The most significant sports stories of 2014

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, December 26, 2014, at 9:53 am

The past year provided several seminal sports stories. There were remarkable performances by athletes and teams, but what marked 2014 was the significance of events off the field. For Christians like you and me that’s especially significant because, since such events have greater cultural significance and provoke a greater response, they deserve our attention. So, without further ado, here are the five most significant sports stories of 2014 (not ranked in order):

  1. Jason Collins becomes the first openly homosexual player in the NBA and Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.

    Once a bastion of hyper-masculinity and testosterone-driven bravado, professional sports leagues aligned themselves with much of the rest of society in terms of openness to homosexuals. Will we see a significant change in the demographics of professional teams? Time will tell, but even reaching this point shows a significant shift of the cultural landscape.
  2. Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice headline a rash of domestic abuse cases and are suspended by the NFL.

    For a long time athletes could get away with almost anything because of their profile and skill set. No longer. Because of social media and the growing societal awareness of domestic violence, a movement is growing to do away with the double standard. How will professional leagues respond? Will athletes become sacrificial lambs or be made an example of? We don’t yet know, but we do know their protective bubble is deflating.
  3. Donald Sterling is removed as the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers after making racist remarks. Athletes at several levels wear “I can’t breathe” shirts in the wake of Eric Garner’s death.

    Athletes have a long history of making public statements about injustice and racial inequality (Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, etc.), but professional sports leagues have often been part of the problem. What makes these stories stand out is the manner in which influential people and organizations are using their positions to make statements and take action. It is a powerful illustration of the intersection of entertainment with social awareness and justice.
  4. Kevin Durant gives moving speech after winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award, thanking each teammate by name and crediting his mother as “the real MVP.”

    Raw humility and gratefulness are just rare in elite athletes, so to see one of the NBA’s best pour his heart out was incredible. It showed that being the best doesn’t mean thinking of yourself as above everyone else, a welcome lesson for us all. (As a fun bi-product, the “You the real MVP” internet meme has provided plenty of smiles too.)
  5. The Kansas City Royals break a 29-year playoff drought and sweep their way into the World Series.

    Not all the best sports stories happened off the field. The Royals provided one of the best sports narratives and unlikely, exciting rides in recent years. It was a treat for any baseball fan.
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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