10 craziest sports stories of 2022
It was a pretty crazy year, and that extended to the world of sports.
So just what craziness did go down over the past 12 months in sports? We stayed away from the biggest tangential sports story this year, the arrest of Brittney Griner in Russia and resulting political standoff, and anything too tragic, like the senseless killings of three Virginia football players. And while Serena Williams' retirement was certainly global news, it's not exactly crazy to see a 41-year-old retire from tennis.
But there were still plenty of stories to choose from.
Even the honorable mentions are so packed we have to name a handful: Ash Barty, the women's No. 1 in the world, suddenly retiring at the top of the tennis world; Aaron Judge hitting the most home runs in a season ever* (*non-steroid category); the 2021 Boston Marathon women's winner being stripped of her title 20 months later; Phoenix Suns players openly rebelling against their owner, Robert Sarver, who then sold the team for an insane $4 billion; Bucs' All Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown stripping his pads off in a meltdown on the sidelines; Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley being suspended a year for sports gambling, including on his own team; and a massive cheating scandal in chess!
Here are the top 10 craziest stories in sports for 2022:
10. Messi and Argentina make World Cup final magic
Just getting in under the wire, the World Cup final was one the greatest sporting events in years -- not just soccer, but sports period. You didn't have to be a longtime viewer to know Lionel Messi is a legend of the sport. And if you'd only heard of Kylian Mbappe in passing as one of the brightest young stars in the game, you saw it on display in the second half.
Messi got Argentina, which hadn't won a World Cup since Diego Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal in 1986 (and yes, the "Goal of the Century"), on the board first with a penalty kick in the 23rd minute. Angel Di Maria added a second goal for Argentina in the 36th minute. And frankly, it looked like Argentina was going to cruise to its third world title. But not on Mbappe' watch.
Mbappe took over the match in the final stretch of regulation, scoring on a penalty kick in the 80th minute and then a sick strike out of midair in the 81st minute to tie the game and shock Argentina fans. The match went to extra time and Messi looked like he'd rescued Argentina again with a goal in the 108th minute. Argentina fans were back to celebrating a sure win. All they had to do was hold on for 12 more minutes. But back came Mbappe, earning a penalty kick and scoring another shocking, soul-crushing goal against the Argentines in the 118th minute.
It seemed almost fated that the match would go to penalty kicks. Messi and Mbappe each made their kicks, but it was actually Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who came up big to secure the win for Messi in what was surely his last World Cup game.
9. Ime Udoka loses Nia Long and gets suspended
Cheating on one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood is bad enough, but somehow it got even worse for suspended Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka. His philandering with a Celtics employee, which broke in September after an independent investigation into the organization, while consensual cost him his job -- at least for the season -- and his long-term relationship with Nia Long. The two, who have a son together, reportedly split up earlier this month after 12 years together.
Udoka's career as Celtics coach in 2023-2024 still remains up in the air. The Brooklyn Nets reportedly explored signing him after Steve Nash was fired, but went another direction in the end. And so Udoka is sitting around somewhere without a coaching job -- and without Nia Long.
8. Vince McMahon steps away from WWE
No owner of a company was more involved in day-to-day operations than Vince McMahon was with World Wrestling Entertainment. The 76-year-old plotted every storyline, approved every signing and shouted instructions into broadcasters' headsets during every show. He was the king of micromanagers over his four decades at the helm of the company founded by his father, Vince Sr. But that all came to an abrupt end in June when he stepped down from his role as CEO and chairman of the biggest wrestling company in the world.
After surviving several controversies over the years, most people assumed only a visit to the undertaker (the real one, not The Undertaker) would end his reign over the company. instead, McMahon stepped away under investigation from the company's board after The Wall Street Journal reported he had secretly paid a female ex-employee $3 million over claims of misconduct.
But of course, since this is wrestling, McMahon is allegedly already plotting a comeback. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that despite more accusations of sexual abuse, McMahon believes he was given bad advice to resign and would like to return.
7. LIV and let die?
Golf is known as "the gentleman's game," but it got decidedly un-gentlemanly over 2022 as a new tour, LIV Golf, butted heads with the PGA Tour. The LIV Golf tour, backed by the unlimited checkbook and limited scruples of the Saudi monarchy, announced a number of big-name signings in 2022. Major champions like Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel all signed on the dotted line for guaranteed contracts -- like most team sports. The PGA, on the other hand, only offers prize money for competing in events. But it also holds the prestige of history and the four majors.
The PGA immediately banned anyone who signed up for the LIV Golf tour from competing in their sanctioned events. But the LIV golfers were still allowed to compete in the majors. That may change next year, but a lot of decisions still remain up in the air as the tit-for-tat continues in the media. The controversy has even seeped into politics with former President Donald Trump hosting LIV Golf tournaments at his courses and playing in their pro-am events.
And then of course there was Phil Mickelson, who discussed joining the LIV Golf tour with biographer Alan Shipnuck and generated tons of controversy saying he might join the tour despite all of the horrible things the Saudi government has done -- specifically citing the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the death penalty for homosexuality -- just to stick it to the PGA Tour. By August, Mickelson was joining a host of top golfers in suing the PGA for antitrust violations.
6. The Winter Olympics just ended 2 weeks ago
Sure, you think the Beijing Winter Olympics ended 10 months ago. But it did not. The last Olympic medals were actually handed out on Dec. 13. When the women's ski cross final was held on Feb. 17, it lasted just 1 minute and 15 seconds. But the bronze medal for the event was held up in a fight for 10 months between Germany's Daniela Maier and Switzerland's Fanny Smith.
Maier and Smith had collided during the race, with Smith crossing the line third and Maier crossing fourth -- out of the medals. Following an immediate review, Smith was disqualified and Maier was given the bronze medal. Oh, but that was just the beginning. Once the Olympics ended, Smith appealed the DQ and was again given the bronze medal and Maier was placed back in fourth. Maier then appealed the appeal to the The Court of Arbitration for Sport and we finally got a winner (well, a third place finisher) a week ago -- sort of. The CAS announced the two sides had come to "a conciliation" and decided to split the baby and give each Maier and Smith a bronze medal.
By the way, Sweden's Sandra Naslund took the gold and Canada's Marielle Thompson earned silver and had probably totally moved on with their lives by the time the bronze was handed out.
5. Tom Brady is retired. Now unretired. And finally, divorced.
When the movie is made about Tom Brady's life, 2022 will be the so-called "dark night of the soul" at the end of Act 2. (He will not be played by Zachary Levi, to be clear.) Brady's Bucs finished the 2021-22 season 13-4, but came up short in the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams in the divisional round. It was not the follow-up to the Super Bowl the team was hoping for and tight end Rob Gronkowski soon announced his second retirement from football. The rumors about Brady joining him started almost immediately. In fact, Brady's own company announced on Twitter that the QB would step away after 22 seasons and outlets began reporting it the week before the Super Bowl. Finally, he announced it himself three days later.
But wait, the 44-year-old was not quite ready to hang it up. Forty days after saying he was done, he decided he couldn't call it quits. We may never quite know the drama that followed, but after months of rumors about his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, being unhappy with Brady's return, the two announced they were calling it quits in October.
The divorce came amid a total dud of a season, with Brady posting his worst stats in years and in the middle of a three-game losing streak.
4. From Russia...with controversy
Before Russia ruined its standing on the world stage by invading Ukraine, the Winter Olympics gave sports fans another reason to dislike the country. The Beijing Games were supposed to be all about the quadruple spins in women's figure skating and the queen of the quad was 15-year-old Kamila Valieva. The teen burst onto the scene just last season, not making her senior-level debut until only five months before the 2022 Winter Olympics. She was immediately one of the top competitors, however, with a dizzying array of quadruple jumps and the rarely landed triple axel (which is actually 3 1/2 rotations). She dominated a stacked field at the 2022 Russian Championships (held in December 2021), taking the gold by a mile over (spoiler alert!) the eventual Beijing gold and silver medalists.
She was expected to dominate again in Beijing, and did during the team competition, when she landed a triple axel in both the short and long programs and became the first woman to ever land a quad jump at the Olympics. Her performance propelled Russia to gold.
But then the news broke that Valieva had tested positive for a banned drug when the medal ceremony for the team competition was mysteriously postponed. It turns out a sample collected from Valieva during the Russian Championships had tested positive for trimetazidine. It wasn't tested until February due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Swedish lab. Then began the back-and-forth suspension game between the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, which first banned her from competing in singles and then rescinded that and said she could compete on appeal. In the middle was a 15-year-old who appeared to be a pawn in a political game she did not control.
Valieva went on to compete, finishing first after the short program, despite some stumbles, before falling multiple times in the long program and dropping out of the medals. But if you thought it took a long time for Fanny Smith and Daniela Maier to get their medals, that delayed team competition medal ceremony is still being delayed. Upset with RUSADA dragging its feet, the World Anti-Doping Agency last month asked The Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban Valieva for four years and strip her and Russia of the team medal. A ruling has yet to be made.
And so we wait for that team medal to be handed out. The United States, which finished second, could actually end up taking the gold.
3. Brian Robinson Jr. returns to play 42 days after being shot multiple times
There have been a lot of tragic stories about athletes being shot and killed, maybe most famously Washington's Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor back in 2007. It's a small slice of grace that rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., who also plays for Washington, survived being shot multiple times in an attempted robbery in late August.
The 23-year-old was shot through the right knee, but miraculously didn't suffer any bone or tendon damage. Amazingly, especially considering his job is literally dependent on his knee, he returned to practice by Oct. 5 and played in his first game exactly six weeks after being shot.
Oh, and he's leading the Commanders in rushing yards and is fourth among all rookies in rushing yards per game. Not bad for making a comeback before playing a single NFL game.
2. Novak Djokovic passes on vaccination, and a shot at history
Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic became the latest public figure to sabotage themselves by deciding not to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in early 2022. Had he just gotten a jab like a billion other people in the world, he could've competed at the year's first major in Australia. Instead, he did not and decided to turn his vaccine denial into an international incident.
Djokovic traveled to Melbourne in early January only to have his visa to enter the country canceled when he couldn't prove he'd received the vaccine -- because, as we'd later learn more clearly, he had not. He stayed in limbo at an isolation hotel after he tried to argue that he'd recently had COVID-19 and was thus immune. Remember, Djokovic had a record-tying 20 major titles and was the defending champion in Melbourne as he looked to hold the record solo.
In the end, officials ruled the alleged recent bout with the virus did not meet the requirement, and Djokovic was deported from the country after 10 days of drama just one day before the tournament began.
Djokovic was allowed to compete at the French Open, tennis' second major of the year, but was bounced in the quarterfinal and Rafael Nadal won to take his 21st career major. Djokovic won at Wimbledon to again move into a tie for the most ever majors, but repeated his anti-vaccine stance in choosing to sit out the U.S. Open due to a vaccination requirement. Australia has rescinded its vaccine requirement for 2023, so at least we won't have to deal with another year of "will he or won't he" drama.
1. Kyrie Irving won't get vaccinated, apologize for antisemitism or play basketball
Speaking of not getting vaccinated for COVID-19 -- even though a billion (with a "b") people have done so worldwide -- Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving also went that route in last year's NBA season. His craziness outranks Djokovic because he came back in the fall with a totally different scandal. Gonna have to step up your game next year, Joker.
Irving refused to be vaccinated for the 2021-2022 season and thus missed 53 games. Prior to this season, he admitted the decision cost him a four-year, over $100 million contract extension. Reminder: 268 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose and the number of people suffering serious complications is infinitesimally smaller than the number of unvaccinated people suffering serious complications from getting the virus.
If that wasn't enough, everyone's favorite flat-earther decided to post a link on Twitter to an antisemitic movie. The decision rightfully caused outrage from across a wide spectrum of those inside and outside of the sports world. Fans even sat courtside at Barclays Center with "Fight Antisemitism" shirts on calling for his suspension. Irving was eventually suspended indefinitely by the Nets after he held several media scrums in which he refused to directly condemn antisemitism. Irving ended up apologizing and directly condemning antisemitism and he returned to the Nets' lineup after nine games.
The point guard's erratic behavior not only cost him that contract extension, it also cost him his pricey sponsorship deal with Nike.
Here's to more unexpected sports stories in 2023. Just maybe not from Kyrie Irving.