Sports Controversies of 2015

Illustration by Max Yeager

The world of sports has experienced many controversies this year including racism and corruption in soccer, the idea of paying college athletes and a cheating scandal that made people question how professional athletes are punished. Some of these issues have been around for decades while others are new problems that need to be solved.

Racism in Russian Soccer

The Russian Football Union has struggled with racism for many years. The Fare Network and Sova Center, two organizations that focus on discrimination in football and Russian nationalism, respectively, have issued a report that highlights more than 200 cases of discriminatory behavior linked to Russian football over the past two seasons.  Most recently, Emmanuel Frimpong, a former Arsenal midfielder now playing for FC UFA in the Russian Premier League, was subjected to racist monkey chants during a game against Spartak Moscow.  Frimpong's response was to raise two middle fingers to the chanters. To make things worse, Frimpong was given a two-game suspension for his reaction while no punishment was given to the chanters. 

The general director of FC UFA, Shamil Gazizov, even made the statement that “what Frimpong did was wrong. Sometimes you even have to hold back the tears and just put up with it.” Ivory Coast player Yaya Toure, however, argued that black players should boycott the upcoming 2018 World Cup, which will be held in Russia, if the countrydoesn’t act against the fans that have reportedly chanted racist comments.  

FIFA Corruption

he Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), has been under scrutiny for years concerning its corruption involving the selection of World Cup host countries and limiting broadcasting rights to specific stations. The United States has recently arrested a number of FIFA officials on charges including money laundering, fraud and racketeering. Sports marketing executives allegedly paid more than $150 million in bribes to FIFA officials to secure broadcast rights.

Soon after the arrests, an investigation was opened in Switzerland concerning the questionable decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar.  Not many people would have predicted that FIFA would award Qatar a World Cup due to its slave-like working conditions and the fact that temperatures in Qatar regularly reach over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, hardly a safe condition to play a ninety minute soccer game. FIFA officials have allegedly received kickbacks from countries and broadcasting companies since 1991. Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, resigned just days after winning his fifth reelection claiming that he wasn’t involved in the corruption but that he isn’t the right person fix the issues FIFA is having.  

Paying NCAA Athletes

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, is a nonprofit organization that regulates college athletics and makes about six billion dollars annually. Its players, the people that are arguably the ones allowing the NCAA to be so profitable, see none of this money.  Athletes receive no money when the NCAA sells jerseys with their name on it or when the NCAA uses their skills and personality to sell tickets or video games based on them.  A large amount of money is being made off of college sports which begs the question whether or not the athletes can still be considered amateurs. Although college and universities themselves cannot afford to pay their athletes, as only 2 percent make more money than they spend on sports, it is abundantly clear that the NCAA can afford to pay the athletes.  

Many people argue that athletes should be able to negotiate their own working conditions and capture their worth on the open market.  Others worry that this would create a barrier to competition in sports as athletes will just go to the schools that pay the most. In turn, these teams will become even better and make more money to attract more highly skilled athletes.  This may not be that big of a problem as the best high school players are already going to the best college sports teams regardless.  

It is also a concern that paying college athletes will distract them from their academics and NCAA president, Mike Emmert, has taken a side by stating “rather than push college athletics further and further from academics, we need to bring it closer.” People also argue that the opportunity of education and getting your name out there to potentially be signed to pro sports is compensation enough.  

Deflategate and Punishment in the NFL

After defeating the Indianapolis Colts 45 to 7 in the American Football Conference Championship Game, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were put under investigation. t was questioned whether or not they had intentionally used deflated footballs. Deflated footballs are easier to grip and many quarterbacks prefer them that way, especially in the rainy weather experienced during the game in question. While text messages between the officials locker room attendant and assistant equipment man clearly show that they purposefully reduced the pressure of Brady’s balls, it is unclear whether or not Brady knew about the plan.  Even though Brady destroyed his cell phone that allegedly contained incriminating evidence, the Wells report still found that Brady was at least "generally aware."  

The NFL punished the act by suspending Brady for the first four games of the upcoming season, fining the Patriots $1 million and taking away their first round pick for the 2016 draft and their fourth round pick in the 2017 draft.  Many consider the punishment to be too harsh as it greatly affects the people who may have had nothing to do with the scandal while others believe the punishment is too light considering the Patriots were clearly given an advantage over the Colts and that the championship game was not fairly won.

Deflategate just adds to the list of questionable punishments set by the NFL.  Previously, Ray Rice was only given a two game suspension after assaulting his wife.  Defending this decision, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that he was only trying to be consistent but giving no suspension would have been more consistent with past decisions made by the NFL.  Ray Lewis got his murder charge dropped in 2000 to an obstruction of justice charge in exchange for testifying against his friends and received a relatively measly $250,000 fine.

Josh Gordon, however, received an entire season long suspension for testing positive for marijuana even though the procedure for his drug test was very questionable. Inconsistent punishment is arguably undermining the respect many people have for the NFL, but fans will still watch and support because, well, it's football.