Roger Goodell's NFL was, by far, the most newsworthy league of 2017, but most of it was controversial news.
Roger Goodell's NFL was, by far, the most newsworthy league of 2017, but most of it was controversial news.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

The Ten Biggest Sports Stories of 2017

In some previous years in this space, I would finish off the calendar year by crowning one particularly noteworthy person the King of Content in a given year. Back then, I would actually go back through all of my posts and see who (or what) I literally wrote the most about. (For the record, if we are crowning an all-time Pendergast King of Content, it's Johnny Manziel, hands down.)

Well, I don't have the time nor the patience to go back through all of my writing and tally it up this year. Instead, we will just go with a conventional, "gut feel" top ten list of the biggest stories. That said, if we were subjectively coming up with a King of Content, this year it might very well be the National Football League as a whole.... and not for reasons that would make people feel all that great about the present or future of the game. In fact — SPOILER ALERT! — the top five stories in this post are NFL-related stories.

So let's relive and recap the biggest sports stories of this past calendar year....

10. Astros take home first title in a true Fall Classic
In a collision course that most had charted from about the middle of June, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, old NL West rivals from the '70s and '80s, met in the 2017 World Series, and the Astros came away with their first world championship in franchise history. The series will probably be best remembered for two extra inning classics, Games 2 and 5, both won by Houston, and also remembered for the Astros' shellacking Dodger trade deadline acquisition Yu Darvish twice, including the deciding Game 7, chasing him in the second inning each time. Stories later arose after the series that Darvish was tipping his pitches and the Astros knew what was coming. America was into this series, as it was the second most watched World Series of the decade, behind only 2016 and the end of the Cubs' World Series drought. George Springer, whose ALCS slump extended into a World Series Game 1 in which he struck out four times, would win World Series MVP honors, hitting five home runs over the next six games. Above all else, the Astros title gave a storm-ravaged city something to cheer about just weeks after Hurricane Harvey ravaged neighborhoods and homes everywhere.

9. Warriors cap top heavy postseason with title win
Two years ago, the 2015-2016 NBA season was capped off by one of the all-time great comebacks in sports history, as LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the 73-win Golden State Warriors. That occurrence may have been the impetus for the signing that plundered the NBA the subsequent offseason, as Kevin Durant, arguably the second greatest player in the world behind LeBron, hitched his wagon to Golden State to help lead them back to mountaintop and secure Durant's first ever NBA title. The end result was as top heavy an NBA postseason as we've ever seen, as the two finalists, Cleveland and Golden State (are as the previous two seasons), entered the NBA Finals with a collective 24-1 record in the postseason. Golden State, behind Durant as their Finals MVP, took home the title, their second in three seasons, in five games.

8. U.S. men's national soccer team misses World Cup
Despite a recent body of work that had longtime supporters of United States soccer skeptical at best, and angry at worst (see above video), all the United States men's soccer team needed on that October night was a win or tie against lowly Trinidad and Tobago and they would still qualify for the World Cup, despite the naysayers. Instead, doomsday happened. Trinidad and Tobago defeated the U.S. by a score of 2-1, and with that, 2018's World Cup is a black hole for the growth of the sport in the United States, as the men's national team will stay home this summer. Additionally, the ripple effect of the American absence will be felt in the broadcasting world, as FOX won an expensive World Cup bidding war a few years back, likely with no inkling that the United States wouldn't be a part of it. The likely trickle down will be lower advertising rates affecting EVERYTHING inside the walls of FOX. Back on the field, the rebuilding and rehabilitating of the U.S. product will be one of the bigger stories over the next few years.

7. Late summer Hurricanes rock sports world
Mother Nature reared her face in the worst way in early September, but humanity stood up to her in the best way, and the sports world was right in the middle of the whole thing. After Hurricane Harvey dumped over 50 inches of rain on Houston, the sports world went to work raising money and putting aside on-field events for a few days. The efforts were embodied by J.J. Watt's starting a YouCaring.com page with an original goal of $200,000, only for the end total to soar to $37 million. Just days after Harvey, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, cancelling college football games and forcing the Buccaneers and Dolphins, Week 1 opponents, to take their bye week in Week 1 and play football for 16 straight weeks.

6. Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather lives up to the hype
In an event that everybody thought would be more spectacle than sporting event, for which the press conferences leading up to the fight were just as anticipated as the fight itself, it turned out that the boxing match between UFC stalwart Conor McGregor and undefeated traditional boxer Floyd Mayweather was far more watchable than most folks anticipated. The fight went into the tenth round before the referee stepped in and awarded the bout to Mayweather via technical knockout. For their efforts, it is believed each fighter received around $100 million, and the intrigue of a much closer fight than anticipated has led to speculation of a rematch, unlikely as that may be. Above all else, it was proven once again that the American public will buy anything if we're told enough times that we're going to miss out by NOT buying it — the fight did 4.3 million buys on pay per view, second most in history behind only Mayweather-Pacquiao.

5. Injuries ravage the 2017 NFL season
More than any NFL season in recent memory, the 2017 season has been torn apart at the seams by injuries to prominent players. The list is long — Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham, David Johnson, Eric Berry, Richard Sherman, Joe Thomas. These are just some of the names that were gone before the season even hit the halfway point. You could stock a Pro Bowl team with the names missing in action. The wave of misfortune is surely one of a handful of reasons that TV ratings for the NFL continued their decline from last season (although probably not the biggest reason, more on that in a minute). Added onto this story is the NFL's continued attempts at corralling the unwieldy concussion issue, which got major attention a few weeks ago here in Houston when Tom Savage was drilled by 49er Elvis Dumervil, sending Savage into convulsions on the field. Savage mystifyingly returned to the field just moments later. Concussions weren't the NFL's biggest issue in 2017, but they are the biggest long-term issue for the league, its viability, and its growth.

4. Sexual harassment wave hits sports workplaces hard
It all seemed to start with the women coming forth to shed light on the abhorrent, sexually harassing behavior of Harvey Weinstein. From there, celebrities across Hollywood and the broadcasting world began to tumble one by one, from Bill O'Reilly to Matt Lauer. TIME magazine named whistle blowers of sexual harassment in the workplace as their Person of the Year right about the time this epidemic found its way onto the NFL's lawn. It began about a month ago with a former makeup artist at the NFL Network filing a lawsuit against the network for a hostile work environment, and the lawsuit itself documenting stomach-turning stories of Marshall Faulk, Heath Evans, Eric Davis, Donovan McNabb, and Warren Sapp, among others, sexually harassing the plaintiff. The head of NFL Media, David Eaton, resigned when Deadspin revealed he'd been seeking out prostitutes and porn stars on Twitter. Finally — well, "finally" until the next inevitable sexual harassment story hits — numerous anecdotes of inappropriate behavior committed by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson were documented in a story for SI.com just a couple weeks ago. Among Richardson's transgressions were his asking female subordinates for foot rubs and his offering to shave their legs. In response to the controversy, the 81-year-old Richardson revealed he would be selling the team after the postseason ended. Needless to say, Richardson's accepting the Lombardi Trophy from Roger Goodell would be an all-time TV moment, as the Panthers just clinched a playoff spot a week ago.

3. Brady makes history in Super Bowl LI comeback
Hey, speaking of ACTUAL FOOTBALL, Houston was the site of one of the NFL's most memorable games, back in February. Trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter of super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots' win probability was less than one percent. However, through a lethal combination of good fortune (seriously, who invaded Kyle Shanahan's brain in that fourth quarter play calling?) and Tom Brady, the Patriots were able to climb all the way back to tie the game at 28, and in overtime, the Falcons never saw the football. The Patriots scored on their first possession, and won the game, 34-28. Tom Brady became the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls, cementing himself as the greatest of all-time. This Super Bowl will also be remembered for one of the more odd postgame storylines, as Tom Brady's game worn jersey was stolen from the locker room during the celebration. After scouring hours of surveillance video and connecting the most microscopic clues, by March, the FBI and NFL Security traced the stolen jersey to a former Mexican media member who had also snagged Brady's jersey from Super Bowl XLIX. I told you it was a weird year for the NFL!

2. Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed
Colin Kaepernick's protests during the national anthem started during the 2016 season, but the impact for him personally truly hit during 2017. After opting out of his contract with the Niners following the 2016 season, Kaepernick waited for the phone to ring with another potential MFL employer on the other end of the line. He waited and waited and waited... and is still waiting to this day. The main reason for Kaepernick's unemployment is obvious, as the wave of anthem protests that he essentially started have hit the NFL right in the pocketbook with lower TV ratings and people turning away from the product. It doesn't help that Kaepernick was last seen on the field as a massively regressed version of the player that took the league by storm in 2012 and 2013. Still, to this day, anytime a team is signing a backup quarterback, the inevitable, sarcastic tweets come raining down — "If only there were a quarterback out there who's been to a Super Bowl recently."

1. Anthem protests tear at fabric of NFL
What began with Kaepernick's protesting police violence against African-Americans in 2016 turned into a gigantic movement among dozens of NFL players in 2017, as each weekend we would see snapshots from multiple NFL venues with players kneeling during the national anthem. The anthem protests, which many believe to be the single biggest reason for the league's dip in television and in-stadium popularity in 2017, led to the formation of a Players Coalition to meet with the commissioner and representation of the ownership constituency to try to find a peaceful (and protest-less) middle ground. It was at one of these meetings in which Texans owner Bob McNair uttered his regrettable malaprop "inmates running the prison," which only served as kerosene on the fire. Ultimately, the owners committed to donating $89 million over a seven-year period to contribute to various charitable causes targeting minorities. Perhaps not surprisingly, the players couldn't agree on that solution being suitable, as there were a handful of players distraught over their lack of involvement in identifying a solution. The protest issue, which is still ongoing, nearly led to Jerry Jones going rogue on the other owners and suing the league over their approval of Roger Goodell's extension. The whole thing has been one gigantic soap opera, and as of right now, the best solution may be to leave the players in the locker room during the anthem altogether.

Happy New Year, everybody, and here's to a far less depressing and a little more fun sports world in 2018! We need it.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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