2018 was a year when many people in the sports world put their foot in their mouth.
It’s fun at this time of the year to look back on the best of the past 12 months, but it can be more fun to look at the worst. This week, SI.com will be laughing, cringing and shaking its head at some of the worst things in sports from 2018. Previously: The 10 Worst Coaching Decisions of 2018, The 10 Worst Officiating Decisions of 2018, The 10 Worst Blown Leads of 2018, The 10 Worst Brain Farts of 2018.
Sports is big business in America, and any big business has to deal with press relations. How a player/coach/team/league presents itself to the media and general public is hugely important, which is why there are trained professionals who handle this type of thing. Sometimes, though, it all goes entirely wrong, for a number of different reasons—maybe it’s groupthink, or a heat-of-the-moment blunder, or just good ol’ fashioned poor judgment. Whatever the cause, the results are cringeworthy.
Here are 10 of the worst sports PR blunders of 2018.
10. Jalen Ramsey calls out everyone in GQ profile
Jalen Ramsey had every reason to be cocky this past offseason. His Jaguars, led by one of the best defenses in the league, nearly made the Super Bowl, and he himself made the Pro Bowl for the second time in his two-year career. Never one to mince words, Ramsey didn’t hold back in a GQ profile, where he gave his thoughts on a full 25 quarterbacks around the league. Most notably: he called Ben Roethlisberger “decent at best”; deemed Matt Ryan “overrated”; and suggested the Bills made a huge mistake by drafting “trash” Josh Allen. “We play them this year,” Ramsey said of the Bills, “and I’m excited as hell. I hope he’s their starting quarterback.” Ramsey got his wish. Allen got his revenge. The first-year QB threw for 160 yards and a touchdown to go along with 99 rushing yards and another touchdown as Buffalo pulled out a 24-21 victory.
9. CONMEBOL’s whole Copa Libertadores fiasco
Boca Juniors vs. River Plate is one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sport, so when the two Argentianian clubs were set to meet in the Copa Libertadores final—South America’s equivalent of the Champions League—the stage was set for an epic spectacle. But before the second leg of the final, River Plate’s fans crossed the fine line between enthusiasm and fanaticism when they attacked the bus carrying Boca Juniors’ players on its way to River Plate’s stadium. Windows were cracked, causing cuts to many players, and the tear gas used by police to disperse crowds left players sick and disoriented. It was, by all accounts, a terrifying fiasco.
Unbelievably, CONMEBOL initially insisted the final go on as scheduled, despite Boca’s protest. The federation tried to play the game the following day, a decision that was also met with skepticism. Eventually the game was moved to Madrid, but CONMEBOL’s inability to A) adequately protect Boca Juniors and B) respond to the attack with compassion did not play well on the world stage. Moving the game to Spain was also a head-scratching decision, considering the tournament’s name is a celebration of South America’s independence from that country.
8. ESPN glosses over Tua Tagovailoa’s saying his father beat him with a belt
Society has progressed significantly on the issue of disciplining children. While corporal punishment was once accepted, if not the norm, it’s now generally viewed as an unacceptable practice. So it was more than a bit odd to see ESPN completely gloss over Tua Tagovailoa’s saying his father used to beat him with a belt. Accompanied by cheerful music, Tagovailoa’s mother later says in the video essay, which was shown on College GameDay, that the two most important things in their home were “the Bible and the belt.” There is nothing cheerful nor charming nor inspiring about beating a kid for making a bad football play.
7. NFL fines Ezekiel Elliott for Salvation Army celebration
Ezekiel Elliott’s past may be checkered, but was acting solely in good faith when he threw $21 into a Salvation Army bucket after scoring a touchdown on Thanksgiving. Elliott was brining awareness to the organization, and he promised to match all $21 donations up to $21,000 (Dak Prescott and the Cowboys did the same, bringing donations to $63,000). Instead of showing some humanity and looking past its draconian celebration regulations, the NFL handed Elliott with a $13,000 fine. For raising money for charity. This league has enough PR issues; why not let this good deed go unpunished?
6. Patrick Reed talks trash about his Ryder Cup team hours after losing the Ryder Cup
Patrick Reed earned the “Captain America” nickname for his strong (and animated) play while representing the U.S. in team competitions. He obviously cares deeply about the Ryder Cup, so it’s no surprise he—like everyone else on the team—was bitterly disappointed by the Americans’ 17.5-10.5 loss to Europe in this year’s matches. Instead of letting the loss marinate before speaking out, Reed gave a now-infamous interview to the New York Times just hours after the Cup finished in which he accused Jordan Spieth of not wanting to play with him, captain Jim Furyk for benching him twice and said the European teams manage their egos better. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go over well with his teammates, one of whom anonymously said “he’s so full of s---.” As a general rule, talking trash about your teammates right after a loss is not a good look.
5. Redskins claim Ruben Foster two days after a second domestic violence arrest
Ruben Foster, a former first-round pick out of Alabama, was arrested on Nov. 24 on probably cause domestic violence charges. That’s horrible, but it’s made even worse by the fact that he was also arrested for domestic violence against the same woman in February (she recanted her story in court, but recently said she only did so because she loved him and thought he would change). The 49ers released Foster the morning after his arrest, and most around the league assumed he was done, at least for a while. Then, two days later, he was claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins. Given the NFL’s infamous history of domestic violence, the move sent the wrong message entirely and was widely condemned.
4. Maryland re-instates DJ Durkin, cans him one day later
Back in May, Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed after running sprints during an offseason workout. Two weeks later, he died in a hospital. That tragedy, and an ESPN investigation that described a “toxic” culture within the program, set off a messy scandal. Head coach D.J. Durkin was put on administrative leave after the ESPN report, and remained on leave while the University of Maryland system conducted its own investigations into the program and its handling of the McNair incident. Despite finding that the medical staff did not follow protocol in handling the McNair situation, the Board of Regents recommended Durkin return as head coach on Oct. 30. The announcement was met with protests by students, ridicule on social media and a statement from state governor Larry Hogan. A day later, the school reversed course and Durkin was fired. Just a complete mess.
3. WWE holds event in Saudi Arabia amid Khashoggi scandal
In an attempt to reinforce its appeal in the Middle East market—and as part of its 10-year agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—WWE announced in September that it would hold an event called "Crown Jewel" on Nov. 2 in Riyadh. Given the country's less-than-stellar human rights record, the choice immediately raised some eyebrows, but things reached another level after Saudi journalist/dissenter Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered in Turkey on Oct. 2—an attack the Saudi government is accused of orchestrating.
The killing spurred an international scandal, with many governments/corporations seeking to distance themselves from the Saudi government. WWE was not one of those organizations—it opted to run the event as scheduled, a decision that drew the ire of fans and media like. In its explanatory statement, the WWE called the crime "heinous" and ensured fans that it was a "very difficult decision." Not sufficiently heinous or difficult to simply cancel event, apparently.
2. Martin Solveig asks Ada Hegerberg to twerk at the Ballon D’Or ceremony
Earlier this month, Ada Hegerberg was named winner of the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or, soccer’s award for the best player in the world. It was a triumphant moment for women’s soccer, and the 23-year-old Norweigan delivered a fantastic speech inspiring young women to follow their dreams. Then things turned cringeworthy in a hurry. French DJ Martin Solveig, who was MC’ing the ceremony, turned to Hegerberg after her speech and asked, “do you know how to twerk?” Blatant sexism. Hegerberg, clearly exasperated by such a ridiculous question, looked away in disgust and answered no. It’s not clear whether he was always planning to ask her that, if he was told to ask her that or if he went rogue. It doesn’t matter. It was awful.
1. Ohio State football’s “SILENCE.” Tweet
OSU coach Urban Meyer was suspended three games for failing to act on allegations of domestic violence against one of his former assistant, Zach Smith. Suspended for his silence, more or less. Just before Meyer’s second game back, the official OSU Twitter account tweeted a graphic with “SILENCE.” ahead of a marquee matchup at Penn State. The idea, apparently, was to suggest that the Buckeyes would silence the 100,000-person crowd at Penn State. Whatever the intention, the tweet was flagrantly tone deaf and grossly insensitive. After receiving extreme backlash, OSU deleted the tweet and tweeted an explanation… but did not apologize.