The passing of former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela on December 5, 2013 was arguably the most significant news of 2013. Although Mandela lived until the age of 95, the news of his passing had an enormous impact on people across the world regardless of their age, background, or social status. Nelson Mandela is known for being a leader against South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation and his social impact and activist work made him a legitimate global icon. Mandela's impact with sports included being a unifying force during the 1995 Rugby World Cup which South Africa won in Johannesburg. He supported the mostly white South African rugby team even though many of the black South African population saw their rugby team as the personification of apartheid. Nelson Mandela's embrace of that team during their 1995 championship run was critical in showing how sports can unite different types of people and he was a leader in that aspect among many avenues he would lead in his life. Following the passing of Mandela, incredible numbers of people within the sports world reacted with both passion and awe for the man who gave his spirit for the betterment of humankind.
Celebrating and remembering the life of Nelson Mandela is completely separate than the top sports stories during 2013, but many events happened that received national news attention that have virtually nothing to do with winning or losing. Here are the top ten sports headlines that coincide with American and national culture:
10. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o "girlfriend" story.
During the 2012 regular season in college football, linebacker Manti Te'o was a great player for Notre Dame who led a very solid defense to an undefeated regular season. His off-the-field relationship with his "long distance girlfriend" got national media attention when it was discovered that Te'o was the "victim" of a catfishing scheme. Although not the most important issue, Te'o's story helped bring the term "catfish" to the mainstream.
9. Mariano Rivera retires from New York Yankees
The man known as the greatest closer in baseball history received some interesting and heartwarming going away gifts from baseball teams during his final Major League Baseball season. But he was also known as a player of class over his career and will forever be known as the last man to wear the number 42, which Major League Baseball retired for all teams in honor of the legendary Jackie Robinson.
8. The N-Word in Sports
Sports and race collided once again following some public uses of the ugliest racial slur used against African-Americans historically. Conversations between white media, players, and fans of sports and black media, players, and fans of sports will continue about people who can and cannot use the word and how it is used.
7. Lance Armstrong's admission to Oprah
After years of denials, former cycling champion Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during a TV interview with entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey. The former multiple winner of the Tour de France is now working on repairing his fractured image after his life story inspired so many earlier in the 2000s.
6. Aaron Hernandez is accused of murder
Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez saw his career cut short after he was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez is possibly connected with other murders and the decision by the Patriots to draft him after character issues during his college career at Florida mushroomed into discussion about how much investigation teams can do into the lives of collegiate athletes before they become professionals.
5. The controversy surrounding Washington D.C.'s NFL team
The importance of language and image was a big part of 2013 including the discussion on the "N-word". Over the past two years, the nickname of the NFL team that represents the nation's capital has gotten more and more public attention for being a racial slur against Native Americans. In 2013, President Obama weighed in on the nickname and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivered strong messages in support of the nickname and then later publicly gave indicators that it may be time for a change. Owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, has been strongly against changing the nickname even though the noise around the negativity of the nickname continues to grow.
4. Historic announcements about homosexuality in sports
2013 saw history made when Jason Collins of the NBA became the first openly gay male in the four major team sports of the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball. His announcement was important for various reasons. Also, professional soccer player Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to play a professional team sport while playing in the MLS. Collins has yet to be signed to an NBA team after his announcement and it is unclear whether his announcement is the main reason for that or because he is a fringe NBA player in terms of talent. Gay rights in sports took a step forward in 2013 but there is still work to be done.
3. Pre-Olympic controversy for Sochi
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be one of the top sporting events of 2014 but before the events have even started there has been a lot of controversy about the anti-gay laws in Russia as the 2014 Winter Olympics will hosted in Sochi, Russia. President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed a law at the end of June 2013 prohibiting the promotion of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors, which has been interpreted as banning gay pride parades and preventing any discussion of homosexuality among teenagers. The concern of the anti-gay laws in Russia has many gay athletes and gay spectators headed to the Winter Olympics to fear that they will be targets of discrimination. Despite recent efforts by President Obama to send a message to Russia about its anti-gay laws, the speculation about the enforcement of those laws during the Winter Olympics will be a side story during the Games.
2. NFL's continued battle with concussions
Given the popularity of the NFL, the concern over the long term health effects of the game of football has placed some doubt into how popular the game will be even a decade from now. Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to publicly promote player safety in football and the NFL announced an agreement earlier this year to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families. As the science and research around the long-term effects of football continues, the NFL's player safety and the enforcement of its rules will get major attention and scrutiny.
1. Boston Marathon tragedy
The surprising and tragic Boston Marathon bombing that occurred on April 2013 affected many lives negatively but also reminded Americans of how many support each other during trying times. Following the tragedy in Boston, other American cities publicly voiced their support and provided support through actions including geographic multi-sport rival, New York. The term "Boston Strong" was coined to display the resiliency and togetherness of the Boston and Massachusetts natives and the 2013 Boston Red Sox used the "Boston Strong" theme as early inspiration on their way to the 2013 World Series championship.