The Very Worst Sports Decisions of 2023

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Alex Morgan had a disappointing World Cup.

There were countless unforgettable sports stories in 2023: Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin’s comeback from near death to return to the field; a thrilling NCAA women’s basketball Final Four; Coco Gauff becoming the youngest American to win a U.S. Open since Serena Williams in 1999.

There were also less triumphant moments, when athletes, team executives or league leaders came up short. This is a non-comprehensive list of some of the most regrettable moments that are best left behind in 2023.

Mets fans opt for optimism

After the most expensive offseason in franchise history, it was hard to blame Mets fans for being optimistic. Owner Steve Cohen signed Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga and three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to bolster a pitching staff that lost Jacob deGrom to free agency but still had Max Scherzer. The wheels began to fall off in March at the World Baseball Classic, where lights-out closer Edwin Díaz, who signed a five-year, $102 million deal to remain with the Mets four months earlier, tore his right patella tendon while jumping up and down with teammates to celebrate Puerto Rico’s upset of the Dominican Republic. Díaz missed the entire season, Verlander and Scherzer were traded at the deadline and Manager Buck Showalter was fired after New York finished 12 games under .500. No, money can’t buy happiness.

Panthers trade everything for Bryce Young

In fairness to Bryce Young, it’s far too early to call the No. 1 draft pick a bust or even to assert that he won’t have a successful NFL career. But the early returns have done little to allay the pre-draft concerns some had about Young’s size or perceived lack of an elite trait. Meanwhile, of the two quarterbacks the Carolina Panthers didn’t select with that pick, C.J. Stroud (No. 2 overall) has looked like a superstar in the making for the Houston Texans, and Anthony Richardson (No. 4) generated all sorts of excitement in Indianapolis before his Colts debut was cut short by a shoulder injury.

Then there’s the haul the Panthers gave the Chicago Bears in March to move up from the ninth pick to No. 1. In what could prove to be an especially cruel turn of fate, the 2024 first-rounder Carolina included in that deal is on track to be No. 1 in a year widely thought to have better quarterback prospects (i.e., Caleb Williams and Drake Maye) at the top. The Panthers also sent away the kind of alpha receiver, DJ Moore, that Young desperately needs, as well as 2023 picks that turned into offensive tackle Darnell Wright and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. Still coming to Chicago, in addition to the 2024 first-round pick, is a 2025 second-rounder. All told, it’s looking like the Panthers agreed to get de-pantsed.

Ultramarathon runner decides to get in a car

Scottish ultramarathon runner Joasia Zakrzewski placed third at a 50-mile race in England in April. But mapping data showed Zakrzewski covered a mile of the race in just 1 minute 40 seconds, and organizers learned she had traveled by car for 2.5 miles before continuing to complete the race on foot. Zakrzewski told the BBC that she became lost, her leg began to feel sore and she started to limp about halfway through the course. She said she spotted a friend on the side of the course and the pain pushed her to accept a ride to the next checkpoint to tell marshals she was pulling out of the race.

But she instead decided, she said, “to carry on in a noncompetitive way.”

Zakrzewski received a medal and a third-place trophy, and she posed for pictures after she crossed the finish line. The 47-year-old said she did so because she was “tired and jet-lagged and felt sick.”

Bruins goalie’s blunder gives Panthers life in playoff stunner

The Boston Bruins were a juggernaut during the 2022-23 regular season, establishing NHL records for wins (65) and points (135). Led by David Pastrnak’s 61 goals, the Bruins’ plus-128 goal differential was the highest mark since 1995-96.

None of it mattered in the playoffs: Boston was eliminated in the first round after blowing a three-games-to-one lead to the Panthers. Florida staved off elimination in Game 5 with an overtime winner made possible by Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark’s turnover behind his net. The Panthers rode the upset all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, which they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Aaron Rodgers chooses to be a Jets quarterback

Oh, Aaron. You thought a quarter-century of calamity at quarterback for the New York Jets wouldn’t come for you?

To recap: After the Jets nearly reached the Super Bowl in 1998, Vinny Testaverde led a team with the highest of aspirations into Week 1 the following season, only to suffer a torn Achilles’ tendon in the first half. (Sound familiar?) His successor, Chad Pennington, suffered repeated rotator cuff tears that sapped his arm strength, then was released after the Jets acquired Brett Favre, who promptly suffered one of the few major injuries of his ironman career. Favre was replaced by Mark Sanchez, who gave the world the “Butt Fumble” before injuring his shoulder when he was put back onto the field in the fourth quarter of a preseason game the following year.

That opened the door for Geno Smith, whose grip on the starting job – and whose jaw – was soon broken when a teammate punched him. Smith’s time with the Jets ended the next year when he suffered a torn ACL. A couple of years later, New York drafted Sam Darnold, whose follow-up to a promising rookie season was stalled when he contracted mononucleosis. Shoulder issues also dogged Darnold, and he was traded in 2021 so the Jets could clear a spot atop the depth chart for Zach Wilson. Physical setbacks haven’t been Wilson’s biggest problem so much as a general inability to play quality football at the NFL level, but he did suffer his share of injuries in his first two seasons.

A certain four-time MVP with the Green Bay Packers, however, thought things would be different for him. Very different. Super Bowl different, even. Which led to April’s blockbuster trade.

Sorry, Aaron. You thought wrong.

Ja Morant flashes a gun. More than once.

Talk in Memphis of a GOAT had to be put on hold because of a gat. Ja Morant’s bizarre insistence on displaying a handgun on Instagram in March and again in May earned the star guard suspensions of eight games and then a whopping 25 games. The latter was served to start this season, one that saw Memphis get off to an ahem, grisly start without Morant. By the time he returned with a splash, the Grizzlies were facing a huge hole just to reach the play-in tournament.

Ja Morant was suspended twice in 2023.
Brandon Dill for The Washington Post

Vlatko Andonovski sticks with USWNT vets at the World Cup

The U.S. women’s soccer team crashed out of the World Cup in the round of 16, a preposterous result for the sport’s titan, and Coach Vlatko Andonovski’s lineup decisions were to blame. Despite a roster filled with young players, Andonovski leaned on 34-year-old Alex Morgan in attack (she failed to score and made little impact) and 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe off the bench despite ample evidence that her best years were well behind her. The Americans scored one goal over their final three matches and failed to advance to at least the World Cup semifinals for the first time, and Andonovski was out less than two weeks after their elimination by Sweden in a shootout.

Luis Rubiales mars Spain’s World Cup triumph

Spain’s World Cup victory over England should have been a moment of celebration for a country and a team that had already dealt with weeks of controversy.

But Rubiales, the president of Spain’s soccer federation, interrupted the moment by kissing midfielder Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the post-match ceremony, setting off months of protests, hearings and fury. Rubiales resigned in September, and Jorge Vilda, the coach of the team, was fired.

Miami declines to take a knee against Georgia Tech

All the Miami football team had to do to defeat Georgia Tech on Oct. 7 was take a knee. The Hurricanes had a three-point lead with 35 seconds remaining, and the Yellow Jackets were out of timeouts. One kneeldown would end the game. Instead, Miami called for a handoff to running back Donald Chaney Jr. The result: calamity.

Georgia Tech recovered Chaney’s fumble and embarked on a 74-yard drive that took all of 24 seconds. It ended with quarterback Haynes King completing a 44-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Christian Leary with one second remaining, giving Georgia Tech a 23-20 victory.

“Not going to make an excuse for it, say we should’ve done this or that,” Coach Mario Cristobal said of his decision. “That’s it. We should’ve done it. Sometimes you get carried away with, just, finish the game and run it. I should’ve stepped in and said, ‘Hey, just take a knee.'”

NHL bans Pride tape before reconsidering

After Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, citing his religious reliefs, refused to wear a Pride jersey on a theme night supporting the LGBTQ+ community last season, the NHL announced over the summer that teams would no longer wear specialty warmup jerseys to spotlight causes. Before the start of this season, the league sent a memo to teams indicating that the ban extended to all forms of stick tape, including rainbow-colored Pride tape, sparking a backlash from players and fans. Shortly after Arizona Coyotes defenseman Travis Dermott defied the ban by wrapping a small piece of Pride tape around the top part of his stick in October, the league reversed its decision.

Clubhouse taunt fuels Bryce Harper

Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia never intended for his mocking of Phillies slugger Bryce Harper for making the final out on a game-ending double play to leave the jubilant home clubhouse after Atlanta won Game 2 of the National League Division Series. “Atta boy, Harper!” Arcia shouted between laughs after the doors to the clubhouse had opened to reporters, at least two of whom mentioned the taunt in their postgame coverage.

Two nights later, Harper blasted a pair of home runs in a Phillies rout, and he stared down Arcia as he rounded second base both times. “[My teammates] just kind of told me,” Harper told reporters after the game when asked how he heard about Arcia’s comments. “And they looked at me, and they were like, ‘What are you going to do?'” The Phillies went on to win the series, three games to one.

Motivational tactic goes wrong for UTSA coach

The day after the Texas San Antonio football team defeated Florida Atlantic for its third straight win in October, Roadrunners Coach Jeff Traylor had his staff place 112 unloaded rat traps around the team’s facility. The metaphorical message: Don’t eat the cheese – a team mantra about not losing focus amid success.

“One of my smart aleck seniors loaded his back up and put it up on the podium where I speak to the kids,” Traylor told reporters a few days later. “I put my hand down. It looks like my pinkie got smashed by a hammer. It would’ve killed a lesser man, but I’m okay.”

UTSA rebounded from a 1-3 start to finish 8-4 and earn a berth in the Frisco Bowl, where it thumped Marshall.

The Astros anger Adolis García

In the eighth inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Rangers slugger Adolis García took a fastball to his left arm from Astros reliever Bryan Abreu. García dropped his bat and confronted Astros catcher Martín Maldonado, causing both benches to clear. After García, Abreu and Astros Manager Dusty Baker were ejected, Jose Altuve’s ninth-inning homer pushed the Rangers to the brink of elimination as the series shifted back to Houston.

García was booed mercilessly in Game 6, and he struck out in his first four at-bats before launching a ninth-inning grand slam that gave the Rangers a 9-2 lead. In the deciding Game 7 the next night, García went 4 for 5 with a pair of home runs in another Rangers rout. Texas went on to win its first World Series title.

Iowa bar promises free beer until the Hawkeyes score

The Big Ten football championship game Dec. 2 wasn’t the first time X-Golf, a golf-simulator bar in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had offered up its “Pour Until Iowa Scores” promotion, in which beer was free until the Hawkeyes’ notoriously inept offense scored against Michigan. The previous time it was offered Nov. 24, Iowa scored early in the second quarter against Nebraska to harsh everyone’s buzz. But not only did the Hawkeyes not score against the Wolverines in a 26-0 loss, they didn’t come particularly close, gaining only 155 yards. (They had as many punts – seven – as first downs.) As a result, X-Golf poured about 120 free beers to the indoor golfers who had reserved a driving bay, costing the bar about $500. But still, the promotion got X-Golf a nice dose of publicity and a full house: “Hawkeye games recently, it’s been hit or miss if we have people in here,” general manager-in-training Dez Briner told the Athletic. “But all eight bays were going for a solid three hours.”

Charissa Thompson reveals she used to make stuff up

While yukking it up with the hosts on the “Pardon My Take” podcast, Charissa Thompson revealed she committed an unpardonable sin in the world of journalism: During her years-ago stint as an NFL sideline reporter, she sometimes fabricated quotes from coaches who failed to provide her with useful material. Thompson’s admission earned her the wrath of numerous current sideline reporters and other prominent women in sports media. She didn’t lose her jobs with Fox Sports and Prime Video, but Thompson gained the dubious honor of becoming a go-to reference for someone who makes stuff up, completing her journey from the sideline to a punchline.