Falling stars and strikes: America's year of shame

From drugs busts to the NBA season being delayed to sexual abuse accusations in college sport, 2011 in the US has been all about the off-field drama, writes Robin Scott-Elliot

There was one notable US sporting victory this year.

That it came in a courtroom is perhaps appropriate as much of the sporting conflict that has made up a turbulent 12 months has been removed from the field of play. Judges, lawyers and policemen have played as big a part as quarter-backs, back-stops and point-guards. It's been the year of falling stars and sporting strikes.

That tainted victory came a long way from home, in Lausanne, where LaShawn Merritt's legal team successfully argued before the Court of Arbitration for Sport – a dishearteningly busy body these days – that banning the Olympic 400m champion from defending his crown in London next year for a doping violation was unsustainable.

Merritt had been banned after testing positive in 2009 for an illegal substance he claimed he had ingested unwittingly while taking a penis enhancement product. He received a 21-month ban and under world anti-doping rules was also barred from the next Olympics. That was a penalty too far, said the CAS, and its ruling has rippled across this side of the pond with Dwain Chambers and David Millar now close to being allowed to compete for an Olympic spot.

So Merritt is likely to be in London, which coincidentally will be the most tested Games ever.

Drugs, of various types, have been a recurring feature of the last few months, from the inexhaustible Barry Bonds carrying on his deny-everything defence, and looking like he is getting close to wearing everyone else down in a case that in one form or another has been in progress since 2003, to Sam Hurd, the Chicago Bear accused of buying a kilo of cocaine from an undercover police officer.

Hurd has been under investigation since July, when he was on the books of the Dallas Cowboys. The wide receiver moved north at the end of that month, receiving a signing-on fee of $1.3m and a basic salary that started at $685,000 and rises by around $200,000 a year over his three-year contract.

Earlier this month he met an undercover police officer in a steakhouse in Chicago, where he is alleged to have said he wanted to buy up to "10 kilos of cocaine and a 1,000 pounds of marijuana" and the same on a weekly basis to distribute around the Chicago area. There have been reports that other NFL players were among his clients. Hurd denies the charges and has employed one of the lawyers who successfully defended Snoop Dogg against murder charges.

Bonds can have no complaints about his legal team, who have fought a relentless rearguard action. Four days before Christmas they paid $455 to lodge a one-sentence appeal over the conviction of the man who was once considered a Major League Baseball great for obstructing a federal investigation into steroid use in sport. In April Bonds had been found guilty of obstruction after giving an evasive answer to a grand jury in 2003 over whether his trainer had ever given him anything that required a syringe for injection. He gave a 146-word response. This month he was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest, community service and a $4,000 fine, but the appeal could see the matter not settled for another 18 months.

By that time baseball will know whether it has another damaging drug scandal on its hands. There were reports in October that Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers slugger and the National League's MVP, tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. MLB does not declare positive tests until the arbitration process has been completed. Braun's appeal is to be heard next month and if the initial results are upheld he will be banned for 50 games. His representatives say they are confident he will be fully exonerated and claim a second urine sample did not test positive.

The 28-year-old Braun is one of the sport's brightest stars, for which he is amply rewarded. His Brewers salary is $6m a year – a ban would cost him nearly $2m of his 2012 pay package.

Money – via the salary cap – was at the root of the lock-outs imposed by both the NBA and the NFL this year. The NBA season did not get under way until Christmas Day and the 149-day lockout has seen each of the 30 teams wipe 16 games from their schedules. The NFL's lasted for 132 days until the league and the players' association reached agreement over a new collective bargaining agreement.

The delay, though, does not appear to have damaged the popularity of the NBA. If anything, absence has made the fans fonder. The opener between Boston Celtics and the New York Nicks attracted the biggest Christmas Day TV audience in the sport's history, while ticket sales and merchandising are up.

It is in college sport, the scale and importance of which remains alien to many in this country, that the grimmest and most damaging scandals have clouded the US sporting year. Two coaches – those in a position of greatest trust with young athletes – were accused of sexual abuse at Penn State and Syracuse. A football coach, Jerry Sandusky, at Penn was charged at the start of this month, while Bernie Fine, a basketball coach, was fired in November from his post at Syracuse – the accusations made against him were outside the statute of limitations. Both have denied wrongdoing.

The University of Miami had a number of its US footballers and basketball players given bans for accepting cash, goods and prostitutes by Nevin Shapiro, who is now serving a 20-year prison term for running a 'Ponzi scheme' investment fraud. Shapiro was involved in providing dubious funds to athletes and the university's sporting set-up for eight years. The university announced yesterday that it has paid back $83,000 it received "directly and indirectly" from Shapiro.

While Bonds, inevitably, and Braun, possibly, loom over baseball's prospects of a happy new year, 2012 does bring the Olympics. And come July in a swimming pool in east London, expect the Stars and Stripes to be fluttering regularly again over the heads of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, sporting icons who can restore America's pride.

Additional research by Tom Metcalf

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape