The happenings of 2014 were to the internet what the Franz Ferdinand assassination was to World War I. Each event, no matter how seemingly innocuous, set off a chain of tweets, shouts, memes, blog posts and think pieces, inevitably causing a wave of rage that receded as quickly as it advanced. Then, we’d get wiped out by the next issue, with the previous one fading into memory. (Remember when we were all going to die because of Ebola?)
From remarkably sad and discouraging events like the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, to the long-standing yet still totally depressing struggle for women to attain respect as sports media members, to far less serious but still totally annoying issues like LeBron’s “leadership capabilities” and American’s yacking over the importance of soccer, 2014 provided seemingly endless debate fodder.
I’ll always remember 2014 (from a broad, non-personal standpoint) as a year of ubiquitous bickering. However, attempting to categorize a year into one theme leaves so much unexamined. For example, if a powerless scribe were to arbitrarily assign “winner” or “loser” status to a bunch of prominent people, groups and events, what would that even look like?
Great question!!! — Here are the winners and losers of 2014 in no particular order. Feel free to shout in the comments or write a think piece response.
Let’s get the pesky positivity out of the way first.
Winner: The Spurs
This designation could really just go to Gregg Popovich. Let’s take a look at the team that just unseated the two-time defending champions — 38-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, two guys who couldn’t cut it on some of the worst teams in NBA history (Danny Green and Boris Diaw) and a group of guys who were either made up or created by Popovich by just thinking real hard. And they DOMINATED (everyone except Dallas) last postseason. Pop’s ragtag band of tax-paying, milk drinkers tore through Portland like they were a D-League team before defeating the Thunder and ruining the only fun sports team Miami’s ever laid claim to. Pop/Van Gundy 2016. The choice is obvious, America.
Winner: Taylor Swift
My colleagues mostly drooled over “Blank Space,” Ms. Swift’s meta-commentary on her own image, earlier this year. What else has Swift accomplished in 2014? Well, for starters, she went platinum in an age where it makes no financial sense to buy music, even though she essentially bundled a collection of Taylor Swift clichés. How? Evil. I wouldn’t insinuate a deal with the devil, as she’s far more powerful than Satan at this point. Nightmare dressed like a daydream? More like locust dressed like a pop star.
Winner: Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar had arguably the best album, period, of 2012, and a verse so bold and inciting (and also misunderstood) on 2013’s “Control” that most can’t remember the song technically belongs to Big Sean. To say there were large expectations for Lamar in 2014 is a king-sized understatement no matter what coast you’re on.
From beginning to end, 2014 was not at all what we expected to get from K-Dot — and he still knocked it out of the park. His next album, which remains untitled, has been delayed until 2015. But Lamar gave us one of the best singles of the year (“i”) and debuted a second song on the late Colbert Report which resonated after months and months of media spin on the deaths of Brown and Garner.
Then there’s Grammy night, which played out like one of my favorite old NBA stories. In 1995, David Robinson won the NBA MVP award when everybody and their mother knew the award belonged to Hakeem Olajuwon. The trophy was presented to Robinson before Game Two of the Western Conference Finals that year, when his Spurs were up against the Rockets, the defending champions, and Olajuwon. While watching the presentation, Olajuwon said, “That’s my trophy. How are they going to disrespect me and give him my trophy?” Olajuwon then proceeded to drop 42 points, nine rebounds, dish eight assists and block five shots in the Houston victory. The Rockets would go on to win the series and another championship.
This is essentially what Kendrick did at the Grammy’s this year. He watched Macklemore win an award that should have been his and quickly got his revenge. Near the end of the show, Kendrick took the stage with Imagine Dragons to play a Radioactive/M.A.A.D City crossover. And he fucking killed it.
Notice early in the video the crowd is calm. By the end, random celebrities (including half man/half lizard Steven Tyler!) stood up and sang along in amazement. Twitter exploded as people began to re-open the “how the hell did Kendrick not win best rap album?” argument.
And his next album is coming. We’re ready for you, King Kendrick. We welcome your reign.
Winner: Chris Pratt
Pratt, who most notably plays lovable dolt Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, had quite a 2014. For starters, he’s become arguably the funniest character on the soon-to-be-completed NBC hit comedy. He also earned positive critical review on his first major leading role on the big screen in this summer’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy. He also voiced the hero character in The Lego Movie; hosted Saturday Night Live; went on a radio show and rapped Eminem; filmed the long-awaited Jurassic Park sequel Jurassic World and was named GQ’s “Men of the Year.” Also, he’s married to Aubrey Plaza on TV and Anna Farris in real life. Seems like he’s got this whole “life” thing figured out.
Winner: Professional sports leagues that are not the NFL
Does your favorite sports league cover up its player’s indiscretions, consistently pardon domestic violence, ignore potentially life-threatening player safety issues and play terrible commercials ad nauseam while game action drags on over the course of three hours? No? Congrats! It has a chance to take the NFL’s mantle as most popular American sport once football becomes illegal. As I wrote about earlier this year, the Buffalo Bills had a competitive season and learned they would be staying in Buffalo for good — and, to be honest, it still doesn’t feel right.. Keeping my interest in the NFL — and all of the baggage that comes with it — just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it these days.
Winner: Game of Thrones and Mad Men Sundays
Quite possibly the two best shows on TV in one night? Maybe it’ll all be OK, after all. (Warning: Spoilers coming.)
From Sally telling her troubled and delightfully mysterious father, Don, she loves him for (I think) the first time after a simple yet heartwarming episode to Tyrion Lannister shooting his father to death with a crossbow on the toilet, these shows couldn’t possibly be more dissimilar. One is set in the past, in a land of sex, betrayal and near-constant fighting. The other is Game of Thrones.
Both were over seemingly as soon as they started. Game of Thrones sticks to the 10-episode-per-year plan while Mad Men aired only seven episodes as AMC opted to split the season in half to infuriate what remaining fans the network has left.
Soccer is the most widely-played sport in the world, according to every perturbed American soccer fan who has to explain his Messi jersey while his friends laugh at him. The World Cup has never mattered as much to us in the United States as it does to the rest of the world. It still doesn’t, but 2014’s tournament cemented soccer as America’s fifth major sport. People actually watched America’s games this year and the team is steadily improving on the world stage. Meanwhile, the Premier League continues to grow in popularity after signing a deal with NBC. The fact that Fox News resident troll/Slenderman lookalike Ann Coulter felt the need to comment on it shows how important the sport has become here.
If you’re an American under 40, you probably don’t care too much about baseball. It seems that baseball’s national relevance declines every year. Yet, the sports is raking in more money than it ever has. Small market franchises are giving out $325 million dollar contracts and regional TV deals are making teams hundreds of millions. So, where do we go from here? Are we headed for a future where only the cities that have teams really care? Is baseball the new College Football — a mostly regional affair until postseason play? Or will interest wane in those cities too?
I watch the MLB playoffs every year just like I watch all the major sports playoffs. Yet, when I look back at my sports life and try to figure out what the early “tell my grandkids about it” moments have been, I draw some blanks on baseball. I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s partially the nature of the game (entire series can go by without anything of note happening) and partially the lack of a major national conversation on baseball. The MLB doesn’t get the NBA/NFL/NCAA constant debate treatment on ESPN and other outlets because people don’t care to debate baseball like they do other sports. Interest in the MLB has definitely declined as it has fallen behind the NBA in ratings and overall popularity. But this year is not a loss. The league still makes truckloads of money while the sport has remained immensely popular in Japan and Latin America. And the playoffs are still pretty damn fun, regardless of how little of them I remember. (Something about the Royals?)
Losers: Miami Fans
The NBA Finals drubbing at the hands of the Spurs left Miami fans hiding their tears behind tinted shades before having to use their Ed Hardy T-shirts to wipe them away. Just a month later, the best basketball player since Michael Jordan decided he’d rather play in Cleveland than be on a team with the NBA’s Mike Ehrmantraut.
The Heat are just one of Miami’s many disappointing teams, though. The U’s football and basketball teams remain out of the National Championship picture (where have you gone, Jacory Harris?) The Dolphins are suffering through yet another just bad enough to miss the playoffs/just good enough to not get anyone fired or get a needle-moving draft pick season. Meanwhile, Miami residents remain blissfully unaware of the nearby NHL team in Sunrise.
Don’t fret, though. I’m sure Giancarlo Stanton will be around for the entirety of his ginormous contract playing on competitive Marlin teams.
Losers: Internet Civility
Fun game: Go to the comment section on literally any article about anything ever. See what I mean? Now wash the blood out of your eyes and we’ll move on…
Losers: Donald Sterling and the like
It was a bad year for racists. The Duck Dynasty guy whose name I refuse to remember said some dumb stuff about stuff (yawn). Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson opted to sell his team preemptively after making racially-charged comments about the type of crowd he was trying to attract.
Then, Mr. Sterling. Oh my. Don’t get me wrong, it’s intensely disappointing that the league and other owners took 30 years before doing anything about an owner who was openly racist while running perhaps the worst organization in North American sports. But in a year where we were constantly reminded about the still lingering hatred, injustice and bigotry in this country, wasn’t it nice to see Sterling removed so swiftly? And aside from professional contrarian Mark Cuban, no one that mattered really spoke out against the move. Yeah, Sterling got a couple billion dollars for selling the Clippers but he still looks like an onion rotting from the inside and he has little time to spend that money, in all likelihood.
As I’m going to bring up in a moment, 2014 was the year of being let down by people and institutions who you thought actually represented something good. I guess the silver lining in the Donald Sterling saga, at least, is that it provided Adam Silver an opportunity to stand up for what’s right.
Loser: Aaron Sorkin
I probably don’t need to explain this one, but here it goes anyway. Sorkin took a corner of TV not yet utilized (the concept of a national news show dealing with the dilemmas that arise from covering the news in the 21st century) and a very solid cast (including the incredible Sam Waterston) and turned it into a flaming, sanctimonious bag of dog poop.
The general outlines of The Newsroom could have worked and, in the right hands, could have been done very well. But Sorkin wasn’t interested in telling the story of a news channel struggling to cover stories fairly in the Information Age. Sorkin wanted to express his high school liberal views through oddly-constructed and poorly-developed characters. And even if TV was designed to be a place where arrogant showrunners expressed their asinine views, Sorkin’s wouldn’t be worth hearing. They’re mostly outdated clichés mixed with ancient fears put up against helpless straw men.
Plus, he’s anti-internet. In 2014. God help him, how did he expect this show to work?
Let’s hope no one makes the mistake of giving Sorkin a TV show ever again. That is, unless he listens to Will McAvoy talk about why America isn’t great on a loop for months to understand the error of his ways.
Loser: Roger Goodell
Yeah, you guys get it. I can’t list all of the things he’s done wrong as commissioner. But here’s a comprehensive list of everything Goodell did right this year:
Loser: Hockey Creeps
Three separate hockey writers (two of whom did very good work) were fired from their respective jobs this year partly due to inappropriate or harassing direct messages sent to women on Twitter. The point of bringing this up isn’t to make fun of them or even to criticize the three (who will remain unnamed because their names aren’t important), but to bring up the important struggle of women attempting to earn respect as sports media members. Women still aren’t welcome as reporters/bloggers/writers and that’s incredibly disappointing.
No one’s asking for special treatment, just a fair shake. Men, in 2015, treat women media members the same way you’d treat their male counterparts.
Loser: The Comedy Scene (and us)
It’s been noted by multiple sources (most notably Chris Rock) that the comedy scene lost three legends this year: Robin Williams, Joan Rivers and Bill Cosby.
Cosby’s downfall has been both surprising and disgusting – he’s not dead but he might as well be. Rivers death – while not surprising at age 81 – was sad nonetheless, as we lost one of the true pioneers in female comedy.
Williams’ death, however, that shook us. It wasn’t that he was only 63 or that he was loved by seemingly everyone or that his characters always seemed to endear themselves to the audience. It was how he went. We don’t want to think that our heroes are hurting, especially not enough to end their own lives, but that’s the reality with the comedy world.
I wrote about the changing culture surrounding comedy, where comedians are put on trial for stepping slightly over the line. Chris Rock went so far as to say in a recent interview that he doesn’t do colleges and some other venues anymore because people are so quick to get angry about his material.
Comedy, at least to me, has been a distraction from outside troubles. It’s a reaffirmation that there are other people that think the same things I do presented in a humorous way. That’s why I, and presumably many others, love stand up. But, as Rock insinuated in the same interview, it’s not “worth it” sometimes for veteran comedians to continue doing stand up.
Hopefully the comedy scene will grow stronger in 2015. With the constant stream of awful news – war, poverty, drone strikes, everything mentioned throughout this piece – comedy becomes a vital distraction. But no matter what new specials and bits 2015 brings, comedy won’t be the same place it was before this August. We’ve lost one of the funniest men and gentlest souls to ever walk this Earth.
Here’s to hoping Williams’ death leads to more comedians (and people in general) opening up about whatever demons they’re facing.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a lovely 2015.