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SPORTS: Significant & interesting

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–If you read many sports sections or sports websites at this time of year, you’ll see a lot of lists of top sports stories from 2003.

I figured I’d add my own spin about the topic. While this list is by no means a ranking or an exhaustive list of top stories, it is a partial look at what are – in my opinion – some of the most significant and/or most interesting stories of the year.


After raising a stink about the Augusta National Golf Club not allowing women as members, Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations made good on her promise to picket The Masters in April. But the turnout was lower than what everyone was expecting, and the protest was more of a non-story than headline news.

It served Burk right. As a private club in a free country, members of Augusta National have the right to admit or deny whomever they want to. They may one day allow women, but it won’t be because of coercion by any feminist group.


Formerly considered one of the good guys of the NBA, Bryant shattered that reputation with his admission of a one-night stand with a Colorado woman. She says he raped her, he says the sex was consensual. Regardless of the truth, Bryant has lost something he’ll never be able to completely regain.


In another “good guys gone bad” episode, Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa was suspended by Major League Baseball for using a corked bat. Sosa apologized to baseball fans and said he mistakenly grabbed the corked bat, which he uses during batting practice.

That may be the case. But the stories about Bryant and Sosa are vivid examples of how important it is to live with integrity and not ruin in an instant what you’ve worked years to achieve.


Speaking of the Cubs, any mention of top stories for 2003 wouldn’t be complete without Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan who reached up to grab a foul ball and knocked it away from outfielder Moises Alou in game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

Although the Cubs practically had the series locked up, they couldn’t recover from the mishap. The Florida Marlins rallied to win the game and the series, as the Cubs once again grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory and kept their World Series drought alive.

Bartman got a lot of criticism (and some threats) in Chicago, but anybody who knows baseball knows that Bartman was not the reason the Cubs lost. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a routine ground ball that would have ended the inning. Pitcher Mark Prior, who was visibly agitated at Bartman, should have overlooked the incident instead of getting knocked around by the Marlins. The Cubs have nobody to blame but themselves for losing the game and squandering the best chance they’ve had in decades of making it to the World Series.


Steve Bechler was the Baltimore Orioles pitcher who died in February after a mild workout in 80-degree weather. A medical examiner believed that the drug ephedra was at least partially responsible for Bechler’s death, and the tragedy increased attention to the ongoing debate over ephedra’s safety.

The Bush administration finally banned the sale of ephedra in late December, after the supplement has been blamed for 155 deaths. The ban was long overdue and will hopefully spare many more lives in the future.


This year was the year of disgusting behavior by college coaches. First, Mike Price and Larry Eustachy were fired by their respective schools for inappropriate behavior. Eustachy was photographed at a frat party boozing it up with college students and kissing various coeds on the cheek. Price was axed by the University of Alabama after visiting a topless bar, among other things.

Then, Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss tried to cast deceased basketball player Patrick Dennehy as a drug dealer to cover up Bliss’s own rules violations. Following Dennehy’s murder, Bliss was under scrutiny for alleged NCAA violations that included the illegal paying of tuition for Dennehy and another player.

Rather than admitting the infractions, Bliss concocted a story that Dennehy got his money from selling drugs, rather than from Bliss himself. The coach even tried to get his players and coaches to go along with the tale.

These are men who should be setting an example for the young men under their care. Unfortunately, they failed miserably in that responsibility.


Finally, in one of the biggest feel-good stories of the year, Lance Armstrong won his fifth straight Tour de France, one of the greatest sports accomplishments ever. Add to it Armstrong’s victory over cancer, and you have an inspiring story not just for 2003, but for the ages.

Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Mulkeytown, Ill. Write to him at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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