Looking Ahead in 2018 Sports: An Olympian Challenge
The 2018 sports year begins with a Bowl, but the full table setting lies ahead. What courses are being prepared? Let’s look forward at some of the most challenging stories ahead.
- Dents in the Shield: 2017 was the year the NFL fought Donald Trump, and Donald Trump won. Okay, the national anthem won. But Trump knew that when SJW players chose the playing of the anthem as a time to air their grievances the public would side with him in his (politically motivated) patriotism.
It was just one in a series of missteps for the most powerful, popular and successful sports leagues ever. In addition to the anthem fail the league was beset by doubts about the integrity of the game itself and its referees, suspension fights with superstars, franchise transfers, a plague of injuries to marquee players and too much content on too many TV nights.
The league must get right with its fans in 2018, but the re-signing of daft commissioner Roger Goodell is not a sign that anyone within the power structure gets the message.
2) The Terror Olympics: The IOC deserves no sympathy at any time, but staging an Olympics a half hour from the insane fiefdom of Kim Jong Un is a new level of risk taking. While the airtight security on the grounds will likely prevent a ground attack, Seoul is just a half hour from the DMZ’s guns and rockets. Kim is sending ominous tweets about the button being on his desk, so good luck with that.
As for the Games themselves, the absence of the NHL players is devastating. While everyone loves figure skating, luge and moguls once every four years, the attraction of Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin playing for gold is an everyday thing. Gary Bettman loves to cancel things the way Donald Trump likes to golf. His reasons for not going are understandable, but he also needs a platform to grow his regional sport into a global one.
Further, most of the prime attractions will happen in the middle of the night, rendering them a rumour only to NBC, which lives to broadcast stale programming. The Games the world forgets?
3) Blue Jay Way: After a few years of a competitive team, Toronto fans are about to re-live the bleak days of losing the spending battle in their division to the Yankees and Red Sox. The composition of the 2018 team will be a crack starting staff, a fine bullpen and a whole lot of challenging contracts in the everyday lineup. Presuming Josh Donaldson is traded, the offensive load will fall on Justin Smoak, who emerged last year as a power source, and a lot of guys who get injured too much.
Through no fault of his own, John Gibbons will find himself getting blamed for the unholy mess left by cost cutting as Rogers prepares to sell the team. And that’s the real rub. If Rogers does pull the plug will the next owner be capitalized to compete with New York/ Boston or match nickels with Tampa? A turbulent prospect ahead.
4) Knight Life: The shocking competence of the Vegas expansion team (abetted by the Vegas “flu”) will continue as the talking point of the league as it tries to pretend missing the Olympics is just the cost of doing business. Can Gerard Gallant’s team keep it going into a playoff berth? Who knows, but Bettman will use the Vegas template to sell more $500 M expansion teams and demand big transfer fees for franchises looking to scoot for new money.
On the ice, the continuing incompetence in Edmonton threatens to keep McDavid out of the postseason— a disaster for the league. How long will he want to stay in Northern Alberta if the Oilers keep staggering? That leaves the fun-and-gun Maple Leafs as the poster boys for exciting hockey. A Cup win for the first time since 1967 would be a suitable gift to the memory of Johnny Bower, who died over the holidays.
5) Hear Me, Rory: As the 2017 majors showed, golf has an embarrassment of terrific young players at the top. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, John Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Brooke Koepka (to name a few). They also have an old guy named Tiger Woods back, too.
But the man who would be Tiger is the story to follow. Rory McIlroy was supposed to have dominated, but he’s instead procrastinated. Injuries, a wandering attention span and the collapse of his putting game have made him an afterthought. In a Ryder Cup year where Europe will need vintage Rory, can he re-visit his greatness or will his body/ mind let him down?
As a side note, watch to see if Adam Hadwin rediscovers the Mojo that made him the talk of the Tour in its early swing last year. He and Mac Hughes, Nick Taylor, Ben Silverman look ready to overtake Graham DeLaet as Canada’s top player. Oh, and does Brooke Henderson keep racking up majors?
6) Tennis Anyone: 2017 was forgettable for Milos Raonic, Canada’s greatest male tennis player ever. Injuries and a perpetual coaching carousel kept him from another major final last year. Now he’s got young Canadian Dennis Shapovalov breathing down his neck. The teenager vaulted into prominence in midsummer 2017, and while he gives Canada a viable 1-2 Davis Cup punch, he could either inspire Raonic to greater heights or play with his mind. Should be a great follow in two weeks at the Australian Open.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)