Women’s World Cup kiss, Super Bowl flag and the other biggest sports controversies of 2023

The year 2023 was filled with great sports moments on the field, but trouble rose in several sports.

From Ja Morant’s gun suspension to the Women’s World Cup kiss controversy, read below for some of the most-talked-about sports controversies from 2023.

Super Bowl flag

James Bradberry of the Philadelphia Eagles is called for holding against JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium, Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

It was a play that was talked about for a few days after the Kansas City Chiefs stormed back to win Super Bowl LVII over the Philadelphia Eagles. James Bradberry was called for a penalty on the Chiefs’ game-winning drive. The play drew the fire of fans, but Bradberry came clean.

“It was a holding. I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide,” he said.


College basketball punch

Elissa Brett is assited off the court after getting punched by Memphis player

Bowling Green’s Elissa Brett, left, is helped off the court after an altercation with Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes (not shown) in the handshake line after their third-round NIT game, March 23, 2023, in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A fight broke out in women’s college basketball during a game between Memphis and Bowling Green in March. Tigers guard Jamirah Shutes was seen in a brawl with the Eagles’ Elissa Brett while the teams were in the handshake line.

Shutes was charged in the melee and found guilty of assault in September. She initially pleaded not guilty and later changed her plea to no contest.

Brandon Miller caught up in deadly shooting

Greg Sankey after game

Former Alabama standout Brandon Miller, right, was named as co-defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of a woman who was killed in a shooting in October. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Former Alabama standout Brandon Miller was named as co-defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in October by the mother of a woman who was killed in a shooting.

On Jan. 15, Miller transported the weapon to former teammate Darius Miles, the legal owner of the firearm. Miles then said he gave the weapon to Michael Davis, who shot and killed Jamea Harris. Both Miles and Davis have been charged with capital murder, but police have said they are unable to charge Miller with anything.

The Charlotte Hornets selected Miller with the No. 2 overall pick.

“I never lose sight of the fact that a family has lost one of their loved ones that night,” Miller said in June. “This whole situation is just really heartbreaking. Respectfully, that’s all I’m going to be able to say on that.”

Ja Morant suspension

Ja Morant walks off

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant faced scrutiny over incidents involving guns. He was seen in a Denver strip club holding a weapon and missed some time over that controversy. A few weeks later, he was seen with a gun again, which prompted a 25-game suspension.

Aside from the gun videos, Morant is in a legal battle stemming from a fight at his house with a then-17-year-old.

Four days earlier, Morant had allegedly “threatened” the head of security at a Memphis mall, and a member of Morant’s group shoved him in the head. 

Morant returned to the court this month.


Angel Reese taunt

Angel Reese points

LSU’s Angel Reese (10) gestures toward Iowa’s Caitlin Clark during the NCAA women’s basketball national championship in Dallas on April 2, 2023. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

LSU star basketball player Angel Reese caused a stir during the national championship against Iowa when she taunted the Hawkeyes after scoring a basket. Reese performed John Cena’s signature “You Can’t See Me” move, which created a firestorm on social media.

But she told ESPN hosts what she was thinking at the moment and gave props to Clark as a player. She pointed to how Clark waved off a South Carolina player in the national semifinal, which even prompted a reaction from LSU guard Alexis Morris before the game.

“Caitlin Clark is a hell of a player for sure, but I don’t take disrespect lightly,” Reese said. “And she disrespected Alexis and South Carolina, they’re still my SEC girls, too. You all are not going to disrespect them either.”

“I wanted to pick her pocket. I had a moment at the end of the game, and I was just in my bag.”

Michigan football cheating scandal

Jim Harbaugh looks on

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The Michigan cheating scandal took center stage in the middle of the college football season. The program was accused of running an in-person scouting scheme. Former staff member Connor Stalions was accused of being the ringleader in the operation.

As the Big Ten investigated, head coach Jim Harbaugh accepted a three-game ban before officials made the decision. He missed the final three games of the season and came back for the Big Ten Championship.

Northwestern football hazing scandal

Pat Fitzgerald vs Purdue

Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Northwestern football was in a firestorm over a hazing scandal last summer and Pat Fitzgerald was dismissed as the coach before the start of the season.

The school said it first learned of the hazing allegations in late 2022, but more details began to trickle out over the course of months. The school said it did not find sufficient evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing, though there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it.

As more accusations came to light, Fitzgerald was ousted. He sued the school for wrongful termination.

Michael Oher lawsuit

Michael Oher with the Panthers

Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Michael Oher (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Michael Oher filed a bombshell lawsuit against Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy in the summer, saying the family tricked him into thinking he was adopted and that he was owed royalties from the movie and book about his life.

The two sides have gone back and forth in court, pushing back on the allegations against each other. The Tuohy family said in court documents that they were blindsided with threats of payments from Oher, which they said eventually sparked his lawsuit.

In September, a judge ended the conservatorship, but the legal fight continued over the money.

Noah Gragson ‘like’

Noah Gragson at the 2023 Daytona 500

NASCAR Cup Series driver Noah Gragson (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

NASCAR driver Noah Gragson sparked controversy when he “liked” a George Floyd meme on Instagram. He was indefinitely suspended and later parted ways with Legacy Motor Club over the incident.

Gragson has since been reinstated and found a ride with Stewart Haas Racing in 2024.

“I want to express my sincere gratitude to NASCAR for reinstating me. Over the past several weeks, I have dedicated myself to personal growth and reflection, and I believe I have become a better person because of it,” Gragson said in September. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and the NASCAR industry.”

“I am now more focused and committed than ever to representing my future team in the best way possible. I’m eager to get back behind the wheel and compete at the highest level, giving it my all on and off the track. Thank you to everyone who have been a part of this journey, and I can’t wait to make the most of this second chance.”

Women’s World Cup kiss

Luis Rubiales and Jennifer Hermoso

Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, kisses Jenni Hermoso of Spain during the medal ceremony of the Women’s World Cup, Aug. 20, 2023, in Sydney. (Noemi Llamas/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

An unwanted kiss during Spain’s Women’s World Cup soccer championship celebration had a ripple effect across the country’s soccer federation.

Spanish soccer federation boss Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso during the awards celebration after Spain defeated England to win the championship for the first time. Hermoso later said the kiss was not consensual. Spanish state prosecutors accused Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion after the kiss, two days after Hermoso formally accused him of sexual assault.

Rubiales was suspended 90 days after he refused to resign from his post initially. He ran the federation since 2018. He did eventually resign from his post.


Trevor Bauer settles legal dispute with accuser

Trevor Bauer pitches for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Yokohama DeNA BayStars pitcher Trevor Bauer delivers against the Hiroshima Carp during a game in Yokohama, Japan, on May 3, 2023. (Kyodo News via AP)

Trevor Bauer, the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who won the National League Cy Young Award in 2020, and a woman who accused him of beating and sexually assaulting her in 2021 settled their legal dispute, his attorneys said in October.

“Trevor Bauer and Lindsey Hill have settled all outstanding litigation,” Jon Fetterolf and Shawn Holley, Bauer’s attorneys, said in a statement. “Both of their respective claims have been withdrawn with prejudice, effective today. Mr. Bauer did not make — and never has made — any payments to Ms. Hill, including to resolve their litigation.”

“With this matter now at rest, Mr. Bauer can focus completely on baseball.”

The 32-year-old adamantly denied the allegations against him throughout the entire process. He was placed on administrative leave by MLB in July 2021 after the initial allegations were made. Bauer pitched in Japan this year.

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