In a year of odd moves, FIFA and Al Capone become neighbors
All across Europe and the Americas - as they plot legal strategy, await extradition hearings and consider the billable hours run up by their lawyers - FIFA officials can take comfort in this: They are serving the cause of art.
The Mob Museum in Las Vegas opened a wing this year highlighting the alleged crimes and misdemeanors of soccer's governing body. The exhibit is titled ''The `Beautiful Game' Turns Ugly.''
U.S. and Swiss authorities have cast a wide net, with 14 soccer officials and sports marketers charged in May with ''rampant, systematic and deep-rooted'' corruption. By year's end, dozens were charged and FIFA President Sepp Blatter and European soccer leader Michel Platini were banned from the sport for eight years.
The FIFA exhibit is a short kick from space occupied by Al Capone and his machine-gun trappings. It consists mostly of newspaper clippings - a ''FIFA Nostra'' headline from a French paper is one example - photos and videos. Among those noted is Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president under indictment who once cited as fact an article in the satirical ''The Onion'' that the United States was awarded a World Cup in 2015 (a non-World Cup year).
The soccer display was designed to give museum-goers a sense of what organized crime in the 21st century may look like. Geoff Schumacher, the museum's content director, says visitors need to look beyond mobsters of yore.
''You don't have Lucky Luciano or Meyer Lansky,'' he says. ''These are not household names today.''
The Mob Museum was not the only back road sports wandered down. This was also a year in which Serena Williams, in need of a little pick-me-up after losing the first set 6-0 in an Australian Open tuneup, requested a cup of espresso on the court; the Kansas State marching band was fined $5,000 for mocking its rival Jayhawk mascot with what appeared to be a phallic formation.
Bridge fans were slammed by a British court, which upheld a ruling that the card game is not a sport; and Canadian hockey gold medalist Meaghan Mikkelson and her husband took to Twitter for baby-name suggestions and, rest assured, did not choose Zamboni. (The winning name, however, was true to hockey - Calder.)
The pucks, the plays, the people went every which way in 2015:
FIT TO BE THAI'D: Runners in a half-marathon in Thailand checked their watches and knew something was wrong. And they weren't pleased. By the time the race was over they had run almost 4 more miles than they should have. Like drivers hopelessly lost, they had gotten bad directions from officials along the course. Organizers apologized, and to atone for their error presented the runners with a T-shirt to ''express our admiration for your spirit in bravely overcoming the obstacles.''
TO CATCH A THIEF: Racing is hard enough in NASCAR. Even harder when you don't have a car. Team EXTREME, not one of the big boys of NASCAR, was unable to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway because thieves swiped the car from a hotel parking lot. The $250,000 car was recovered fully intact along a remote road some 20 miles away. ''I've probably been to 1,200 hotels and 1,200 race tracks,'' crew chief Peter Sospenzo said. ''Never once has this happened. It's crazy.'' ... Small-time crooks also made their way to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The Berkshire Eagle reported a break-in at Wahconah Park, home to a college baseball summer league. Among the items stolen were sweat shirts, tank tops, shoes and 100 frozen hamburger patties. The thieves also made sure to take the buns.
EXECS BEHAVING BADLY: Maybe James Dolan should have let his PR department handle this one. A longtime Knicks fan wrote to the Madison Square Garden chairman in the middle of last season. The fan, appalled by the team's abysmal play, spelled out in a reasoned email to Dolan why he is ''utterly embarrassed by your dealings with the Knicks.'' Dolan could have replied that the team is trying to improve and make its fans proud. He took another tact. ''You most likely have made your family miserable,'' wrote Dolan, who then speculated the fan is an alcoholic and should root for the Nets. ... At least Dolan comported himself better than some Greek soccer executives. The teams Olympiakos and Panathinaikos played a game in which fans hurled rocks and bottles. Officials from the clubs met days later at a league board meeting. Peace, alas, was not at hand. The executives themselves began brawling.
OUCH-CHOO!: It's one thing to get plunked in the ribs with a fastball. It's quite another to be knocked out the lineup by a sneeze. Such was the case during spring training with Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar. A sneeze - presumably one of All-Star quality - brought a sharp pain to his right side. Pillar, well aware this wasn't the most heroic of injuries, could soon be spotted wearing a T-shirt that said: ''Ask Me About My Sneeze.''
THERE SHE IS: Miss America Betty Cantrell might have been on surer ground at the pageant if she were asked her thoughts for world peace. Instead, she was asked if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady cheated by using deflated footballs. ''I'd have to see the ball and feel it,'' she said tentatively. '' If there's any question, then yes, he cheated.'' Cantrell later brooded over her reply, wondering if it could cost her the crown. She acknowledges she had a ''very slim'' grasp of the facts, and ''hopefully the Tom Brady fans will forgive me.'' Perhaps she had in mind Patricia M. Shong of Auburn, Massachusetts. In her obituary, Boston.com reported, the 72-year-old woman was said to enjoy scrapbooking and her weekly card night. She also wanted to ''set the record straight. Brady is innocent!!''
DEAR OLD DAD: You would have thought he would be beaming that his son was about to sign with Liverpool for more than $7 million. But Goran Grujic insisted that 19-year-old son Marko Grujic should stay with the Serbian soccer club Red Star Belgrade until the season's end. The father was so emphatic he forbade his son to leave. ''His passport is with me,'' the father told Belgrade media. ''And he is not going anywhere.''
ANIMAL HOUSE: Post time at Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Pennsylvania was moved up a few hours to avoid racing at dusk. That's when the deer perk up. Deer had been running in front of horses, forcing races to be canceled, the Erie Times-News wrote. Said Heriberto Rivera, East Coast manager for the Jockeys' Guild: ''You can't have animals weighing hundreds of pounds crossing in front of you when you're going 35 to 40 miles an hour.'' ... Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask knows all about nets, although not the kind to catch wasps. A new species of the winged insect in Kenya was named in his honor. A researcher on the discovery team is from Newton, Massachusetts, and is a great admirer of Rask's glove work. The addition to waspdom is the Thaumatodryinus tuukkaraski.
MERCY, MERCY: Sometimes, it can't possibly get worse, and then it does. The Federated States of Micronesia soccer team opened the Pacific Games with a 31-0 loss to Tahiti. Then it was pummeled 38-0 by Fiji in an Olympic qualifier. The bombardment was not over. Micronesia then fell 46-0 to Vanuatu. Perhaps the Micronesians can look to the University of Tokyo baseball team for hope. This year the school - the country's elite university - ended a 94-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over Hosei University.
Contributing to this report were: Kimberly Pierceall in Las Vegas; Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok; Paul Newberry in Atlanta; and Marcela Isaza in Los Angeles.