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2011 in Sports: Bud Shaw's Weird Year in Review

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Denver quarterback Tim Tebow's pastor reportedly said the reason for the Broncos' success in 2011 wasn't luck or teamwork. "It's favor," Wayne Hanson said. "God's favor."

In college basketball, the St. John's Red Storm recruited the son of a Nigerian minister. The player's name? God's Gift Achiuwa.

Texas Rangers' star outfielder Josh Hamilton said God told him he'd hit a home run in Game 6 of the World Series. Despite Hamilton's two-run homer, the Rangers lost in extra innings.

"There was a period at the end (of the sentence)," Hamilton clarified. "(God) didn't say you're going to hit it and you're going to win."

The wife of baseball slugger Albert Pujols said she initially blamed God for an unsatisfactory offer from the St. Louis Cardinals but she forgave Him. After all, Deidre Pujols said, the story ended happily with her husband signing a $254 million deal to play in sunny California.

"It's just like God to put us on a team called the Angels," she said of the Pujols' new team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest hitters and biggest flakes in baseball history, retired in 2011 after another positive steroid test meant he'd face a 100-game suspension. Said Ramirez, "God knows what's best (for me)."

Despite so much divine intervention, the sports world in 2011 was filled with the usual bad behavior, head-scratchers, chaos, hypocrisy and grand overstatement:

• Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donated a kidney to a freshman player but only after Todd Hairston, the school's associate athletic director for compliance, made sure with the NCAA that a donated kidney didn't qualify as an "extra benefit."

• Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan accused of poisoning Auburn's century-old oak trees at Toomer's Corner, called a radio station and owned up to his crime. Sort of. "I'm extremely sorry for what I've been accused of doing," said Updyke, who named his children Bear Bryant and Crimson Tyde.

• Baseball announcer Tim McCarver said during a broadcast, "It's a five-letter word. S-T-R-I-K-E." When the mistake was called to his attention by radio host Dan Patrick, McCarver said, "That's why I'm bad at Scrabble."

• A man who threw a hot dog at Tiger Woods during the Frys.com Open claimed the movie Drive inspired him to do something "courageous."

• The 1-4 Philadelphia Eagles locked the doors on the media one day after practice. The show of unity by the struggling 1-4 team left something to be desired when they discovered they'd not only locked out the media but also starting quarterback Michael Vick.

• The Lingerie Basketball League announced it would launch an inaugural season with teams named the Beauties, Glam, Starlets and Divas. League rules include a 60-second opportunity to score a bonus point called -- you might have guessed -- the "Red Light Special."

• "We're bringing 53 men to the Apocalypse and we ain't bringing flowers." -- Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs prior to a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. Suggs' statement raised a burning question for Miss Manners: "What exactly is the appropriate host gift for an Apocalypse?"

• Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush (D) said the NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, was like the Mafia. He called the organization "one of the most vicious, most ruthless ever created by mankind."

• Reporter Guan Weijia of China's Titan Sports, called NBA commissioner David Stern "the demon of all demons and he is Satan who is the king of demons in this labor dispute."

Note: Probably not a good idea to ask Bobby Rush or Guan Weijia to deliver your eulogy.

• A sign that the Apocalypse is coming -- with or without flowers: promoters matched disgraced former baseball players Jose Canseco and Len Dykstra in a celebrity boxing match, but only because Dykstra was a late-minute replacement for White House dinner crasher Tareq Salahi.

In a women's bout, Nadya "the Octomom" Suleman was scheduled to fight Amy Fisher.

Other losers: anyone who paid $19.95 to watch.

• A Wyoming high school football coach gave his players a sarcastic questionnaire in an attempt to make the point that there are no excuses for not showing toughness at all times. The questionnaire topic: possible reasons for getting their feelings hurt. One choice: "I have woman-like hormones." Others choices included homophobic and more sexist language.

Coach Pat Lynch's survey also asked for the name of the "little sissy filing (the "hurt feelings") report. There was a place for a "girly-man signature."

Lynch resigned as coach but kept his teaching position.

He's a guidance counselor.

• "I hate (ESPN's) Skip Bayless more than any person in the world." -- Charles Barkley, interviewed on The Dan Patrick Show...at a time when Kim Jong Il was still alive.

• The Irony Award: a Canadian beauty queen faced criminal charges for her part in the Stanley Cup street riots in Vancouver last summer. Sophie LaBoissonniere, charged as a part of a group that broke into a drug store, earned a title at the Miss Coastal Vancouver pageant.

Miss Congeniality.

• Overreaction of the Year (to an event that offended one person and one person only: Jets' defensive tackle Sione Pouha objected to a TD celebration in which a Buffalo receiver mimicked an airplane crashing to make fun of Jets' receiver Santonio Holmes' own "airplane" touchdown celebration:

"...That airplane thing, in my opinion, was kind of a dagger considering the circumstances of remembrance of what we just had on Sept. 11. That’s a sacred moment for a lot of people and it’s a very sobering moment.”

• The NFL fined Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu $10,000 for using a cell phone on the Steelers' sidelines during a game against Jacksonville. His crime? After suffering a concussion, he called his wife to let her know he was OK.

• Former Mets' pitcher Doc Gooden admitted in an interview with ESPN's E:60 he missed the Mets' World Series parade in 1986 and instead watched it on TV. Not with a friend. With a drug dealer he barely knew.

• "Tweet is for losers. And what I mean by that, if you wake up in the morning and you're worried about what I'm doing, you a damn idiot." -- Charles Barkley.

• Hank Williams Jr. likened President Obama and John Boehner playing golf to "Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu." Williams lost his affiliation with Monday Night Football because of the controversy. Later he said, "I have always respected the office of the President."

• Baltimore Ravens' offensive lineman Michael Oher tweeted: "Can somebody help me out? Who was Steve Jobs!" after Jobs' death in October.

Oher Tweeted that on his IPhone.

• A race car driver was fined $30,000 for losing his composure and making an obscene gesture. His name? Will Power.

• Basketball player Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace.

• Actor/comedian Albert Brooks tweeted this shortly after: "(L.A.)Dodgers file for bankruptcy. (Owner) Frank McCourt changes name to Metta World Bank."

• “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” -- Tennis player Serena Williams to a U.S. Open umpire.

• Steelers' linebacker James Harrison said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, "If he were on fire, I wouldn't (urinate) on him." Harrison apologized. No clarification on whether the apology means he would.

• Bryant Gumbel on his HBO show said NBA commissioner David Stern has always seemed "eager to be viewed as kind of a modern-day plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys."

He did not explain why anyone would be eager to do so.

• Wide receiver Roy Williams sued an ex-girlfriend for the return of a $76,600 engagement ring he mailed along with a DVD after she turned down his marriage offer. Who proposes by DVD and UPS? Roy Williams.

• "Honestly, I’m not saying this to disrespect him in any way." -- Ravens' receiver Derrick Mason, who called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a "joke" in a radio interview, then appeared on ESPN's First Take wearing a T-shirt that said "A JOKE."

• The Peoria Chiefs, the Chicago Cubs Class A team, staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Giveaway" after the Miami Heat fell short in the NBA Finals against Dallas in part because of James' poor play in fourth quarters.

When anyone affiliated with the Cubs is calling you a loser, you've hit rock bottom.

• Former baseball player and sometimes celebrity boxer Jose Canseco partnered with MyFanLine.com to charge people $50 a minute to talk to him on the phone.

• When St. John's scouted 6-9 forward God's Gift Achiuwa, recruiters were careful not to confuse him with his brother.

God's Will.

• Worst Tweet of the Year: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall apologized in a blog post for a tweet following the death of Osama bin Laden.

"It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."

• A San Francisco Giants' equipment manager testified in accused steroid user Barry Bonds' perjury trial that Bonds' hat size grew from 7 1/4 to 7 3/8 between 2000 and 2002 despite him shaving his head.

• "If you look at Trump's record, he is only interested in things he can control." -- Donald Trump, on why he would only become a partner in the New York Mets franchise if he could call the shots.

• “I really believe that the NFL would fall apart without me. That may sound cocky, that may sound arrogant, but I am telling you the truth.” -- agent Drew Rosenhaus to 60 Minutes.

No. It doesn't sound cocky or arrogant. It sounds like a case of mistaken identity.

He must think he's God.

Related: Bud Shaw's Year in Review (2010)

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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History
Lady Ali: How Jackie Tonawanda Changed Women's Boxing
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As photographers and newspaper reporters looked on, Jackie Tonawanda allowed herself to be fingerprinted. It was October 7, 1974, and Tonawanda—who was dwarfed by the burly professional wrestlers waiting their turn—was taking the necessary steps to become a licensed professional boxer by the New York State Athletic Commission. The fingerprints would be sent off to Albany make sure she wasn't a felon; a physical would determine her fitness for competition.

Tonawanda didn't anticipate either one becoming a hurdle. Her main concern was that the state of New York had long prohibited women from prizefighting.

The gregarious Tonawanda told the assembled press in the commission's offices that she was the “female Cassius Clay,” referring to boxing icon Muhammad Ali. (Like Ali, she was known for boasting to the media and offering impromptu demonstrations of her hand speed.) Women could already be licensed as pro wrestlers and boxing managers in the state. Why, Tonawanda argued, should female boxers be exempt from officially participating in the sport?

Commissioners brushed off her complaints, fretting about being deemed negligent if women suffered injuries. Rumors circulated in the boxing community that blows to the chest could cause breast cancer. Ed Dooley, the head of the state's athletic commission, thought women fighting in a ring would bring “disrepute” to the venerable sport.

In time, Jackie Tonawanda would be hailed as a boxing pioneer, someone who stood up to the rampant sexism from promoters and the sport's sanctioning bodies. But in 1975, Tonawanda's license application was denied. Dooley refused to back off from his insistence that boxing was strictly a “manly art.” Tonawanda was incredulous. If that was what he believed, she thought, she would show him otherwise.

To prove her point, she would even agree to an extreme demonstration of her worth as a fighter: an unlicensed fight against a man, in full view of spectators at Madison Square Garden.

Although Tonawanda was the first woman to ever lace up her gloves at the famed New York arena, women’s boxing had been a ring attraction for decades. In 1876, two women took wild swings at one another in what may have been the first spectator women's match in the country. (The prize was a silver butter dish.) In 1954, women competed on television for the first time. But with so few participants in the sport, it was difficult for any real momentum to develop. And without endorsement from state athletic commissions, official records and rankings were nearly impossible to come by.

Such was the state of female fighting when Tonawanda decided to compete. Born on Long Island and orphaned by age 8, she started boxing at age 13, eventually migrating to the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. As an adult, Tonawanda occupied a unique space in the art: At 175 pounds, she was larger than many of the other women who fought, making matchmaking difficult. She once stated she sparred exclusively with men because women “don't show me anything and they can’t take my power.”

With only scattered women’s bouts available, Tonawanda often fought in unsanctioned matches around the country. She managed to compile a 23-0 record (although this number would sometimes change in interviews, as would her birth year and even her height) before petitioning her home state of New York to sanction her bouts. Commission members like Dooley and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson were wary, fearing the seeming fragility of women might give a proverbial black eye to the sport. They turned down both Tonawanda and Marian "Tyger" Trimiar, another female boxer, citing, among other things, concerns over the possible trauma the women might suffer to their breasts.

“I don't think a blow to the breast would cause breast cancer," Irwin Weiner, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told The New York Times when the women first applied for licenses in 1974. "On the other hand, it's a rather tender area that can be easily bruised. It might take longer to recover from bruises there.” Dooley remained insistent, saying a fight "could endanger a female's reproductive organs and breasts."

Tonawanda didn’t accept the decision in stride. She sued the state for discrimination, arguing that women had every right to compete. In June of 1975, while the lawsuit was still being contested, she agreed to compete at a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden that fell outside the purview of the commission. Her original opponent was to be a Thai fighter in a mixed-rules striking contest, but that fighter ended up being replaced by an unheralded kickboxer named Larry Rodania. In the opening moments of the fight, Rodania hit her with a shot that left her unable to sleep on her left side for weeks. For much of the first round, though, Tonawanda parried his strikes, getting a sense of his timing. In the second, she landed a left that cracked his jaw and sent him to the canvas.

The referee announced that Rodania was out, unable to answer basic questions like “Where are you?” But some observers expressed doubt that the bout was legitimate. Recapping the event, Black Belt magazine questioned Rodania’s judgment in taking the fight at all. From the outside, it appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: Beating a woman in the ring would impress few, and losing to one could be ruinous in the eyes of fans who wouldn't expect a woman to be competitive with a man. It's not clear whether Rodania ever competed again.

For Tonawanda, the spectacle of her squaring off against Rodania made headlines and led to more offers, some outside of the ring. Later that year, she not only received a boxing license from the state of Maine, but also filmed a small role for the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man. In 1976, she was invited to spend time at a training camp with Muhammad Ali as he prepared for a bout against Ken Norton. Being around Ali, Tonawanda said, made her so nervous that she could barely eat.

If the bout was intended to elicit a response from the New York commission, however, it didn’t work. Tonawanda continued to compete in bouts outside of the state, and the commission steadfastly refused to acknowledge the rights of female prizefighters until 1978 brought a development they couldn’t ignore.

Three years prior, Tonawanda’s lawsuit had made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in Tonawanda’s favor and suggested she sue once again in order to have the law in New York overturned. When Tonawanda failed to follow up on their advice, another boxer, Cathy “Cat” Davis, picked up the baton and initiated a suit. When Davis’s legal action forced the commission to throw out the ban, Davis, Tonawanda, and Tremiar became the first three women to receive licenses in the state.

For the first time, Tonawanda would be able to claim a legitimate, professional fight on her record.

Despite setting a legal precedent, the court’s decision didn't guarantee that the fighters would necessarily be able to compete in New York. With so few female fighters to match up with one another, the women who were granted licenses often sought fights out of the area. The following year, Tonawanda fought Diane “Dynamite” Clark in a six-round bout in Louisville, Kentucky, in what would be her first and only professional contest. She lost in a split decision.

While it was a crucial moment for the fighters, women’s boxing continued to endure the perception that it was a sideshow. From the Rodania fight onward, Tonawanda received offers to fight men, including noted light heavyweight Mike Quarry. Quarry, Tonawanda claimed, backed out when he realized he had nothing to gain by fighting a woman.

By the mid-1980s, Tonawanda's career was winding down. She fought a man a second time, scoring another knockout at the Nassau Coliseum in 1984. It would be one of her last competitions before being injured in a 1986 car accident that ended any consideration of returning to the ring. From that point on, she became something of a mentor in various boxing gyms in the state. At Fort Apache Youth Center in the Bronx, she advised aspiring fighters on technique. Later, she trained future heavyweight contender Israel Garcia, who she met after Garcia discovered that she lived in the apartment building where he worked.

Lalia Ali faces off against Gwendolyn O'Neil of Guyana during the 2007 WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight World Title in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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In the meantime, fighters like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, and other women began gaining notoriety and respect for being capable pugilists. While they undoubtedly faced sexism, none had been forced to insist on their right to compete. That road had been paved by Tonawanda, who demanded equal footing with her male counterparts.

Tonawanda died from colon cancer in 2009. Like many boxers, she had no pension or retirement fund to fall back on, and her remains were initially destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field. She was saved from that fate thanks to Ring 8, the nonprofit consortium of former prizefighters that she belonged to. The group, which provides financial assistance to veteran boxers, raised enough money for a marked grave for her in the Bronx. It was proof that boxing had ultimately accepted Tonawanda, long considered an outsider, as one of their own.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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