It was quite the eventful year in sports media. The absurd became reality around the country, and that seeped into the sports world. So many crazy things happened that it’s easy to forget them all, and there are some strong candidates in a normal year that could not even crack the top 10. Stories were selected based on reader interest, uniqueness, importance, and pure unbridled craziness. What would someone have said a five years ago if you said all of these things happened in 2017?
#10 Craig Carton arrested by Feds
On September 6th, Craig Carton of the WFAN show “Boomer & Carton” was arrested by federal authorities, on allegations that he defrauded customers in a fake ticket scam. There were claims that he had racked up millions in gambling debt and was also running a questionable charity. He resigned from WFAN a week later, and while the charges are still pending, there have been reports potentially linking him to Barstool Sports on Sirius XM.
#9 Referee John Higgins sues Kentucky Sports Radio after Kentucky fans shut down his business Facebook page
John Higgins officiated the North Carolina-Kentucky Elite 8 matchup at the end of March, and Kentucky Wildcats fans were not happy with his calls in the loss. A large number of Wildcat fans found the Facebook page for his roofing company in Nebraska and left negative reviews and comments.
In October, Higgins filed a suit that included website Kentucky Sports Radio and Matt Jones and Drew Franklin as defendants. Higgins alleged that Jones and Franklin helped instigate the attacks on his social media, including spelling out the name of his company for fans to find.
#8 Orangutan makes pick, Mike Mayock gets angry
Between the lawsuits and arrests, maybe we just need a silly story. Well, back during the NFL Draft, the NFL used several gimmicky stunts to make picks later in the proceedings. One of those involved an orangutan hitting a button to make the Colts pick. Mike Mayock had enough and threatened to walk off the set.
#7 Cam Newton found Jourdan Rodrigue’s question about routes to be funny
Jourdan Rodrigue, a female beat reporter for the Charlotte Observer, asked a question about routes that Cam Newton dismissively found funny. The next day, in a move straight out of central casting for how these stories go, it emerged that Rodrigue had joked about some racial things on social media in her past.
She took some time off, but when she returned a few weeks later, Cam Newton (who lost some endorsements over the affair) refused to show up to his press conference.
#6 NFL Network gets caught up in the sexual harassment wave
A lawsuit was filed against the NFL Network and referenced acts by several prominent former NFL players including Marshall Faulk, Ike Taylor, Heath Evans, and Donovan McNabb. It included several shocking allegations, including that Ike Taylor had sent the woman videos of him masturbating.
As crazy as it may feel, last year at this time, very few people knew who LaVar Ball was. We need at least one ridiculous Ball moment on here, and the top candidate is the appearance with Colin Cowherd where he wanted nothing to do with Kristine Leahy and told her to stay in her lane, while refusing to look at her. Being the marketing genius that he is, he also said he didn’t need to market to women.
That set off a full week of takes, including the inevitable comparison to Emmett Till.
#4 John Skipper Out
A tumultuous year at ESPN included several high-profile layoffs, and the biggest shock came late in the year. A few short months after The Big Lead reported the ESPN president had signed a multi-year extension, Skipper resigned, citing substance addiction.
Barstool and ESPN agreed to do a television show together that would appear on late-night on ESPN2, involving the guys from the Pardon My Take podcast. Just before the launch, Sam Ponder dropped her vocal opposition online, which set off a wave. Within a week, Skipper and ESPN canceled the project, after just one episode.
#2 The Ballad of Robert Lee
In the wake of a deadly attack in Charlottesville and a fierce debate over Confederate statutes, ESPN opted to re-assign a broadcaster named Robert Lee from the Virginia-William & Mary game that was going to be broadcast on ESPN3. It was a proactive move made in the interest of avoiding even the lightest controversy. And it backfired majorly. A molehill became a mountain, thanks to the hard shoveling of opportunists.
#1 Jemele Hill Starts a Firestorm at the White House
Imagine reading several years ago “ESPN anchor calls President Donald Trump a white supremacist on social media, White House calls for her to be fired.” Yet here we are. After Jemele Hill called Trump a white supremacist, ESPN issued a response that satisfied no one. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it a fireable offense. This pre-dated Trump going back to this playbook a few weeks later to stoke the fires, which led to a week of NFL players protesting Donald Trump, and owners who would later want their players to stand, performing brief acts of solidarity.
Others: ESPN releases the Adrienne Lawrence texts to defend charges; KSR writer asked by NCAA to delete tweets about Gregg Marshall’s wife; Ryen Russillo’s arrest in Wyoming; Sergio Dipp on MNF opener; Jay Cutler signs with FOX, comes out of retirement to join Dolphins.