What can we say about 2017? Well ... it was different. Crazy things happened -- and kept happening, until we forgot what life was like without them. From the rise of the Big Baller to the fall of sled dogs on PEDs, we asked our writers to somehow explain the year that was.
Jan. 28, 2017
After Serena Williams won the Australian Open in January, she had us buzzing about the power and perfection of her game. When we found out in April that she was eight weeks pregnant at the time she swept the tournament in straight sets, she inspired a very different conversation: She did WHAT while she was WHAT?!
As the tennis world speculates on her return in January to defend that title after the September birth of her daughter, Serena has proved her greatness in another way: as an athlete who changes the conversation even when she isn't playing. Questions swirl not only about how she might return to the court but also why. For every commentator who asks if her age and the physical toll of pregnancy are the bellwether of Williams' retirement, there is one who wonders why a woman would want to continue playing post-pregnancy -- as though it were not 2017 and she were not Serena.
That we are engaged in a more complex dialogue around women, achievement, ambition and motherhood this particular year is no coincidence. This was the year Hollywood revisited the pain and glory of Billie Jean King's Battle of the Sexes, that first time an on-court performance ignited a debate around women's willingness and ability to compete. That battle took on an entirely new dimension as one powerful man after another in Hollywood, business, politics and ultimately also sports fell in the wake of #MeToo.
King's advocacy for women's competitive opportunity -- and compensation -- directly informed the standoff between USA Hockey and the women's national team this past spring. When that governing body tried to bring in replacement players for the world championships to bust the strike over pay equity, girls and women at all levels raised their voices in unity. They refused to break ranks. They won.
Through it all, Serena has maintained her distinctive voice. "I don't think my story is over yet," she told Vanity Fair this summer. Who are we to doubt that perhaps the greatest athlete of all time will find a way to write her own ending? -- Alison Overholt
Feb. 19, 2017
#MeToo took off in October, as people flocked to social media to describe their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. But back in February, three former U.S. gymnasts foretold the crisis by going public about their abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar.
The national reckoning has since engulfed sports, with WNBA star Breanna Stewart and gymnasts Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman adding their stories. How did 2017 lead to this cultural moment?
One answer lies in both Hollywood and Washington, D.C., where men still in power stand accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment. But it's more than that, particularly in sports. As women advance in fields historically closed to them, they use their newfound power to publicly challenge institutions long whispered about privately. It matters that stars speak out.
The truth: Women are not usually believed. Fame lends credibility not typically afforded to accusers, which leads to a deeper answer: People, namely men, are only now willing to listen. It's tough to deny the sheer numbers sharing this experience. Yet people still ask, "Is it really that bad?" The genius of #MeToo is that it doesn't try to do too much. It simply makes space for the conversation and puts well-known faces with gold-medal résumés behind these stories. -- Kavitha A. Davidson
Anything you can say, I can say louder
March 13, 2017
It seems crazy, but last year no one knew LaVar Ball. Yet he embodied 2017, trolling his way to the top. Who else sparks March madness by saying he could beat MJ in his prime? Who creates chaos with a single quote? Hmm, sounds familiar. So who said it: Big Baller or POTUS?*
"I'm not dealing with the administration over there."
"I know I must be a genius to plan it this well."
"I'm going to speak it into existence."
"The goal is to have my kids' kids be trust-fund babies. That eternal wealth."
"A billion dollars. That's our number. Straight outta the gate."
"I don't even tweet."
*Answer key: They're all LaVar Ball.
Vegas' sports gamble pays off
March 27, 2017
When the NFL voted to join the NHL in the gambling mecca in March, Las Vegas as a sports town officially became a reality. Mark my words: It will be remembered as a terrible and short-lived decision that saw the once-proud Oakland Raiders playing to half-hearted applause from half-capacity crowds of conventioneers, corporate suits, hungover bros and fans of the other team ... until, of course, their eventual re-re-relocation back to their rightful home, Oakland. (Full disclosure: I'm a bitter Raiders fan.) -- Sam Alipour
April 6, 2017
Tim Tebow goes yard his first time at bat, then hits just seven homers in his next 485 plate appearances in the Mets' minor league system.
Judge of character
April 9, 2017
It has been 20 years since we turned to baseball to both capture and challenge the imagination, only to find that its outsized heroics were by outsized men cooked up in a lab. Now comes Aaron Judge, and here, it seems, is the genuine article. It isn't that he's 6-foot-7, 282 pounds. It's the bat-snapping ease with which he occupies his own capacious skin. Baseball has always made room for elevated everymen; this year, Judge made it safe for giants. -- Tom Junod
Rookie did wha?
April 29, 2017
You saw him explode for 295 yards and three touchdowns in the inaugural Celebration Bowl and said, "He went to North Carolina A&T. How good could 'The Human Joystick' be?"
When his NFL draft dreams were realized and he went to the Chicago Bears, it warmed your heart. When he balled out in his NFL debut, you quietly put him on your fantasy team. And when the little big man -- all 5-foot-6, 181 pounds of him -- threw a touchdown pass in a win over the Baltimore Ravens, becoming the first player 5-foot-6 or shorter to throw a touchdown pass since 1934, you told everybody you've been on the Tarik Cohen bandwagon since day one.
Cute. -- Mark W. Wright
Go ... fish
May 23, 2017
As anyone who has played hours of Madden can testify, our species does not fear computerized competition. But at this point, we should. In May in Hong Kong, a Google-backed software program dominated humanity's top contender at Go, perhaps the most complex board game mortals have ever devised. "It became like a god," the dethroned Go champion, Ke Jie, said of his opponent afterward. No, this does not mean that the athletic singularity is upon us. Sports is not yet a place where CGI sharks routinely humiliate Olympic swimmers (though the fact that this happened to Michael Phelps in July is, uh, worrisome). But as humans keep innovating, unsure of the consequences, you can bet on a larger truth: We've already lost. -- Pablo S. Torre
June 16, 2017
The height of the rugby year, the British & Irish Lions' tour of New Zealand, featured momentary controversy, as rugby purists sounded the trumpet of traditionalism. Fans were up in arms about coach Warren Gatland's curious roster choice when he called up six players not because they best represented the Isles but because they happened to already be in Oceania. These additions quickly became known in the media as the "Geography Six." It didn't help that New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen broke the news. The ensuing uproar led to some cold calculus by Gatland, who wound up playing only two of the Geography Six and fending off Hansen in the papers, one of which depicted the lead Lion as a clown. "I'm not worried about what Steve Hansen says or what any newspaper draws me up as," Gatland said. "I just hope it was a happy clown!" It should have been. The Lions left New Zealand with five wins against two draws, three losses and a new moniker forever associated with that band of tourists. -- Tom Hamilton
Instant replay runs afoul
June 17, 2017
Reactions to video assistant referee (VAR) since it debuted at the Confederations Cup in June have been like people's views on crime. The perception is that it's on the rise, yet the actual numbers are down. Among the list of alleged problems: a few high-profile errors, tech issues, accusations of bias and complaints that it takes too long. But the numbers are clear. Dozens of poor decisions have been successfully overturned, though justice comes at a price. Those who argue it isn't worth paying are often those whose team has not just been screwed out of three points. -- Gab Marcotti
72: percentage of calls changed by review in MLS*
15: Increase in red cards issued this season
*Data courtesy of MLS from Aug. 5, when video review was instituted, to Nov. 30.
June 22, 2017
Mohamed Salah scored just two goals in two years during his first stint in England, so when the Egyptian attacking midfielder arrived at Liverpool from Roma in June, there were questions about his ability to adjust to the Premier League. The world no longer wonders. Not only does Salah lead the Premier League's goal list, scoring or assisting in nearly every match since mid-October, but he also led Egypt to World Cup qualification for the first time in nearly three decades and won the BBC's African Footballer of the Year award. In November, his manager, Jurgen Klopp, gave him the ultimate endorsement, calling his team's run the "Mo Salah Period." Who could ask for anything Mo? -- Lindsay Du Plessis
July 20, 2017
Three of the WNBA's superstars showed more of their lives than ever this year. We saw a snapshot of Diana Taurasi marrying Penny Taylor, Sue Bird (above right) on SportsCenter discussing her life with soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and Elena Delle Donne and wife Amanda Clifton earning the title of The Knot's Dream Wedding. The best part? No timeouts to "break" the news. No news conferences. No long revelations of hidden struggle. They just waved for us to keep pace as they continued down their paths. Now it's impossible to imagine it any other way. -- Kate Fagan
A sale of two cities
Aug. 4, 2017
Neymar's record-smashing $263 million transfer to Paris shows that no club -- not even Barcelona -- is safe. The jump was seen as the Brazilian's coup de grâce. At 25, he was ready to be like Messi, a star even bigger than his club's brand. Except it wasn't quite that simple. Yes, PSG has been winning plenty, and Neymar has been scoring plenty, but rumors of trouble in paradise just won't stop. Neymar has reportedly feuded with one teammate over who should take penalty kicks and clashed with his coach over everything from tactics to scouting meetings. Once he nearly cried at a news conference because he was so frustrated by all the stories in the media. After less than six months at the place that was supposed to be his happily-ever-after, Neymar finds himself at the heart of speculation that he is looking to make another big move. Who supposedly wants him now? Any soccer fan needs just one guess: Real Madrid. -- Sam Borden
Aug. 10, 2017
Anthem protests picked back up in the NFL's first full preseason week, but this time with a twist. When President Trump noticed players kneeling, he identified a political winner. Many Americans, myself included, find kneeling disrespectful to our nation's traditions and values. But should it be one of the president's priorities? Should he use the world's biggest bully pulpit to silence citizens? No, even if I agree with him. In 2018, I expect the president to keep tweeting about the NFL as long as it's a political winner. But with a recent poll suggesting that 70 percent of Americans want him to stop, the end might be near. -- Will Cain
The world according to Kyrie Irving
Aug. 23, 2017
"Don't do this," they said. "Who would ever give up playing with the greatest player?" they gasped. Through it all, he gave us a smirk that communicated knowledge only he held. We doubted him. He said the earth was flat -- we laughed. He swatted away any notion of friendship with his former teammate LeBron, unafraid and honest. We raised our eyebrows. Now, The Kid has shown us all that he can be The Man. -- Michelle Beadle
Aug. 26, 2017
Mayweather vs. McGregor packed more drama than punch, but as the second-highest-selling bout in U.S. history, it ensured future fighting follies.
The haters' guide to Baker Mayfield
Sept. 9, 2017
Consider the face of 2017 college football: Baker Mayfield, he of the eyeblack, finely manicured facial hair and big, white headband, all at once Joe Namath, Jim McMahon and Johnny Manziel. Like those three, he wins, wows and also divides. He planted an OU flag in the Horseshoe after downing Ohio State, reminded Baylor he was their daddy and was going to spank them, hit a TCU player in the head with a football during warm-ups and grabbed his crotch while yelling at the Kansas sideline. But if you really examine his face, you'll see something deeper than a sneer. This is a kid whose dreams have come true. The Heisman winner grew up tailgating on the street where Oklahoma will one day erect a statue in his honor. Those eyes aren't wild out of fear or madness. He's soaking in every last second in crimson and cream, all while pouring it on anyone bold enough to get in his face. -- Ryan McGee
Touchdown dancing with the stars
Sept. 10, 2017
1. The KD free throw
Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris took advantage of the NFL's new celebration rule when he stepped to an imaginary free throw line following a 7-yard TD catch in Week 1 against the Patriots.
2. The hide-and-seek
The Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster won Week 7 by hiding his eyes while Le'Veon Bell ducked behind the goalpost.
3. The duck, duck, goose
Case Keenum and the resurgent Vikings played the chase-around-the-circle game on Monday Night Football in Week 5.
4. The electric slide
The Eagles have led the league in inventive celebrations -- Alshon Jeffery went bowling for teammates, and Torrey Smith hit a Nelson Agholor pitch out of the Linc -- but their re-creation of the 1970s disco dance not once but twice in Week 12 against da Bears was da bomb.
Nike, you had one job
Sept. 30, 2017
When Lakers guard Tyler Ennis tore his jersey during the first preseason game, nobody thought much of it. Two months and a pile of torn jerseys later, it's obvious that Nike's gear has a major structural integrity problem, as player after player -- LeBron James, Draymond Green, Ben Simmons, to name a few -- has found his uni ripping to shreds at the slightest tug. Here's hoping Nike fixes it pronto before we end up with the Warriors and Rockets going shirts vs. skins. -- Paul Lukas
What next, the Iditaroid?
Oct. 23, 2017
Iditarod officials went easy on musher Dallas Seavey after four of his dogs tested positive for banned opioids. Seavey denied doping his dogs and stood behind them.
An involuntary dismissal
Nov. 26, 2017
Tennessee's hiring of Greg Schiano was burned down by an angry mob wielding digital pitchforks, decrying the former Penn State assistant's (tenuous at best) ties to the Sandusky scandal. Are college fan bases the new moral compass, or are they merely finding a reason to scuttle an unpopular candidate? -- Ryan McGee
IOC to Russia: Just say nyet
Dec. 5, 2017
Russia received the IOC's harshest ban ever for performance-enhancing drugs, as the entire nation was barred from Pyeongchang. (Clean athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag.) The decision marked a reversal in the committee's actions on doping, thanks to whistleblowers such as the doctor who ran the country's state-sponsored testing lab. There's no word yet on the 2018 World Cup (or the Iditarod). -- Elaine Teng