Season stuffed with bad birds

By David Mullen

The annual Mull it Over “Turkeys of the Year” awards focus on players and organizations that suffered missteps on and off the field. This year, many missteps are missed shots. It’s the stuffing nightmares are made of, and tryptophan is not to blame. 

“Don’t be a turkey, Willie! Just step on first base!”
Baseball card courtesy of eBay

NCAA. After cancelling the 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — known popularly as March Madness (even though it ends in April) — because of COVID-19, the powers that control college athletics weren’t going to let sponsors, TV networks and their institutions down this year. They were going to hold the tournament in 2021, Delta variant be damned. No worries, it is only a cough.

A study reported in JAMA Network Open tracked the location of Final Four teams and found that the 2021 tournament may have been a super spreader. Despite reduced capacity seating in Indianapolis, many fans brought back more than souvenirs to their college towns. Research found double digit increase in COVID-19 cases on or near campuses of teams that competed in the tournament.  

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving. The NBA star stands to lose more than $17 million in salary money this season by choosing not to get vaccinated despite a shot requirement to work in New York City. With Irving, the Nets are favorites to win the NBA title.

Irving, who attended Duke for one year before entering the NBA draft, said “this is about my life and what I am choosing to do.” That’s his decision. He says he is not an anti-vaxxer and continues to do research. But he may want to research the long-term economic effect of not collecting tens of millions of dollars at age 29.

It is the first time in Irving’s basketball career that he didn’t want to take a shot. 

Aaron Rodgers. Before a key game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Green Bay Packers quarterback tested positive for COVID-19. He said he was “immunized,” which many considered “vaccinated” like more than 95 percent of all NFL players and coaches. 

It turns out he had not gotten a vaccination but was using remedies touted by podcaster Joe Rogan. Rodgers blamed a “woke culture” and pleaded his case on another podcast hosted by pro wrestler Pat McAfee, a 34-year-old man who wears a tank top as formalwear.

In the summer of 2021, Rodgers auditioned to become the new host of “Jeopardy!” In the fall of 2021, Rodgers lied and put his coaches and teammates in jeopardy.

Others are not immune from receiving “Turkeys of the Year” recognition. 

The Las Vegas Raiders. The NFL team has a new home and wanted to replace “a cast of characters” with “people of character.” Within a three-week span, coach Jon Gruden resigned, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was arrested and cut, and cornerback Damon Arnette was released. 

The NFL uncovered racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails sent by Gruden, Ruggs III was charged with multiple felonies in Las Vegas after crashing his Corvette into another vehicle killing the driver, and former first round draft pick cornerback Damon Arnette was released. At 3:39 a.m. on November 2, Ruggs III was clocked driving 161 mph with a blood alcohol content of .16 percent. A loaded weapon was found in his crushed vehicle. On November 5, Arnette posted a video online of himself  brandishing a gun and making death threats toward an individual and was immediately cut by the Raiders. People of character, indeed.

Texas head football coach Steve Sarkisian and athletic director Chris Del Conte. After spending $24 million to buyout the contract of Texas head coach Tom Herman after a 7-3 season, Del Conte hired Sarkisian, offensive coordinator at Alabama, to a six-year, $34.2 million guaranteed contact. After losing at home to Kansas, a team that hadn’t won a conference road game since 2008, Sarkisian and the Longhorns are one loss away from a losing season and not qualifying for one of the 41 bowl games in 2021. 

Roger Goodell, The Washington Football Team and the NFL. The league, led by commissioner Goodell, has apparently discounted the toxic work environment and sexual harassment within the (then) Washington Redskins and current owner Daniel Snyder by closing the investigation.  

Gary Bettman, the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL. The league, led by commissioner Bettman, has apparently discounted the 2010 sexual assault of former Blackhawks player Kyle Beach by former video coach Brad Aldrich. 2010 Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville, who was leading the Florida Panthers to a 7-0 start this season, resigned from the Panthers on October 28. 

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer. The well-known college coach was brought in to give the team stability and build for the future. After a Thursday night loss in Cincinnati dropping the team to 0-4, Meyer did not return on the team plane and headed for Columbus where he was captured on social media at a bar with a young woman on his lap.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell. A former Cowboy tight end, Campbell promised that his team would play so intensely that they would “bite [their opponents] kneecaps off.” His press conferences are a stream of unconsciousness. The Lions are currently 0-8-1.

Cooped up NBA fans. Many basketball fans returning to arenas nationwide seems to have lost any sense of decorum. This year, Atlanta Hawks star guard Trae Young was spit on in New York, guard Russell Westbrook had popcorn dumped on him as he limped to the locker room due to injury in Philadelphia, and Irving had a bottle thrown at him in Boston. 

And finally, on the field …

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Will Craig. The Pirates 101-loss season can be summed up in one play. In a May 27 game against the Chicago Cubs, with two outs and a runner at second, Javy Baez hit a routine groundball to third and ran toward first. The throw pulled Craig off the bag. Baez stopped and started running back toward home. Craig chased Baez as the runner from second rounded third and tried to score. 

Craig threw home and the runner was safe. Baez started running toward first, again. The catcher threw to an unoccupied first base and Baez made it to second. Initially, all Craig had to do was step on first for the final out. The play was as muddled as Uncle Gus’ political views at Thanksgiving dinner.

Some thought it was a Little League play, but in Little League, the first baseman’s parents would have yelled from the stands: “Don’t be a turkey, Willie! Just step on first base!”