Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, April 24, 2019

This Week in Sports: Corruption, surprise firings, Game 7’s, and a spelling Bee

A lot happened in the past week of sports, and that’s an understatement. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch turned FIFA upside down, two marquee franchises fired their coaches and the NBA and NHL are about to play out their championship series. Here’s what caught my eye in the world of sports this week.

  1. Corruption rocks the world’s most popular sport.

The governing body of the most popular sport in the world plunged into chaos early Wednesday morning when Swiss officials arrested seven officials from FIFA at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. The officials were charged with corruption, and the Swiss government subsequently opened an investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups. On top of this, the U.S. is investigating bribes related to broadcasting rights in North and South America. FIFA has a long and storied history of corruption, but this is the first case that the United States is involved in due to its growing soccer market after the men’s national team’s success in last summer’s World Cup. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has not been accused of any of these charges, and he vows to get rid of the corruption in the sport despite UEFA president Michel Platini calling for his resignation. Blatter isn’t going anywhere, and this mess isn’t going anywhere because today Blatter won his 5th term as President of FIFA. I predict that once FIFA starts to lose its big sponsors, FIFA will get rid of Blatter and start over. The investigation will help move soccer forward, leading to less corruption and offer a cleaner game for fans.  

2. Real Madrid fires manager Carlo Ancelotti after two seasons with the club.

Carlo Ancelotti, who won the Champions’ league and Copa Del Rey with Real Madrid in 2014, was fired earlier this week after Madrid failed to win any hardware this season. Real Madrid President Florentino Perez thanked Ancelotti for his service to the club but stated that the club has high demands. His firing makes little sense. Earlier in the year, Ancelotti and his team won 22 consecutive games in a row, a record for Real Madrid. Injuries, however, hindered the team throughout the season, as midfielders Luka Modric and James Rodriguez both missed significant time. They only finished two points behind first-placed Barcelona and narrowly lost to Juventus in the semifinals of the Champions league. If Real Madrid blames anybody for going trophyless this season, they should blame Gareth Bale. Last season, Madrid acquired Bale from Tottenham Hotspur for a world-record 85.3 million euros. Bale performed well last season and scored the winning goal in the Copa Del Rey along with the winner in the Champions League final against arch-rivals Atletico Madrid. This year, Bale went on a goal drought that lasted 829 minutes -- the stretch of the season where Los Blancos suffered through a stretch of poor form. Because of the team’s results, Bale lost support of the Real Madrid faithful, and he may be the reason why Ancelotti is unemployed.

3. The Chicago Bulls fired one of the best coaches in the NBA.

After amassing a 255-139 record over five seasons, the Chicago Bulls announced the firing of head coach Tom Thibodeau. In a press release, owner and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf did not seem remorseful firing one of the best coaches in the league, citing a lack of unity between players, coaches and upper management as the cause for his release. Thibodeau’s first year at the helm saw the Bulls finish a with a 62-20 record, an Eastern Conference best. Thibodeau also earned Coach of the Year honors.  The Bulls eventually lost to the Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference finals at the end of Thibodeau’s first year in the 2010-2011 season. After that season, things never got better for the Bulls. Derrick Rose, who won the MVP in Thibodeau’s first season, suffered multiple knee injuries, hindering the growth of the team. Despite his flaws as a coach -- mostly playing his best players too many minutes and not rotating guys in and out of the game properly -- Thibodeau’s players showed toughness and pride in the playoffs. Reinsdorf’s statement addressing Thibodeau’s releases should have celebrated Thibodeau’s achievements with the team, but instead Reinsdorf cluttered his announcement with his personal, negative feelings about the coach. In spite of his firing, Coach Thibs, as Thibodeau is affectionately referred to by supporters, will likely find another head coaching job soon.

4. What’s more exciting than one Game 7? Two Game 7’s!

The stakes could not be higher in the National Hockey League right now. In the Eastern Conference finals, the New York Rangers, owners of the best regular season record in hockey, will face off against the offensive-minded Tampa Bay Lightning on tonight at 8 p.m. ET. In the Western conference, the Chicago Blackhawks will battle the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. Even non-hockey fans can find excitement in these final games as the teams battle for the chance to play on hockey’s biggest stage: the Stanley Cup Final. If the Blackhawks and the Rangers win their final games, the Stanley Cup will include two Original Six franchises. This set-up could increase ratings for the NHL and offer sports fans the chance to watch some of the world’s greatest hockey.

5. The National Spelling Bee is the best thing that ESPN airs every year.

S-P-O-R-T-S. Last night, two students emerged victorious in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Look, I know what you’re thinking. Why am I talking about the National Spelling Bee in a column about sports? Well, if the spelling bee is good enough for ESPN to broadcast on its flagship channel, then it’s good enough for this column. Every year, my father and I sit in our living room in absolute awe of these 12 to 14-year-old kids who spell words most people have never heard before. This year, co-champions Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam wowed over-lookers -- and my family -- by spelling word after word. 285 competitors began the competition, but individuals were eliminated if they misspelled a word. The final two spellers remaining entered into the final round where 25 “championship” words are put into play. If both spellers do not miss any of these words, they are declared co-champions -- and that happened last night for the second time in a row. Shivashankar’s winning word was “scherenschnitte,” meaning the cutting of paper into decorative designs, and Venkatachalam’s winning word was “nunatak,” which is a hill or mountain completely surrounded by ice. The bee was compelling and fun to watch, and it is definitely a must see for sports fans.

There is a lot to look forward to in the world of sports in the coming days. The NBA finals are set -- pitting Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers against MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Game 1 tips off at 9 p.m. PT on June 4th. On top of that, next Saturday is the Champions’ league final, with Lionel Messi and Barcelona facing off against Italian champions Juventus -- kickoff is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. ET. Stay tuned next Friday for another week wrap-up.

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