The holiday season is a special time of the year for the sports world. A plethora of fascinating college basketball games air over multiple television channels, the college football regular season wraps up, and the National Football League campaign concludes its final one-fourth of the schedule. National Hockey League and National Basketball Association games are showcased on national TV in the United States, and plenty of international soccer matches provide morning entertainment for when you are enjoying Christmas breaks from work. From Bowl Week to regular season contests in professional leagues, there are live sporting events on TV literally every night over the last couple of weeks of December.
There are plenty of athletes who are on Santa’s Nice List this December. Take LeBron James, for example. James took his talents from South Beach to return to northeast Ohio and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a move that means more to that city than just LeBron making the Cavs a championship contender. Cleveland will reportedly benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits due to James returning to the Cavaliers. While there are Miami basketball fans who feel differently on the issue, you can be sure that James will not be getting coal in his stocking from the man in the red suit on December 24.
At the other end of the spectrum are the sports personalities who have penciled themselves on Santa’s Naughty List. Included in that group is a soccer player who has, throughout his career, made international headlines for some despicable acts, and also some football players who are currently not part of NFL rosters, athletes who will be looking to redeem themselves in 2015. This list begins with a quarterback who is in the midst of his first professional season, a man who hasn’t been able to get on the field in part because of his off-the-field activities, actions that are reportedly not making his head coach happy.
20. Johnny Manziel
The Cleveland Browns had to know what they were getting when they moved up to grab the young man known as Johnny Football on the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft. Manziel has not failed to disappoint the paparazzi since being selected by the Browns. He has been seen floating on an inflatable swan while enjoying an adult beverage, and Manziel was also involved in an altercation in his apartment building. Whether or not Manziel is going to be a hit in the NFL is unknown, but the rookie certainly isn’t doing himself any favors with the way that he has conducted himself during midweeks.
19. Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod, the lightning rod of New York sports, was (finally) caught in lies when reports leaked that he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs to the DEA. What was the worst-kept secret in all of Major League Baseball was made public knowledge, and what was already a shaky reputation was rightfully dragged through the mud. Rodriguez will be back from suspension for the 2015 MLB season, and he will be looking to make positive contributions for the New York Yankees during what will be must-watch games. Perhaps this story will have a happy ending, one that includes A-Rod being on the Nice List one year from today. Yankees fans should not, however, hold their breaths waiting for that to happen.
18. Josh Gordon
The superstar Cleveland Browns wide receiver continued to get into trouble in 2014. He was popped for marijuana by a National Football League drug test during the offseason, and Gordon was arrested on DWI charges over the summer. Gordon’s physical skills and his ability to make plays cannot be denied, but neither can the reality that the Browns cannot trust the 23-year-old to stay out of trouble for a significant amount of time. Those in the Cleveland front office may feel that trading Gordon is necessary, but there is a real concern that the team may not get an equal return for a player who has to show that he can go an entire offseason without getting suspended.
17. Dan Shaughnessy
The sports columnist angered fans of the New England Revolution when he Tweeted the following after New England lost to the LA Galaxy in the 2014 MLS Cup: “Silver lining of Revs loss is that now we don’t have to pretend they are relevant. Nice try by the Revs. But we are a Four Team Town.” What a hot take from a veteran journalist who clearly has the pulse of the North American sports world in 2014. Soccer grows in popularity in the United States every year, and anybody who wants to deny that is either failing to grasp reality or has some bizarre agenda against the sport.
16. Paul MacLean
It is not a happy holiday season in the MacLean household. The man who was named NHL Coach of the Year two seasons ago was let go by the Ottawa Senators on December 8, just 27 games into the 2014-15 campaign. Ottawa stumbled out of the gates, and the Senators were second-last in the Eastern Conference standings when the club decided that a coaching change had to be made. It is possible, of course, that Santa could look kindly on a man who has had better days in his professional career. Ottawa fans likely see MacLean as being nothing but naughty for the Senators this December.
15. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo is the best footballer on the planet today, a unique talent and a player for the ages. He also has some negative tendencies and a reputation for being an individual who is more concerned about getting “his” during matches than about his teams winning. Ronaldo did not endear himself to Santa when he had some unkind words for his Real Madrid teammates. Granted, Ronaldo was likely kidding, but he is a role model for young children living all around the world. He needs to remember that there are cameras everywhere whenever he ventures outside of his home for any event.
14. Roger Goodell
The NFL commissioner did not have a good year. He badly fumbled in how he dealt with the Ray Rice suspension, leading some to question if Goodell should remain in charge of what is the most-watched professional sports league in North America. Goodell is, of course, not going anywhere anytime soon, as he has helped the NFL make record profits. He must, in the future, be better about handing down harsh punishments to players who find themselves in legal battles, especially in cases that involve football players assaulting members of their families. One shouldn’t need to see video of the incident to realize that domestic violence is a serious matter.
13. Sepp Blatter
You can pick and choose your reasons for Blatter earning a spot on this list. Perhaps you would want to point to the fact that the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup will be played on turf and not on grass. Maybe you would mention the numerous issues surrounding Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup. The tradition of FIFA being one of the most corrupt organizations in the world of sports rolled along in 2014, with all fingers pointing to the man in charge. Blatter has done nothing of merit to turn FIFA around, and the organization needs to make wholesale changes as soon as possible.
12. Mario Balotelli
Diva. Talented. Enigmatic. Problematic. These are just some of the words that accurately describe the forward who seemingly cannot help but drive managers to their breaking points. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is reportedly finished with the Balotelli experiment, so much so that he is willing to cut the club’s losses and sell the 24-year-old in January of 2015. Major League Soccer should offer the Premier League man a blank check to make the trek overseas and play in the North American top-flight. The stories of his off-the-pitch antics alone would make him worth every penny spent, and expansion side New York City Football Club can afford to pay him.
11. Jameis Winston
The Florida State quarterback unquestionably has the physical skills to win a National Championship in college football and lead an NFL offense. It is what he has allegedly done while not playing that has some football analysts suggesting that there are teams that would pass on Winston at any point of the 2015 NFL Draft. Rape allegations, whispers of point-shaving, and the player’s well-documented admiration of crab legs has made a player who should be the consensus No. 1 overall selection of any NFL Draft he enters into somebody who may be deemed untouchable for even pro clubs that desperately need an upgrade at the quarterback position.
10. Jadeveon Clowney
The highest-rated NFL defensive prospect of the past decade had two real concerns on his resume: That he wouldn’t be willing to put in the work necessary to be a superstar in pro football, and that he would become soft upon being paid NFL money. Clowney went down with a knee injury early into the 2014 regular season, and he was eventually placed on injured reserve by the Houston Texans, a team that is reportedly unhappy with the first-year defensive end. It is still very early into the player’s career, but there are some who are tossing out the “bust” label when evaluating Clowney.
9. Kobe Bryant
Some pro athletes offer hometown discounts to their teams in order to remain with that franchise and provide the club with money to spend on other players. Kobe Bryant is not one of those guys. The 36-year-old in the twilight of his career is carrying a cap hit of over $23 million for the 2014-15 NBA season, and that number is scheduled to go up to $25 million for the following campaign. The Los Angeles Lakers are not in a spot to build a winning roster, and Bryant is no longer part of a solution. He is, on the other hand, a major problem for the team, as Bryant is handcuffing who the Lakers can acquire in free agency.
8. Dan Snyder
The man seen as the worst owner in the NFL did not fail to build on that reputation in 2014. Snyder continues to hold onto the Redskins name for his pro football team despite the controversy that it generates, and that he does so defies logic. He is also the only guy left in the Washington front office who remains enamored with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Imagine a scenario where Snyder holds onto RG3 and fires a new coaching staff after a single season. Would it really shock you considering the individual who would be responsible for pulling the trigger on such a move?
7. Robert Griffin III
Snyder and RG3 go hand in hand on Santa’s Naughty List for 2014. Griffin should not be blamed for the injuries he has suffered as a pro quarterback. NFL players get hurt sometimes. It happens. Griffin has regressed since his rookie season in the league, and there has been speculation that he has not been putting in the work needed to improve upon his play. That is unacceptable for a quarterback who hasn’t won anything while in the NFL. Griffin has lost some within the locker room of the Redskins, and he has been benched by the Washington coaching staff. Maybe a chance of scenery will help RG3 not make this list in 2015.
6. Donald Sterling
Sterling guaranteed himself a lifelong spot on Santa’s Naughty List even before some racist comments that he made were leaked to the public. He had a long history of racist comments and actions, so much so that it is a wonder how the NBA didn’t push him out of the league before 2014. What’s done is done, and the NBA got it right in removing the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this year. It was a “better late than never” move, as people like Sterling do not deserve the privilege of owning a club in any top-tier professional sports league on earth.
5. Adrian Peterson
The method that Peterson used to discipline one of his children sparked debate on sports television programs and across sports talk radio stations. It also caused him to be exiled from the Minnesota Vikings and from the NFL, in general. Peterson is going to play pro football again at some point. He is too talented to not be given an opportunity by a club that needs a running back. It has been reported that the Vikings will not have Peterson suit up before 2014 comes to an end. Minnesota may elect to part ways with a player who has become a controversial figure during the offseason.
4. John Idzik
Idzik deserves to be given a coal mine for Christmas for what he has done to the New York Jets. The Jets went from being Super Bowl contenders to an NFL laughingstock, and Idzik has done nothing to right the ship and get Gang Green back on track. The New York general manager is reportedly feuding with head coach Rex Ryan behind the scenes, and both Idzik and Ryan could be looking for work soon after the 2014 regular season comes to an end. Add in that disaster of a press conference during which Idzik attempted to explain the state of the franchise, and it isn’t an overstatement to claim that he may very well be the worst general manager on the continent.
3. Don Garber
The Major League Soccer commissioner lands on Santa’s Naughty List following the demise of one of the league’s clubs. Chivas USA was an experiment that was never going to end well, and those in charge of MLS finally saw the writing on the wall and put Chivas out of its misery at the end of the 2014 campaign. Refusing to let dreams of the New York and Los Angeles markets having two MLS franchises die, Garber then announced that Chivas was being replaced by a “LA2” team that will launch in 2017. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
2. Sam Hinkie
The general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers isn’t making any friends with the way that he is handling the team’s roster. His master plan for the club is to set it up for failure in the hopes of getting the top draft pick for 2015, a method that did not produce the desired result in 2014. A team going through a rebuilding process is something fans have to put up with from time to time. That’s the nature of pro sports. Hinkie has developed a product that should not be considered to be NBA basketball, a team that makes headlines when it manages to notch the occasional win. That doesn’t happen often.
1. Ray Rice
A piece dealing with Santa’s Naughty List is made somewhat in jest, but there is nothing humorous or funny about the incident involving the former Baltimore Ravens running back and his then-fiancee that occurred last February. Rice was eventually dropped by the Ravens, and he remains out of the NFL despite the fact that what was essentially an indefinite suspension has been overturned. There will likely be at least one team that takes a flier on Rice next summer. People forget, after all, and Rice has gone through the legal process without having to serve jail time. His opportunity to redeem himself will come, as will opinions that Rice does not deserve to play in the NFL.