend at their home and then killed himself at the team’s practice facility. It felt like just another tragedy in a long string of them, both on — and especially off — the field.

There are even several negative but less notable stories Reynolds left out: The affair and subsequent firing of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jerry Brown dying in a car accident and teammate Josh Brent being charged with intoxicated manslaughter, the ongoing NHL lockout, fan favorites Junior Seau and Ryan Freel taking their own lives. And how can we forget the debacle that was the NFL’s replacement referees during the season’s first three weeks?

The list goes on.

But for every depressing, enraging or reprehensible sports saga, there was an equally inspirational one highlighting the perseverance of the human spirit or competition at its finest. This I saw first-hand while covering athletes at the high school level, from afar in the pros, and everything in between.

Right here in Fairfield, I saw a charismatic archer who was born without arms, Matt Stutzman, return from the 2012 Summer Paralympics with a silver medal around his neck. (I even got to interview Stutzman prior to the Games, and it’s easy to see he deserves all the success that comes his way.)

In prep wrestling, I saw a ranked wrestler purposely lay down on the mat against an opponent who suffered from a disability. No one was happier afterward than the high-schooler who got the pin, though it felt like the entire crowd was smiling from ear to ear for him.

Down at Texas A&M, I watched a scrawny 19-year-old known as “Johnny Football” become the first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. And love him or hate him, I saw the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera become the first player to win MLB’s Triple Crown since 1967.

At the London Olympics this summer, the U.S.’s Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history with 19 medals won, and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt became the first sprinter in history to win a gold medal in the 100- and 200-meter races in back-to-back Olympics.

In NCAA Division I football, fans won a battle when a board of 12 university presidents approved a football playoff beginning with the 2014 season. Although the bracket will only consist of four teams, the progress proved public opinion can, in fact, still bring about change.

And in the ongoing fight for gender equality, I witnessed the Augusta National Golf Club add its first female members in its 80-year history in response to a growing outcry.

So yes, it has been a bad year in the wide world of sports. But it’s been a pretty good one, too.

2012 will probably be remembered more for the Jerry Sandusky cover-up than anything, and for good reason, but let’s not forget all the positive stories that spawned from sports. My examples, as well as the thousands upon thousands I surely missed, prove there is still plenty to cheer about as we move forward into a new year.

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