Deader Than Disco: Sports

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  • Ryan Leaf. A Heisman Trophy finalist during his time at Washington State University, he was the second pick in the NFL Draft in 1998, behind Peyton Manning. It was predicted that he would go on to be one of the all-time football greats. Fast forward to today, and he's regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, and Manning is (as of 2015) still active and a surefire Hall of Famer. His four-year career was marked by injuries, bad relations with his teammates and fans, hostility to the sports media and poor performance on the field. His fall was so infamous that, every draft, sports writers speculate on which hot college prospect will become the "next Ryan Leaf" by flopping hard in the NFL. As of now, the "next" Ryan Leaf appears to be JaMarcus Russell.
  • Joe Paterno, longtime coach of the Pennsylvania State University football program. For much of his life, it was thought that he would go down as one of the all-time great college football coaches. However, over the course of 2011-12 came revelations that he not only had a serial child molester on his staff, but that he and the Penn State administration knew about the man's behavior and had covered it up for more than fifteen years. Cue Penn State's removal of the statue of "JoePa" that stood outside Beaver Stadium and the NCAA revoking all of Penn State's football victories from 1998 to 2011, dropping him from being the winningest coach in college football history to being #12. (The NCAA would restore Paterno's wins in 2015, but this decision was hugely controversial.) Now, many college football fans, even at Penn State, view his legacy in a much less favorable light, with only a few fans still defending him (usually by claiming that the investigation was biased). To top it all off, his death in early 2012, at the height of the scandal, ensured that his life would end in disgrace, and that he would never be able to live down what had happened.
  • Michael Vick, hero of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team, saw his popularity crash and burn virtually overnight after the illegal dog-fighting ring he ran was exposed. His sponsors dropped him en masse, stores like The Sports Authority and the official NFL Shop pulled all of his merchandise, and Falcons fans donated their Vick jerseys to animal shelters to use as bedding and cleaning rags. While he's since returned to football and enjoyed some success as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback, much of the public still hasn't forgiven him. It's probably telling that, even more than coach Andy Reidnote , Vick has taken the brunt of the public's ire for the Eagles' massive decline in the 2012 season.
  • The United States Military Academy and Naval Academy, also known as simply Army and Navy, used to be college football powerhouses. However, as the game evolved, the physical fitness requirements for servicemen (particularly weight requirements) came into conflict with the sort of physical builds required for many key positions on a football team, precluding both schools from fielding competitive teams. While the annual Army vs. Navy game still attracts media attention, the two academies are mostly footnotes in modern college football.
  • Ditto for the Ivy League schools, which actually established the modern college football game, and by extension (since the sport began at the collegiate level), much of American Football in general. In the early 20th century, their football teams were some of the most storied in the nation; Princeton still holds the record for most college football championships (with 26) despite having last won in 1935. As the sport grew in popularity, however, a number of the older college football powers felt that it was becoming overly commercialized, to the point of threatening the academic integrity of the schools participating. As a result, in 1954 eight East Coast universities formed their own league, with strict academic requirements for players and a ban on athletic scholarships. While those schools remain world-renowned for academics, the creation of the Ivy League effectively ended their days as college football powers. Today, they mostly play against each other and against the schools of the Patriot Leaguenote , and while old rivalries still run deep, their teams are mostly outside the conversation of the greatest college football programs of today.
  • College football's Heisman Trophy has been dubbed "the kiss of death for college players", given how few winners have made it into the Football Hall of Fame or even gone on to be particularly celebrated NFL players. Many more have disappeared into irrelevance in the league when their skills, for whatever reason, don't translate to the pro level.

  • Tim Lincecum, nicknamed "The Freak," was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2007 to 2011. His velocity, combined with his wicked strikeout numbers, made him widely touted as the next huge thing in baseball and a future Hall-of-Famer. However, beginning in 2012, Lincecum began to experience a precipitous decline from which he has never really recovered. While he still pitches for the Giants as a pretty good relief pitcher, he today is pretty much an afterthought when it comes to discussing important MLB pitchers.
  • From the '60s through the '80s, Pete Rose enjoyed a long and storied career as both a baseball player (most notably for the Cincinnati Reds) and, later in life, as a manager. He holds the records in Major League Baseball for hits, games played, at-bats, singles, and outs... and yet, he will likely never be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, as he was permanently banned from the sport in 1989 after being caught betting on games, including on his own team. Later investigations revealed that he had a history of sports gambling, including, most damningly, during his time as a player. (To his credit, it's never been proven that he ever bet against his own team, i.e. throwing games in order to win bets.) Once hailed as one of the greatest baseball players in history, his legacy after his forced retirement has been a fiercely polarizing one at best — one camp argues that his sheer success as a player outweighs his moral failings, while another argues that he violated the integrity of the sport badly enough that no amount of on-field success can make up for it. In September 2015, Rose met the current commissioner for a verdict on lifting his ban. He expects to receive an answer by the end of the year.
  • The entire "home run derby" era of the late '90s and early '00s, a period that saw baseball rise to heights of popularity not seen in decades, is now treated as an Old Shame by MLB and many fans because many of the big stars of that era were revealed to have been either using steroids or engaging in other forms of cheating (like Sammy Sosa's corked bat); everyone in power basically looked the other way, desperate to win back fans after their infamous strike-cancelled season.
  • Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was a Major League Baseball superstar from 2007 to 2012. His unique combination of power and speed made him one of baseball's most feared hitters, and he won the 2011 National League MVP award in the process. However, after getting jammed up in an huge PED scandal during the 2013 season, he was suspended for the remainder of the year. He has since come back to baseball and continues to be an above-average player for the Brewers (landing a spot of the 2015 All-Star team), but the noticeable decline in his performance combined with the embarrassment of his transgressions has categorically stripped him of his MLB stardom.

  • This tends to happen to any number of popular athletes who are revealed to have been using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. For baseball, Ryan Braun and the "steroid era" in the late '90s/early '00s are listed above. Other examples include...
    • Cyclist Lance Armstrong is, perhaps, the biggest and most tragic example of an athlete falling from grace in this manner. He was an American sporting hero at the Turn of the Millennium, having not only won seven Tour de France titles, but having done so after beating testicular cancer. He used his profile to establish a highly successful charity dedicated to curing cancer, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, whose Live Strong yellow rubber bracelets became a ubiquitous fashion item mid-decade. However, it had long been rumored that Armstrong's cycling success was a bit less than squeaky-clean, and that he had been doping his way to the top. When those rumors were confirmed in 2012, Armstrong was forced to step down from the foundation bearing his name, and the International Cycling Union (the governing body for the sport) stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles.note  Now, while he still has his supporters due to his charity work, a lot of people view him as an embarrassment to the sport and a lousy person as well, considering he sued people for defamation and won despite their doping claims eventually being revealed as the truth. A common joke was that the Live Strong bracelets should now read "Lie Strong".
  • The Rookie of the Year award in various sports has proven to be a total crapshoot when it comes to predicting future greatness. Many have successful careers, but even more seem to quickly fade into obscurity.
    • Some of Major League Baseball's greatest players were Rookies of the Year, including Willie Mays, Pete Rose, and Tom Seaver. But not all ROYs have gone on to great careers. Anyone remember Pat Listach? Joe Charboneau? Don Schwall?
    • The very concept of Rookie of the Year had become a joke in NASCAR by 2012. After two years where only one candidate a year even met the minimum number of starts to be eligible for the award, the pair of choices in 2012 came down to two drivers who had mostly parked their cars after a few laps each week, with a best finish of 26th between the two of them. The fact that the winner (Stephen Leicht, driving the #33) was the one who had only started 15 races (vs. Josh Wise's 30 starts in the #26) only made it even more laughable, and said winner was actually excluded from the year end banquet celebrating the top honors in Sprint Cup. However, it's come back around since then, particularly with the very strong run by Kyle Larson in 2014 (eight top fives, 17 top tens) in a class where eight rookies met the minimum bar for consideration (eight starts).
  • In motor racing, Jacques Villeneuve. The son of the legendary Gilles Villeneuve, he first came to prominence winning the IndyCar Rookie of the Year award in 1994, and went on to win the IndyCar series the following year driving with his Dad's iconic 27 on his car. He moved to Formula 1 in 1996 and was sensationally on pole position for his first race (something only achieved twice before by Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann respectively), ahead of his much more experienced team mate Damon Hill. He won his fourth race, suckered Michael Schumacher by overtaking him around the outside in Portugal, and was in the hunt for the championship against Hill until the last race, finishing 2nd. He won the championship the following year in a final race shootout with Schumacher where he was generally applauded after trying an opportunistic overtaking move and leaving Schumacher beached in the gravel when the German tried to block him. Then his career tanked, he ended up struggling in the middle of the pack, he fell out with friends and teammates, and he stopped caring generally. He was finally sacked midway through 2006 due to a string of poor performances. People murmured that he'd lucked into his wins by having the best car and that Schumacher had nearly beaten him in an inferior Ferrari. He then released a music album which also failed. He tried NASCAR and made no impact, being fired from Bill Davis Racing before the 2008 Daytona 500 (after just two starts the year before) after his sponsors dropped him because he started a multi-car wreck in the Gatorade Duels. Despite all this, he is now in talks in returning to F1 in 2010, and is competing in the Le Mans 24 hours too, aiming to become the second driver since Graham Hill to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport.
  • Ever wonder why association football/soccer has such a vocal hatedom in the United States? This is why. In the early part of the 20th century, when most of the major professional sports leagues on both sides of the Atlantic were in their infancy, the American Soccer League was among them. It was, at one point, the second most popular sports league in the country after Major League Baseball. However, disputes between the ASL and the rival United States Football Association over a number of factors led to a "Soccer War", with FIFA butting in and siding with the USFA over controversy that the ASL was signing players who were under contract to European teams. The Soccer War crippled the ASL, with the league folding at the end of the 1933 season. Worse, while the USFA and FIFA won the war and established their pre-eminence, the spectacle of a US athletic association conspiring with a European organization to undermine its rival alienated many U.S. sports fans by creating an image of soccer as a sport controlled by foreigners, and along with the lack of a professional league that was able to field good players like the ASL did, the events pretty much killed the sportís popularity for decades.

    Soccer experienced a brief but explosive boom in the United States between the late '70s and the mid '80s with the North American Soccer League, thanks in part to the New York Cosmos, which brought in some of the soccer world's biggest heroes (such as Pele himself and Franz Beckenbauer) to play for them. While financial hardships following Peleís retirement would eventually lead to the NASLís folding in 1984, it reintroduced soccer to the North American sports scene on a large scale, and was a major contributing factor in soccer becoming one of the most popular sports among American youth. Along with FIFA giving the US hosting duties in the 1994 World Cup, the improving success of the US Men's and Womenís National Teams, and the implementation and growing success of Major League Soccer, soccer seems to be on the way to regaining its long-sought Major League status. However, with the ever crowded American sporting landscape from leagues that thrived in soccer's absence, not to mention the persistent stereotypes of the sport which came about during its "death"note , it will take time before this can go on the Popularity Polynomial page.
  • Old-fashioned artificial turf surfaces (most commonly Astro Turf) were often used in many stadiums opening during the 1970s (those often being nicknamed cookie-cutter stadiums) in order to switch easily between baseball and football configurations. However, the surface being especially hard compared to natural grass (and technological advances such as FieldTurf that are softer than Astroturf) led to the former's extinction by the Turn of the Millennium. The only current artificial fields in the major leagues exist solely in the AL East in Toronto and Tampa/St.Petersburg's domed venues.
    • Multi-purpose stadiums (often nicknamed cookie cutter stadiums) became popular in the 1960s and 70s when cities wanted save money by building stadiums that both their baseball and football teams could use. Some stadiums were even renovated to be able to house both sports. However, the designs of these stadium resulted too much foul territory for the baseball fields, cramped sidelines for football, and poor seat sight lines for both sports. The trend fell out of favor by the mid-1990s starting with the opening of the Baltimore Orioles' baseball only Camden Yards stadium in 1992. As the 1990s and 2000s progressed, many of the multi-purpose stadia (most of which also used old-fashioned Astro Turf) were closed and demolished to be replaced with separate football and baseball stadiums instead of sharing a stadium. Currently, Coliseum in Oakland and Rogers Centre in Toronto are the only stadiums left housing both a Major League Baseball (Oakland A's/Toronto Blue Jays) and professional football (Oakland Raiders/Toronto Argonauts) franchise.
  • It's often been said that, in the early-mid 20th century, America's "big three" sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. Of those three, only baseball can still claim to be one of the most popular sports in the nation, and even then, its popularity is largely restricted to certain geographical areas. Boxing and horse racing, meanwhile, have both undergone a precipitous decline. While both sports still occasionally experience short-lived bursts of popularity when a star fighter or horse emerges, they typically recede back into obscurity right afterwards.
    • Boxing had huge problems at the organizational level that it was never able to rein in. An overabundance of titles and sanctioning bodies cheapened the ones that actually mattered, and many of the sport's biggest and most exciting fights were locked behind an expensive pay-per-view wall that casual fans felt wasn't worth the money. Furthermore, fighters suffered a heavy toll both physical and financial — the injuries (especially head/brain injuries) endemic to boxing, along with ugly exploitation of fighters by boxing promoters, discouraged many future stars from picking up the sport. Many went into Mixed Martial Arts instead, where individual promoters are done away with in favor of organizational promotion, and (even with its reputation as a Blood Sport) there is less reliance on the sort of striking that causes permanent brain damage. Perhaps not coincidentally, MMA enjoyed its greatest boom years just as boxing was going into near-terminal decline.
    • For horse racing, the fact that most of the fans were more interested in the gambling side of the sport than the actual competition eventually took over, and the sport had a hard time adapting once legal casino gambling emerged as a serious competitor in the late 20th century. Eventually, many racing courses themselves introduced slots and tables to get people in the door. Changing attitudes towards animal welfare also doomed horse racing, as the poor treatment and short lifespans of many racehorses has caused animal welfare groups to call for a boycott of the sport.
      • Related, off-track betting in states such as Illinois and New York used to be big until Internet gambling became normalized. The New York parlors went out of business in a calamitous bankruptcy, while in Illinois, it's pretty much a minor check-off in a few sports bars.