The State of the Sports Union in 2008 is…unsettled, but promising.
Fans are arguably coming off the worst year in a generation, between the Vick scandal, the Mitchell Report, the Donaghy mess (and even the debilitating BCS debate) – no major sport was left untouched.
On the field, the only fans who seem to be enjoying championship satisfaction are the ones in Boston. New England's empire-building across the NFL and MLB were joined by a once-unthinkable resurrection of the Celtics as title contenders. It is a terrible moment if you don't like Boston sports – or Boston sports fans -- a sentiment that covers most of the country. (Obviously, other pockets of fans -- in San Antonio or Louisiana -- had great years in 2007, but the dominant theme was "Boston.")
But there is hope for this new year.
2008 will be defined by three things:
(1) The Patriots either completing the unprecedented 19-0 championship season or the unthinkable upset of our generation, finishing 18-1. That result and its aftershocks will be felt as soon as this weekend; it will define the rest of the year in the nation's most popular sport.
(2) The Olympics in Beijing, which will pair spectacle and smog, with superstars like Michael Phelps sharing the spotlight with Olympic heroes (or goats) yet to be determined.
(3): The intersection of sports and politics, as we enter into the most contentious and exciting Presidential election year anyone can remember. The Presidential race will dominate everything else, and often intermingle with sports, as you will see this Sunday, the day of the Super Bowl and two days before Super Tuesday.
The rest of the sports year is, thankfully, kind of intriguing: Can the Red Sox repeat, extending this current Golden Age of New England sports? Or will the suddenly spend-happy Tigers give us reason to think of 1968 all over again? College hoops is as wide-open as it has been in years, with a Memphis team that might go undefeated – or dramatically implode short of the championship. College football has the prospects of being as wide-open as last season – whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a personal choice. Tiger Woods seems poised for a Slam run. Sports blogs had a break-out year in '07, and will only get bigger in '08.
But here is the scarring effect of 2007: Back in January 2007, we didn't see the Vick thing coming or the Donaghy thing coming. "Mitchell Report" was a vague notion, rather than a defining phrase. What we know for certain is that scandal will inevitably rock sports – it is there, just waiting to be uncovered. The corrosive deeds are waiting to be committed: The only details needed are "who," "what" and "when."
What 2007 did was ensure that fans can't cheer without at least keeping in the back of their head that at any moment, scandal will tarnish the moments, will dominate the media coverage, will spoil the fun.
2008 can't possibly be worse than 2007. That's a hell of a statement, in and of itself. All signs point to "better" – even if you are a Boston sports fan.
Put your own thoughts on the State of the Sports Union in the Comments.