Deader Than Disco: Sports

  • 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?
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Now, many sports fans, even at Penn State, view his legacy in a much less favorable light. 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.
  • This tends to happen to any number of popular athletes who are revealed to have been using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
    • Cyclist Lance Armstrong 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 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 due to the fact that 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) and that everyone in power basically looked the other way, as they were desperate to win back fans after their infamous strike-cancelled season.
  • Old-fashioned artifical 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) began falling out of favor by the mid-1990s starting with the opening of the Baltimore Orioles' 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, o.co 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 restricted to certain geographical areas. Boxing and horse racing, meanwhile, have both undergone a precipitous decline. For boxing, the injuries endemic to the sport caused potential future stars to stay away and enter other fields, 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, along with ugly exploitation of fighters by boxing promoters which discouraged many from picking up the sport; the much better treatment of MMA fighters where individual promoters are done away with by organizational promotion also has taken a big bite out of boxing. 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, and later casino gaming being introduced to racing courses themselves to get people in the door. 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.