NEW YORK — The Penn State child sex abuse scandal was selected as the sports story of the year by U.S. editors and news directors in an annual vote conducted by The Associated Press.
The news broke in November 2011, with a grand jury report outlining charges against Jerry Sandusky, and the outrage that followed led to the firing of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno. But the aftershocks were felt long into 2012: Sandusky was convicted in June of assaulting 10 boys, and the NCAA handed down brutal sanctions in July.
In both years, the scandal was picked as the top sports story, the first time since the AP began conducting its annual vote in 1990 that the same story was selected twice in a row. The results of this year’s tally were announced Wednesday.
Even before the Sandusky trial, the State College community had absorbed another huge blow as Paterno died Jan. 22 at age 85 of lung cancer.
The year ended with a small step to normalcy — joy on the football field. Under new coach Bill O’Brien, the Nittany Lions won eight of their last 10 games to finish 8-4, capped by an overtime victory at home over Wisconsin.
There were 157 ballots submitted from U.S. news organizations. The voters were asked to rank the top 10 sports stories of the year, with the first-place story getting 10 points, the second-place story receiving nine points, and so on.
The Penn State saga received 1,420 points and 109 first-place votes. The No. 2 sports story, Lance Armstrong stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, had 10 first-place votes and 1,008 points.
Football’s popularity, college and pro, was unmistakable with seven of the top 10 stories. But only two of them involved the action on the field.
Here are 2012’s top 10 stories:
1. PENN STATE: Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator whose crimes led to such devastation for his victims and for his former employer, was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts. In October, the 68-year-old was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. His conviction provided some closure, but a messy aftermath remained. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh released the results of his investigation July 12, saying Paterno and other top school officials covered up allegations against Sandusky. The NCAA used that report as a basis for its sanctions announced later that month, which included a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions.
2. LANCE ARMSTRONG: In February, federal prosecutors closed an investigation into whether the star cyclist doped. That turned out to be only a temporary reprieve for a once-revered figure. In June, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs, and in August, when he dropped his fight against the charges, USADA ordered his record seven Tour titles wiped out. A report released in October laid out vivid details of the evidence. The year ends with Armstrong dropped by many of the companies he endorsed and no longer formally involved with the cancer charity he founded, Livestrong.
3. NFL BOUNTIES: This much is clear: Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season and New Orleans started 0-4 to quickly fall out of playoff contention. Much else about the bounty scandal remains in dispute. Players deny the NFL’s assertions of a pay-for-injury program. On Dec. 11, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned his successor’s suspensions of four players but endorsed the findings of the investigation under Roger Goodell.
4. FOOTBALL CONCUSSIONS: The deaths of NFL greats Alex Karras — who suffered from dementia — and Junior Seau — who committed suicide — were grim reminders of the angst over head injuries in the sport and their possible consequences. Thousands of retired players have sued the league, alleging the NFL failed to protect them from the dangers of concussions.
5. LONDON OLYMPICS: Michael Phelps retired from swimming after setting an Olympic record with his 22nd medal at a Summer Games bursting with memorable performances. Usain Bolt became the first man to successfully defend both the 100- and 200-meter dash titles. And the host country racked up 65 medals in an Olympics so successful for Britain that it barely even rained.
6. COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Instead of complaining about the BCS, soon we can moan about the selection committee. After years of carping, fans finally got a playoff system, which will debut after the 2014 season. The four-team bracket will feature semifinals and a title game to determine a national champion.
7. REPLACEMENT OFFICIALS: Fans and pundits predicted a blown call would decide a critical game when the NFL started the season with replacement officials. Sure enough, in Week 3, on the national stage of “Monday Night Football,” a missed offensive pass interference penalty and a questionable touchdown catch handed the Seattle Seahawks a win over the Green Bay Packers. Two days later, the league resolved its labor dispute with the regular refs.
8. SUPER GIANTS: A team that had been 7-7 upset the top-seeded Green Bay Packers on the road in the playoffs, needed overtime to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game, then came from behind to defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, 21-17, an outcome strangely similar to their matchup four years earlier. Eli Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP award.
9. SUMMITT RETIRES: Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, retired from the Tennessee bench in April at age 59, less than eight months after revealing she had early-onset dementia. Longtime assistant Holly Warlick took over the Lady Vols. Summitt was 1,098-208 with eight national titles in 38 seasons.
10. MANNING’S RESURGENCE: Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts in March after missing last season because of neck surgery, the future uncertain for the four-time MVP. John Elway and the Broncos gambled that he still had some championship play left in that right arm, and so far it’s looking like a brilliant move as Denver won the AFC West.