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The Top Sports Stories of 2012

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Lin-sanity! For a few weeks in February, people around the nation and even other parts of the world, many of them not even basketball fans, were taken over by “Lin-sanity,” when little-known New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, the first American-Taiwanese NBA player, came out of nowhere and started turning in amazing performances that were lifting his team to victory. Like far too many good things though, it had to come to an end, and Lin started cooling down, and then was done for the rest of the season when he got hurt at the end of March and had to have knee surgery. Still, Knicks fans were shocked when it was announced in July that Lin was leaving New York for the Houston Rockets, when the Knicks wouldn’t match the Rockets’ three-year, $25 million offer for the 23-year-old.

Colts drop Manning and Broncos trade Tebow: In two headline grabbing and connected player moves, the Indianapolis Colts released quarterback Peyton Manning in March after 14 years and the Denver Broncos traded their popular QB, Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, after they snapped up Manning. The Broncos beat out at least four other teams to get Manning, a four-time NFL MVP, but it meant they no longer needed Tebow, who’d gotten them to the playoffs last season from a 1-4 start and became a national sensation. So they traded him to the Jets, where he became a backup to starter Mark Sanchez. Tebow has gotten little playing time this season, even as Sanchez has performed poorly.

Saints head coach suspended for season over bounty scandal: The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton without pay for the current 2012-2013 season in an unprecedented punishment for a bounty system from 2009 (the season the Saints won their only Super Bowl) to 2011 that gave out cash bonuses for hurting key opposing players and knocking them out of games. Four players were punished as well, with defensive captain Jonathan Vilma also suspended without pay for the entire season, and shorter bans for defensive end Will Smith, defensive linesman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita, who are now with different teams. The Saints were also fined $500,000 and lost their second-round draft picks for two years.

Roger Clemens acquitted: Pitching great Roger Clemmens was acquitted in June by a federal jury on all charges that he obstructed and lied to Congress in denying he used performance-enhancing drugs, the exoneration coming in a second trial after an earlier prosecution last year ended in a mistrial. The government’s case had relied heavily on the testimony of Clemens’ longtime strength coach, Brian McNamee who testified he injected Clemens with steroids in 1998, 2000 and 2001 and with HGH in 2000.

Report says top Penn State officials covered up Sandusky child sex abuse: A scathing report out on July 12th said that top Penn State officials and then-football coach Joe Paterno covered up the child sex abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago out of fear of bad publicity. Former FBI director Louis Freeh headed up the probe, which found that former President Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley, former VP Gary Schultz and Paterno repeatedly concealed critical facts about Sandusky’s child abuse. In a blow to the late Paterno’s legacy, Freeh said the legendary coach, quote, “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal,” and that his firing was justified.

Penn State spared “death penalty”: The NCAA spared Penn State football from the so-called “death penalty,” a total suspension of the program for a year of more, over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, but still came down hard on the school. A July 24th announcement said that it had suspended Penn State from the post-season for four years, slashed the number of scholarships it can award, vacated all of the team’s victories from 1998 to 2011, and imposed a fine of $60 million, with the money to go to programs for preventing child sex abuse or helping victims. As a result, late former coach Joe Paterno’s record was reduced by 111 wins, stripping him of the top spot as winningest coach in major college football.

Augusta National Golf Club accepts women: After 80 years, Augusta National Golf Club finally decided to admit women, ending its controversial all-male policy. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore were invited in August to join, both of whom said yes.

NFL refs locked out: Football fans discovered a newfound love for the NFL referees when they were locked out in a labor dispute with the league for the start of the season and replacement refs were officiating games instead. There was a growing outcry from players, announcers and fans as calls were repeatedly botched over the first three weeks, culminating in a hugely controversial ending to a Monday Night Football game at the end of September between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. A deal was reached to end the lockout two days later, and the regular refs were back on the field for that week’s Thursday night game, where they got an ovation from the stadium crowd.

Lancer Armstrong stripped of seven Tour De France titles: U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in October, from 1999 to 2005, by the International Cycling Union and banned for life for doping. The move cames after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a damning report two weeks ago earlier that detailed its evidence of drug use and trafficking by Armstrong and his Tour-winning teams. The report, which included statements from 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong, said he and his teams used steroids, the blood booster EPO and blood transfusions. The former teammates also said Armstrong pressured them to dope. Armstrong, who maintains his innocence, was cleared of criminal charges in February after a two-year federal grand jury investigation.

NYC Marathon canceled in wake of Hurricane Sandy: Mayor Mike Bloomberg canceled the New York City Marathon two days before it was supposed to be run on November 4th, after coming under increasing pressure for saying the annual race would go on despite Superstorm Sandy, which had heavily damaged areas of the city just days earlier. Critics said the marathon would draw city resources when they were still needed in Sandy’s aftermath, and also questioned the appropriateness of holding the race. After the cancellation, many of the disappointed marathoners used what would have been race day to help victims of the storm.

Beckham wins MLS cup in final game with Galaxy: The Los Angeles Galaxy won the MLS Cup for the second year in a row on December 1st, repeating as champs in David Beckham’s final game with the team. Beckham had announced two weeks earlier that he would be leaving, and while the 37-year-old British soccer superstar said he isn’t retiring, but didn’t give any indication what his next move will be. Beckham played for the Galaxy for six seasons after his groundbreaking move from Real Madrid. MLS has grown exponentially since Beckham’s U.S. arrival, expanding to 19 North American teams with record attendance.

Kansas City Chiefs’ Belcher kills girlfriend, himself: On December 1st, 25-year-old Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and mother of their three-month-old child and then drove to the team’s practice facility, where took his own life in the parking lot in front of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli after thanking them for all they’d done for him. Belcher and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, had been arguing when Belcher shot her.

No hockey this season?: As we head toward the end of the year, it’s looking more and more likely that the 2011-2012 NHL season will be canceled. The league and players have not been able to reach an agreement to end the lockout that began in September, despite repeated talks, including with the help of federal mediators, and, most recently, between players and owners directly. All games through December 14th, along with the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game, have already been canceled, and if the entire season does get wiped out, if will be for the second time in the past decade, after the 2004-2005 season was canceled because a labor deal couldn’t be reached.

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