The best and worst sports trends of the decade | CBC Sports

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The best and worst sports trends of the decade | CBC Sports

Sports can be the best. But also sometimes the worst. Here are some of the big changes — good and bad — that occurred over the last 10 years:

Best: Canada getting better at the Olympics

In the two Olympics Canada hosted before this decade — Montreal 1976 and Calgary ’88 — the country won a total of zero gold medals. Everything changed at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Canada topped the standings with 14 gold — including the most dramatic one possible in the men’s hockey final. The Canadian team went on to finish third at the next two Winter Olympics — a height it had never reached before Vancouver.

Things are looking up on the summer side too. Canada’s four gold medals in Rio were its most since 1992, and hopes are high for Tokyo 2020 after strong showings at this year’s swimming and track and field world championships.

Best: Powerful people getting called out

Sports (and the world in general) still has a long way to go in this department, but at least we’ve made some progress lately. Take hockey: near the end of last year, people finally started asking questions about the brutal hazing rituals carried out by the leaders of many junior teams. More recently, the spotlight turned to the distasteful behaviour of old-school coaches and former coaches like Calgary’s Bill Peters, Toronto’s Mike Babcock and TV’s Don Cherry, all of whom lost their jobs.

Worst: Russia’s heel turn

Another trend that extends beyond sports. Anyone who was around before the ’90s remembers the “us vs. them” bitterness of the Cold War. Well, it made a comeback in the back half of this decade after Russia’s jaw-dropping (and successful) plan to cheat its way to the top of the 2014 Sochi Olympics was exposed.

We’ve since learned that performance-enhancing drugs (and all kinds of shady methods for avoiding detection) touched almost all corners of the country’s sports structure. Several athletes have been stripped of medals and banned from competition, but the International Olympic Committee continues to stop short of the ultimate punishment — a full ban of all Russian athletes from the Games.

Best: Player empowerment

The recent (and long overdue) decision to add the late baseball labour icon Marvin Miller to the hall of fame was a reminder of how rough players used to have it. It took a lot of guts to win pretty basic stuff like arbitration and free agency, which paved the way for today’s multi-million-dollar contracts. Now that the money is right, players seem more comfortable going after other things they want.

NBA players are on the cutting edge of this. Because of the nature of basketball, a single superstar can have a bigger impact on his team’s success than in any of the other major sports. That gives them a lot of leverage, and they’re not shy about using it anymore.

LeBron James will go down as the pioneer of the player-empowerment movement for recruiting the first modern super-team in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Instead of waiting for his Cleveland bosses to build a championship team around him, LeBron simply put together one of his own in a more desirable city. This past summer, Kawhi Leonard all but ordered the L.A. Clippers to trade for Paul George before he agreed to sign a deal he can opt out of after only two years. Not everyone is happy with this, but there’s something refreshing about seeing the guys who actually make the sport great — not the owners and executives — call the shots.

No one in Toronto is complaining about load management. (Getty Images)

Maybe not quite the best: Player empowerment

As a fan, it’s OK to have mixed feelings about this. We can agree that the old way of doing things was bad and exploitative and needed to go, while also admitting some of the flaws in the way things are now.

Once again, the NBA is at the forefront. Kawhi in particular. His program of “load management” — which for him means sitting out around 20 per cent of his team’s regular-season games to protect his health — is certainly in the best interest of himself and his team. The Clippers are going to make the playoffs no problem, so better to have him healthy and rested. But what about the fans who pay big money for tickets or sit through commercials to watch Kawhi on TV? We’re all starting to get wise to the fact that no one cares about the regular season. Ratings and attendance numbers are starting to reflect that — in the NBA and some other sports. Something’s gotta give.

Best: The rise of Canadian basketball

Despite all the stuff I just said, basketball is a great sport. It’s also popular around the world, which makes Canada’s ascendance more impressive. True, we still haven’t really done anything on the international stage, but look how many good NBA players we suddenly have: Jamal Murray, Shai-Gigeous Alexander, RJ Barrett, Kelly Olynyk, Tristan Thompson, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke… and now Andrew Wiggins seems like he’s finally figured out how to be a star. Guys are now starting to commit to the last-chance Olympic qualifier this summer. If Canada gets through, it’s got a great chance to win its first medal. Same for the women’s team, which is ranked fourth in the world.

Best: The rise of Canadian tennis

This might seem like just a 2019 thing, but it really started earlier this decade when Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic burst onto the scene. Bouchard was a shooting star: she made the Wimbledon final and two more Grand Slam semis in 2014 but hasn’t done much since. Raonic remains a solid, if unspectacular, pro.

But Bianca Andreescu has taken things to a whole other level. She just became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles tournament and added two other titles in the greatest season ever by a Canadian tennis player. On the men’s side, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime look like rising stars. All three players are age 20 or younger. The next decade could be fun.

Best: Football’s evolution

Look, it’s still a brutal game. Definitely the most unsafe major team sport. But rule changes to protect players in vulnerable positions — quarterbacks and receivers, mostly — have made a difference. There are fewer dangerous hits these days. The game itself continues to evolve too. The offensive revolution that started at the college and high school levels has finally bubbled up to the NFL. Exciting players who don’t fit traditional molds are now getting a fairer shake.

Take Lamar Jackson. Ten years ago, his slight build and eagerness to run the ball (and, unfortunately, his skin colour) would have disqualified him as a quarterback prospect for a lot of old-school football guys. But, this year, the Ravens designed their whole offence around his skill set. Now he’s likely the MVP of the league and his team is the Super Bowl favourite.

Worst: Baseball’s evolution

Remember how exciting it was when you first read Moneyball and discovered all these new and interesting ways of looking at a game you thought you knew everything about? Well, since the book came out in 2003, the management-consultant types of the world have been putting their heads together to figure out exactly how baseball games are actually won and lost. Turns out it’s pretty boring.

Every game now is a parade of relief pitchers throwing 100 miles an hour to hitters who are told to swing for the fences and not care about striking out. The ball is never in play and there’s no flow to the game. Plus, many owners of middle-of-the-road franchises have decided they’d rather just pocket all the TV money flowing into the game and tell their fans they have a rebuilding “process” instead of actually trying to put the best possible team on the field. Pretty much everything about the sport is less interesting than it was a decade ago.

Absolute worst: The rise of video replay

If there’s one thing we’ve learned as a society this decade, it’s that technology is not the answer to all our problems. Sometimes it even creates its own. Sure, it sucks when your team gets screwed by a bad call. But we’ve let the fear of that lure us toward the false promise that replay will prevent it from ever happening again. It’s a lie. The system doesn’t work. How many times have you seen an obvious blown call not reversed for some reason? Meanwhile, replay cre is making sports more boring to watch. Let’s just accept that we can’t control everything and keep the game moving. This is supposed to be entertainment. Hopefully we remember that in the 2020s.

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer. It’s CBC Sports’ daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing below.

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