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Elias Stein

Who Won 2014?

Our fourth-annual, highly scientific bracket to determine who — if anything at all — won this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year

A quote from last year’s bracket, appropriately titled “Who Won 2013?”

 

With every passing year, I’m closer and closer to trashing the “Who Won” bracket model in exchange for “Who Lost.” Or “What Ruined This Year for Me The Most, a Bracket of 1024.”

I’m no oracle, but there was definitely something in the air in December 2013, and that something was clearly trying to warn me about the following 12 months. “Don’t go,” the sassy fog would say as it whisked past my ear. But I didn’t listen. In my mind, the little annoyances of 2013 were as bad as it could get, suggesting that the only direction the new year could go was up.

The thing I was complaining about this time last year: “wedding hashtags.”

Wedding hashtags.

I suggested a “Who Lost” bracket because of things like #Jamelcky (when a Jamal marries a Becky) and #BakesTakesDave (ask Katie Baker).

That’s how good we had it a year ago. A year that wasn’t defined by ISIS, Ebola, and hacks of every shape and size. A year without conflicts abroad and at home in Ferguson. A year in which Robin Williams, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amiri Baraka, Joan Rivers, and Tony Gwynn were still alive. A year in which a plane disappeared.

A goddamn plane disappeared into thin air. And, as a collection of rational earthlings, we’ve kind of decided to just accept that as truth and move on. And then nine months later, tragically, another plane disappearedThat’s the kind of year 2014 was.

This was the next passage from the 2013 bracket, referring to the urge to go the “Who Lost” route:

Thankfully, we’re not there yet. There are still some things worth celebrating.

Barely. Because, as you will see, a considerable chunk of the items that made the 2014 bracket are not worth celebrating in the slightest. They are deplorable things that, because it’s been that type of year, still found ways to win.

In the years to come, I know I will try to treat 2014 like the 13th floor in most buildings, but occasionally I’ll be forced to look back at it. And when I do, it will be impossible not to be reminded of a year in which you could be terrible, be called out for your terribleness, and continue to prosper.

This year’s bracket is not a celebration. Past years’ brackets have been fun to put together, a nostalgic look at all the joys of the previous 12 months. But some of this year’s winners actively made the year worse. So many of us were forced to come to terms with many of the world’s terrible realities this year, and so must the fourth edition of this bracket. Not even a maniacal 10,000-word piece of Pulitzer-worthy end-of-year pablum can exist in blissful ignorance. This year was truly the realest, for everyone and everything.

As noted in previous years, this is different from Grantland’s other, more participatory brackets. This bracket cannot be trusted in the hands of the human population that picked Will Forte over Kenan Thompson. Sorry I’m not sorry, but trust has to be earned. Which is why, again, I have deemed myself the legislative, executive, and judiciary branch of deciding who won the year. Three kings, biatch.

Previous years’ brackets:

2013-rem-bracket

2012-rem-bracket

 

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(If you’re wondering whether I made that 2011 bracket in a combination of Microsoft Excel and MS Paint, know that the answer may be “maybe.”)

The 2013 Final Four: Kanye West, the pope, cultural appropriation, and LeBron James, with Yeezus losing to cultural appropriation in the final. It was the third consecutive year a member of the Knowles-Throne family (Bey, Ye, Jay) made it to the final. Unfortunately for Kanye in the final, the act of learning about someone else’s culture and then messily attempting to make it your own because it’s fun to go to blackface/Native American headdress parties was simply too powerful.

As in years past, the winner gets TRL-retired from the competition. So cultural appropriation along with the Knowles-Thronedashians (the Bey-Jay-Kim-Ye collective, not the individuals) and Twitter are not eligible to participate in 2014.

If you didn’t think there were rules to this, you’d be wrong.

Structurally, it is a bracket of 32, with entrants picked from four segments of the cultural landscape: Sports, Celebrities/Entertainers/Personalities, Technology/Internet, and Movements/Trends/Phenomena. Eight “things” are in each category and, even in a year when nothing made sense, eight multiplied by four still gives you 32.

MORE RULES:

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Yeah, I said it.

The Deceased: Not included. I’ve never wavered on this and I never will. Dying can be profitable and bankroll bonuses at CNN, but it’s still not a win. Because dying is never a win.

The Royal Babies: I still can’t include Blue Ivy Carter and North West, because I can’t imagine knocking them out. They’d be on opposite sides of the bracket, would defeat everyone in their path without explanation, and upon meeting in the final, I’d suddenly say my Wi-Fi stopped working and disappear until the following year. But this is the last year, ladies. These babies have adults blogging about their fashion (the 18th-saddest thing that happened in 2014), so they’re ready to be scrutinized like everything else. It’s like what Bernie Mac said: “If you’re grown enough to talk back, you’re grown enough to get fuuuuucked up.” In the bracket, of course.

The Seedings: You won’t remember this in about 45 seconds, but I don’t really control the seeds. It’s the one part of this process in which I relinquish a smidge of tyrannical control. The seeds are determined by an objectively subjective criterion: followers.

For the majority of the qualifiers, that’s Twitter followers (the objective part). And for those not on Twitter, another measurement of popularity is used — be it a semirelated Twitter account, a Facebook page, or perhaps even a YouTube video. “Another measurement of popularity” is where it gets subjective. It’s not my fault that in 2014 certain things still haven’t gotten hip to the winner of 2011, Twitter. And because of that, I’ve granted myself full license to use whatever I see fit.

BUT FOR THE MOST PART, THE MORE TWITTER FOLLOWERS = THE HIGHER YOUR SEED.

AGAIN: SEEDS ARE BASICALLY TWITTER FOLLOWERS.

IF YOU COME AT ME IN MY MENTIONS ABOUT “SO-AND-SO IS TOO LOW,” PLEASE BELIEVE I’M GOING TO FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU LIVE, BREAK INTO YOUR HOUSE, AND REPLACE ALL YOUR FORKS WITH A SECOND SET OF SPOONS AND THEN LEAVE AND NOT LOCK THE DOOR.

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Outside of that, there’s only one more rule: Not everything can make this bracket. Because it’s a cold world. And for the following entrants, there are no blankets in sight.

The Honorable Mentions: These are the nouns that were considered but just didn’t have enough firepower to make the top eight of their respective divisions.

Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Davis, Sidney Crosby, Meb Keflezighi, Offset, the L.A. Kings, Mike Trout, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch When He’s Not Playing Football, Rory McIlroy, Jason Aldean, Stedman Graham, YG, DJ Khaled, Miles Teller, Takeoff, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell Williams, FKA Twigs, DJ Mustard, Secret, Normcore, Racists, Homophobes, Sexists, Clayton Kershaw, Laverne Cox, Quavo, Ed O’Bannon, Gregg Popovich, T.J. Miller, Michele Roberts, Ariana Grande, Supermodel Cliques, the Nae Nae, Channing Tatum.

The Really Honorable Mentions: These are the nouns that were in the bracket at one point. But they just couldn’t pull through in the end. Basically, a bunch of ’95 Nick Andersons.

Sam Smith, Bae, Madison Bumgarner, Michael Sam, Shailene Woodley, ClickHole, That Kim Kardashian Mobile Game, Dr. Dre, Becky Hammon, SoundCloud, Twitch, Caring About Cleveland, Solange Knowles, Rap Ad-Libs, Anyone Who Had a Song That Drake Added a Verse to Thus Extending Their Career for Exactly 200 Days.

The Case of Instagram: Instagram made the bracket in 2011, 2012, and 2013. An interesting thing about those three years: Instagram did not kick off Rihanna during that time. But then 2014 rolls around and it commits the ultimate crime in giving Rihanna the boot. Although she’s back on now — you forgive, but you never forget.

The Case of Derek Jeter: I like Jeets’s post-retirement venture, The Players’ Tribune. But no one has ever gotten cooler by going from being an athlete to a blogger. Take my word for it, world-class athlete turned blogger.

Pitbull AMA 2

The Case of Pitbull: Only Pitbull stood in the way of Pitbull making this bracket. In addition to being the only Mr. Worldwide that the world has ever known, his song “Timber,” with glitter goddess of the seas and oceans and winds and clouds and skies Kesha, was gigantic and the official song of the NBA playoffs. It was announced this year that he would be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he released an album called Globalization (see: Worldwide, Mr.), and he had the official 2014 FIFA World Cup song (with Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte), “We Are One (Ole Ola).”

That last item, however, is where he faltered. In 2010, Shakira’s official FIFA World Cup song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” sold almost 10 million units, going no. 1 in 15 countries. Pitbull’s song, comparatively speaking, was a dud. Because it’s not very good.

When they shot that flaming arrow in Barcelona to light the Olympic torch in 1992, Atlanta had to come correct in ’96. So they got Muhammad Ali. The Pitbull song following Shakira is as if they’d gotten Ali Larter.

That’s it. No more rules, no more explanations, no more disclaimers. It’s time to present 2014’s 32 non-losers. And now, the categories.1

Sports

The San Antonio Spurs: a team; @spurs
***LeBron James: an athlete; @KingJames
Richard Sherman: an athlete; @RSherman_25
The Canadian Men’s and Women’s Olympic Hockey Teams: two teams; @CDNOlympicTeam
Mo’ne Davis: a teen; @Monedavis11
The German Men’s National Soccer Team: a team; @DFB_Team
Adam Silver: a boss; Adam Silver’s Facebook page
Roger Goodell: Darth Maul; @nflcommish

Celebrities/Entertainers/Personalities

Chris Pratt: an actor; @prattprattpratt
Shonda Rhimes: a showrunner; @shondarhimes
Iggy Azalea: a rapper; @IGGYAZALEA
Lupita Nyong’o: an actor; @Lupita_Nyongo
Aubrey Drake Graham: a Canadian; @Drake
John Oliver: a host; @iamjohnoliver
***Jennifer Lawrence: a volunteer; Jennifer Lawrence’s Facebook fan page
**Taylor Swift: comptroller of Tribeca; @taylorswift13

Technology/Internet

Uber: a car; @Uber
TMZ: a video; @TMZ
*Vine: a clip; @vine
Venmo: a transaction; @venmo
Drones: an unmanned aerial vehicle; @drones
Tinder: a date; @Tinder
CNN: a network; @CNN
Hackers: the people who are constantly crashing parties they weren’t invited to, leaving five minutes later with everyone’s password and a copy of Perfect Dark; @YourAnonNews

Movements/Trends/Phenomena

Protesters: the streets; @stlcountypd
The Ice Bucket Challenge: the videos; @alsassociation
Legal Weed: the flowering herb; @MarijuanaPolicy
The McConaissance: the Texan; @McConaughey
Serial: the podcast; @serial
Hashtagtivism: the cause; @MichelleObama
Footage: the evidence; @RayRice27
Shmoney Dance: ABOUT A WEEK AGO (WEEK AGO); “Shmoney Dance” YouTube video

 

That’s the bracket of 32. And yes, the bracket regions (“Antidope,” “Fight Night,” “Handsome and Wealthy,” “Emmitt Smith”are songs from Migos’s 2014 mixtape, No Label 2. And no, your eyes aren’t betraying you. There’s no Jay Z. No Beyoncé. And no Kanye West.

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I told you it was a terrible year.

 

This is such a perfect way to start. Two of the year’s most overwhelming phenomena. Two things your gut tells you to dislike even though there’s not a great reason for the utter disdain.

If only the Ice Bucket Challenge weren’t for a good cause is something I thought once. Twice, actually. Which is terrible. The fact that I wanted the charitable aspect of the documented ice-water-on-head-ooh-look-at-me-I’m-a-wet-activist to disappear just so I could feel better clowning anyone still uploading Facebook videos, is not an admirable thing. But in my mind this was just a first cousin of Icing, if getting on one knee and chugging a Smirnoff Ice also came with a suggested $10 donation to Kiva.

But I was wrong. Because there was nothing that wrong with it. Sure, it became a Harlem Shake–like fad for good, tapping into that bro adrenaline you’d hope would transfer to other causes (see: equal rights), but tens of millions of dollars donated to the ALS Association can be traced back to the challenge. And even though some claim the majority of people uploading videos weren’t actually donating, it’s hard to call it a net negative.

Also, Marshawn Lynch did it. So it must be a force for good.2

As for Taylor, let’s just say this: The only thing that could be more annoying than T-Swift is T-Swift doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Which, had it ever happ—

Unavoidable. Diddyesque levels of “everywhere.” That’s Swift in 2014. But when you’re the first artist in 2014 to go platinum, you’ve arguably earned the right to declare yourself president of New York, duchess of the Metro-North, princess of the United States of America. And not just platinum, but platinum in the first week, the biggest first week in 12 years, with her album 1989.

How’d she do it? Three reasons: (1) She’s a sorceress, (2) she’s a genius, and (3) 1989 is a very good pop album.

Swift is about as interesting as a cauliflower sample sale, but failing to give her credit as a once-in-a-generation pop star would be pure hateration. And this bracket is not about hating, nor is it a dancerie. It’s about facts. And the truth. Because I am a disruptive millennial thought leader.3 This is about winning, and Taylor Swift is arguably the most powerful person in the music industry — the only person in America who has no idea that album sales have been aggressively slumping for the past decade — so she moves on. Easily.

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Shonda goin’ up / On a Thursday.

That’s a rap joke.

Really funny rap jokes aside, Shondaday (formerly known as “Thursday”) is a real thing. And her Emanski-like back-to-back-to-back shows taking up three hours of television (8 p.m., Grey’s Anatomy; 9 p.m., Scandal; 10 p.m., How to Get Away With Murder) is just unreal. Like Norman Lear/Aaron Spelling levels of “this network needs me more than I need this network” unreal.

As for the McConaissance, much like Shondaday, we’re still very much living it. Even though his reascension began in 2013, Naked Texas Bongo Man won his Golden Globe and Academy Award in 2014 (for Dallas Buyers Club), accepted an award at the American Cinematheque Awards while he drank a beer and tended to his daughter, and starred in one of 2014’s biggest television events, True Detective, as well as one of the highest-grossing films of the year, Interstellar.

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What we’ve got in this matchup is a beautiful thing: two fortysomethings (they’re two months apart) schooling beaucoup youngins with style and grace. But there is something Shonda has that Matthew just can’t touch. Sheer power. That “I can make you disappear” power. That “Katherine Heigl, your new name is ‘Cardboard Box’” power.4 Shonda has been a force in television for years, but 2014 — in addition to adding a third hit show — was the year Shonda truly began saying whatever was on her mind, with no fear of repercussion. Because you can’t hurt her.

She’s not Oprah powerful. But she’s en route. Which is why she advances.

This isn’t fun. Just know that I tried to rig this bracket so Lupita wouldn’t lose to Iggy in the first round. And I’ve failed you.

Lupita had a hell of a year. She won an Oscar (for 12 Years a Slave) and made one of the more memorable Academy Award speeches, became a fashion icon who seemingly could not falter, landed on numerous magazine covers, became the face of Lancôme, is set to star in the new Star Wars and the film adaptation of Beyoncé’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, made it into The Selfie, and is such a star that even her brother was allowed to rudely crash The Selfie.

140302-ellen-selfie_df30515d8c22eca3f956fb3c022c059eBut Iggy.

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There’s only one woman in this bracket who’s dating Los Angeles Lakers legend Swaggy “Nick Young” P, and it’s Iggy Azalea.

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If you want any idea of how monstrous and out of nowhere Iggy’s 2014 was, consider this: I just ctrl-F’d “Iggy” in last year’s bracket — a bracket won by cultural appropriation, let me remind you — and she didn’t even pop up.

Her song “Fancy,” with Charli XCX, is tied for the record of most consecutive weeks at no. 1 on the Hot Rap Songs Billboard Charts.5 Eighteen straight weeks. Four full months, May through August. In itself that makes for a landmark year, but then there was “Work”; “Black Widow,” with hologram Rita Ora (five weeks at no. 1 on the same chart); “Problem,” with Ariana Grande; “No Mediocre,” with her boss T.I.; and “Booty,” with Jennifer Lopez. The New Classic beat Aubrey Drake Graham’s Nothing Was the Same at the American Music Awards for “Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album,” and she’s nominated for four Grammys, all of which she will probably win, because why not.

Iggy’s 2014 Fantasy Hip-Hop stats are Calvin Johnson–esque, which upsets many people. I’m pretty sure “mad at Iggy” became a vertical at numerous websites (the infrastructure was already there; just had to replace the silhouette AVI of Macklemore). I truly understand and agree with a considerable percentage of the criticisms, mainly because Iggy’s not mind-blowingly great at her day job. But “great” is not an adjective that mattered — and certainly was not a prerequisite for winning — in 2014.

It seems only fitting, in the chorus of criticism that follows Iggy’s every move (some of which she has no control over, some of which she most certainly does), that she knocks International Black Sweetheart of the Year Lupita Nyong’o out of the bracket. In the first round.

HOW DARE YOU, IGLOO AUSTRALIA, HUMAN EMBODIMENT OF THE CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS.

But let the record show: Don’t blame me, blame Iggy.

I listened to the entire Serial podcast. I also listened to every song Drake was featured on in 2014. One of those things left me confused, intrigued, and frustrated. The other made me demand that music be played whenever I walk through halls. Ultimately, the person behind Serial, Sarah Koenig, had to put in a lot of work in order to create a phenomenon — to go from 0 to 100, IF YOU WILL. Drake, on the other hand, had arguably his most fun, interesting year to date. He co-headlined the Drake vs. Lil Wayne tour. He hosted Saturday Night Live and his performance was met with rave reviews. He made it impossible to forget about him, musically, landing on Lil Wayne’s “Believe Me,” YG’s “Who Do You Love?,” Nicki Minaj’s “Only,” and Young Money’s “Trophies.” And then the guy got two Grammy nominations for a song he put on SoundCloud (“0 to 100 / The Catch Up”), a third as a featured artist on Beyoncé, and a fourth for adding a much-needed verse to ILoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” (an artist he promptly signed to his label, OVO Sound).

Also, it’s worth noting that the beginning of Drake’s “Tuesday” verse is assumedly about Shonda Rhimes.

Squad goin’ up
Nobody flippin’ packs now
I just did three in a row
Them shows is back-to-back-to-back now

I can’t lie, this was pretty rude. It’s almost as if I put Serial in the bracket just to knock it out. But who knows? All that matters is that of course the winner is Aubrey, the best ESPYS host since Rob Riggle.

LeBron James’s 2014 can be summed up with two words: “loser,” “hero.”

His Miami Heat got embarrassed in the NBA Finals in five games by a collection of substitute teachers from San Antonio. And just like that, the dynasty in South Beach was over. LeBron was unable to pull off the three-peat like Jordan and Kobe. So he left.

This would all be embarrassing had he not completely owned the hero narrative by returning to Cleveland. Just look at this spectacle.

Good lord.

Yep, I’m convinced. Related: just flipped a table.

There’s NO WAY Cleveland deserved this man twice. And even as the Cavs stumble in the beginning of the season, and LeBron’s cosign of fellow Cleveland athlete Johnny Manziel is even more embarrassing than losing to the Spurs in five, this is still a landmark year for King James.

Going against LeBron is the future that arrived way earlier than expected: drones. This time last year, I remember laughing at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when he made the mere mention of drones, transforming their use from war machine to book-delivery robot. Twelve months later, I’m trying to decide if I want to buy one online or at my bodega. In a year dominated by seeing and hearing things you weren’t supposed to see and hear — being spied on or being a spy — drones encapsulated how privacy and the protection of privacy manifested itself in 2014. No one wants to be spied on, but everyone wants to know what others are up to, especially if you think the “others” are spying on you.

This is only the beginning with drones. Next year, as the topic of how they’re regulated intensifies, you get the feeling they’ll eventually be talked about along the same lines as certain drugs and other sometimes-legal “vices.” But that’s 2015. Right now, however, they’re facing LeBron James, a man who actually touched Kate Middleton’s shoulder with his American athlete hand.

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Big win for LeBron, big win for America. He moves on.

Richard Sherman might not even be the best player on his team, but he was the most important person in the NFL in 2014. Use whatever adjective you want to describe him, but the one that sets him apart is that he’s a complete troll — but for good. In order to be a troll for good, you have to be fully confident that you’re smarter than those who wish to control you. You have to occasionally be willing to take hits financially to call out the hypocrisies around you. And you have to believe that in the court of public opinion — you versus overlords — you will win. Every time.

That’s Sherman’s 2014. And he’s not only one of the few who can pull this off in the NFL, but across the entire landscape of professional sports.

He’s not too far from someone like Shonda Rhimes or Chris Rock, using his platform to actually say what’s on his mind. As the personal brand of a celebrity continues to grow in importance, we get further away from truly knowing how our superstars actually feel and think about things. It’s why Sherman’s 2014, from his response to being called a “thug” to his not-so-subtle shots at the NFL, is so important.

It’s a shame he’s going against something prepared to go beast mode all over this bracket: FOOTAGE.

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It’s a blurry image and you know exactly what it is. Because we spent our year hearing and looking at things we weren’t supposed to see. Things not meant for public consumption. There’s been so much that it’s almost hard to account for the sheer number of giant stories that centered on a “tape.” The Donald Sterling recordings. The Eric Garner video. Ray Rice in the elevator. Spending weeks speculating what Solange was saying to Jay Z in that elevator.

You couldn’t go too long without something surfacing. And whenever it did, it felt odd to become so captivated — but we couldn’t help ourselves.

Sherman had a great year, the first of many, I’m sure. But it’s hard to even consider this year without the sheer amount of footage that typically remains private. Which is why it’s moving on.

LEGION OF BOOM, OUT.

Remember Sochi? Of course not. Anyway, there was an even-year, non-warm-weather Olympics in 2014. In this Olympics, there were a bunch of events that humans competed in, humans from like 12 countries, most from the same cul-de-sac. Canada is one of those countries. And in hockey, the Canadian men’s and women’s teams came through and swept, which put a big frownie face on the United States’s collective knucklepuck. It was impressive.

So yeah, TMZ advances.

ICYMI, marijuana is here to stay. Legally. And even where it’s illegal to some degree, there’s still an overall feeling that no one really feels like fighting this battle anymore. Even people like mayors and police commissioners.

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In 2014, it was legalized for recreational use in Washington, D.C.; Alaska; and Oregon, all of which join Colorado and Washington state as the stankiest places to live in the United States. Also, Congress just proved, in its $1.1 trillion federal appropriations bill, that it’s secretly super into medical marijuana or something like that.

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 ALSO, THE OXFORD DICTIONARIES WORD OF THE YEAR IS VAPE.

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What a year. Just an incredible run that icky is having.

Going against alcohol 2.0 is Jennifer Lawrence. She stars in two of the seven highest-grossing films of the year, X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1. She’s still terrifyingly popular, so much so that she doesn’t have to trip on her dress anymore. And she’s getting to a point where she can’t seem to miss on film.

But then a terrible thing happened. Lots and lots and lots of her private photos were hacked and put online. It was an absolute violation of privacy and one of the more disrespectful, embarrassing things that can happen to someone. Even while having done nothing wrong, it still wasn’t clear how she’d respond to this breach, and if her somewhat edgy-yet-perfect reputation would suffer.

It didn’t. All of this happened before 2014 Katniss. And weeks after its release, Mockingjay is still doing ’04 Confessions numbers.

But reputation isn’t everything. Regardless of how she’s perceived, she was still terribly violated. And even if your fans stay with you and you’re somehow even more revered than before, a violation is rarely ever a win.

Lawrence is very good at making it into the bracket. She’s also great at not making it that far. And for a third year, she’s out earlier than the experts predicted. This year it’s not on her, but as I will continue to articulate in every dialect I can quickly learn, terrible things happened this year.


This is a matchup for the kids. It basically is, what’s more fun: being 19 or 26?

Vine represents a certain type of freedom, the ability to express yourself in an easily digestible format. Venmo represents some form of new adulthood, this idea that you’re not ashamed to borrow money, because you can always pay them back, because you probably have some money in your account, and because you’re completely fine with the idea of these transactions playing out to some extent in public.

If you talk to people in their forties, chances are neither will register much. It’s very clear that the Vine target audience is teens and young adults.6 Who uses Venmo is a little more subtle, until you take a step back and think about its three most essential functions:

1. Someone opened a tab at the bar and wants to leave it open but most certainly needs 80 percent of that money back the next day in order to buy coffee.

2. Only one of the three people sharing this apartment are actually on the lease, so that person writes the full check and everyone else TEXTS TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS BECAUSE THAT’S SAFE.

3. Someone bought something from a different someone in a Chipotle parking lot for a group of people to share.

One of the things that separates the two is that Vine has proven that it’s not a fad. That it’s very much here to stay. That even if you don’t use it actively, as an uploader of content, it can be used as one of your foremost mediums of entertainment. A world in which one doesn’t have a television but looks at Vines all day is a very real world.

Venmo still has to prove its staying power.7 In terms of gaining traction as a “must-have” app, 2014 was a huge year for Venmo. But 2014 was the year Vine became much bigger than just an app. It’s an all-out wing of media. Which is why it’s moving on.

SORRY, LUCAS.

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Here’s a quote from Bloomberg Politics:

2014 was not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s finest year. Yet despite numerous scandals involving domestic violence, child abuse, drug raids and even a Bloomberg Politics poll that showed 50 percent of Americans don’t want their sons playing football, Goodell was never really in trouble.

I was ready to make the point that even if Goodell isn’t in trouble, the NFL is certainly struggling. And then I learned that viewership is actually up this year. So you can’t even knock him down a notch on that front.

Goodell is the embodiment of the failing-upward spirit of 2014. Incompetence, perceived dishonesty, and scandals left and right don’t matter if you keep making the people you technically work for, the rich owners, even richer owners. He’s so winning, in this, one of the NFL’s worst PR years ever.

If there’s anything that’s the opposite of Goodell, it’s the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the always-good, team-first giant killers that not only won the NBA championship, but ended an era. They broke up the Big Three of James, Wade, and Bosh. And they make a strong claim that they’re a dynasty (five titles in 15 years). A dynasty, now, with Becky Hammon, the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major professional sports.

But, as always with the Spurs, their excellence is never the front-page story. Even when they win, the takeaway story is the losers. As for Goodell, when he loses, he seems to win even more. Which is depressing. And a perfect embodiment of this year. Which is why, unfortunately, he marches on.

There’s rude and then there’s what Germany did to host Brazil in the World Cup semifinals.

7-1.

It’s a legendary shellacking. It’s like getting invited over for Thanksgiving dinner, then parking on the lawn, not flushing, and stealing all the food before your uncle shows up to say grace.

And to rub it in, Germany went on to win the World Cup. And then, somehow, after topping the mountain, it found a taller mountain. And made it to the top of that mountain. Mount Rih.

If this bracket were “Who Won July 2014?,” every entrant would be Germany. And Germany would play Germany in the final. And Germany would win.

But that’s just July.

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver had to be great all year. Unlike his NFL counterpart, Silver was unproven. He’d have to handle everything as close to perfectly as possible, for both his own sake and that of the league he was running.

About three months in, he had to deal with Donald Sterling. It was a scandal involving an owner, which immediately made it a scandal involving the commissioner. Silver’s play was to ban an NBA owner from the league. For life. The almost universal response to his shocking decision: long live Adam Silver.

He’s done a lot of other notable things in 2014, but the handling of his first major crisis will long define how history sees his tenure as commissioner, which so far is an example of what can happen when power is wielded for good. He was one of the feel-good winners of 2014, which undoubtedly feels more true when contrasted with his American football counterpart.

For that, he moves on, beating the Germans. Two commissioners, moving on in the region dubbed “Handsome and Wealthy.”

Roger Goodell and Adam Silver

As they say, handsome is in the eye of the wealthy beholder.

This is a perfect example of why you can’t do end-of-the-year roundups too early. Life doesn’t stop because the Internet is making lists. Case in point: Bobby Shmurda.

This is Shmurda, in New York Magazine, representing reasons to love New York by way of “Because New York Rap Is Awesomely Weird.”

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This partially makes sense, because a guy named Shmurda whose name slant rhymes with “murder” gave the country one of the feel-good dances of the year with the “Hot N​-​-​-​-”–inspired Shmoney Dance.

It started with the video, then the dubbed-over R&B Vines, and eventually made its way to real celebrities of all kinds doing the dance, one defined by utter indifference and sass absolute. Just look at Swaggy P and DeMarcus Cousins.

This is how big it got — the USA men’s basketball team did the Shmoney Dance after winning the 2014 FIBA World Cup, not to the corresponding song, but to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

It was a phenomenon. And chances were, if you were in a place that would play it once, they’d play it seven times.

But Shmurda was arrested on December 17 on a series of gun-related charges, along with 14 other members of his GS9 crew, as part of a narcotics sting. The level of enjoyment gained from listening to “Hot N​-​-​-​-” and the act of carrying out the dance has dropped exponentially. Because the sheer passive hope that what he’s saying in the song wouldn’t catch up to him didn’t prove to be enough.

So the dance isn’t advancing. It was so close to making it out of 2014, but it didn’t. I’m going to save my thoughts for role model and Taney Dragons pitcher Mo’ne Davis for the next round. Enjoy this rare bye, MDot. You were probably going to win anyway, but feel free to tweet at me or double tap some of my Instas.

If there’s one thing that truly benefited from a year of fear and tragedy, it’s the 24-hour news networks. And of those outlets, CNN stood above the rest. Which is not a compliment.

Robin Williams dying? That’s a ground-rule double. Riots in America? A stand-up triple. A MISSING PLANE? Back-to-back-to-back grand slam walk-off home runs in Game 7 of the World Series.

Good people work at CNN and there are good shows at CNN, put there assuredly in an attempt to balance out the US Weekly–esque coverage of strife and sorrow. But it doesn’t outweigh the bad, and the public truly began to take notice of the opportunistic tendencies this year. One of the catalysts: Ferguson protesters in St. Louis and throughout the country.

It wasn’t just CNN — many wings of the media were appropriately lambasted for so blatantly wishing for ruin so they’d have something to put on air, on a blog, and in a photo gallery. But, again, CNN was the most visible outlet, and also the most deserving of criticism.

Who can forget CNN accidentally airing a “Fuck CNN” chant:

(Don’t gloss over the best part, the cut back to Anderson Cooper, who chalked it up to people “playing for the cameras,” because #kettle.)

There was also Track 2 of the greatest hits, “You are Promoting a Certain Narrative.”

And never forget Tracks 3-150, which are anything involving a camera, an audio feed, and Don Lemon reporting.

Speaking of Lemon, in 2014, he became the official face of the decline of CNN. But like those before him in this bracket who righteously failed up in 2014 (Iggy, Goodell, CNN itself), he’s getting stronger with every act of victim blaming and declaration of respectability politics.

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Few things this year were as undeniably powerful as CNN, but protesters were most certainly one of those things. In the fourth quarter alone, cities were taken over by people — upset, fed-up people. Often thought to be apathetic, this generation that brands and politicians refer to as “millennials” has proven, offline, that they care. And that they’re willing to risk discomfort and even punishment to stand up for what they — we — believe in.

The protests aren’t perfect, but they are influential and have a profound ability to disrupt. And, if anything, there’s more of a need than ever to get out there, to participate, and to see what’s happening with your own eyes when you’re not convinced you can trust what you’re seeing on television.

Protesters found a way to overcome CNN in real life in 2014. Which is why they’re taking down the network in this bracket.

This is a throwback bracket matchup: two people who actually did great things and, because of it, had great years. The notion seems so simple, analogue even. John Oliver went from The Guy With the British Accent on The Daily Show to Wait, the British Daily Show Guy Is Going to Be a Talk Show Host to John Oliver Might Be the Best Host on Television, all in one year. Last Week Tonight, on paper, doesn’t work. Between it being hosted by Oliver, landing on HBO instead of one of the prime-time networks or basic cable, attempting to tackle an entire week’s worth of news in a 30-minute block, not always booking the most famous guests (and often not even having guests), everything had to land perfectly for it to work.

And it regularly did. Because the strength is in his segments. Segments that take place on Sunday dominate the next day’s Internet watercooler (do they still make these?), and are relevant until the following Sunday’s slate of segments. And in these segments, his ability to nail the takedown is couched in his gift of seeming genuinely fed up with nearly anything. Like this one, on sugar:

Against Oliver, Chris Pratt. 2014 was never supposed to happen for Chris Pratt. Which is not to say he was supposed to die before 2014, but that he wasn’t supposed to become Earth’s biggest leading man. Pratt was the top-billed actor in two of the top four grossing films of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie. 

Andy-Dwyer-Shock

I know. You and me both, Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec, who is actually Chris Pratt, Earth’s biggest leading man.

Am I going to advance Pratt over Oliver because he’s an inspiration to people who aren’t initially taken seriously? To people who, with the right haircut and facial grooming technique, can finally be invited to gala events? Yes. Yes I am. Sorry, John. Maybe work on your rags-to-riches narrative and get back to me in 2015. BECAUSE @PRATTPRATTPRATT and I are going all the way.


You know the saying “The early bird gets the worm”? That’s true, except for this bracket. The longer and longer in December I wait to begin, the more accurate it’s going to be with regard to crowning the one true winner. Two weeks ago, Uber wins this matchup. Why? Because Uber is now a verb. And that’s a big deal. But then hackers, who were already having a big ol’ rude year, crippled Sony via email hacks and then got a major motion picture, The Interview, temporarily canceled. And then, just to top it off, Uber’s very unsympathetic crisis surge pricing finally made international news, as price hikes took place during a hostage situation in Sydney. And then it announced a $2 booking fee ON THE LAST GREAT THING ON THIS EARTH, UberT. Uber will continue to fail up as its PR blunders coincide with becoming increasingly powerful, but this ninth-inning run by hackers is just too much to defeat.

Also, considering the worst thing Uber could do to a hacker is triple a fare, I think hackers have the upper hand, especially since they could turn around and probably delete Uber from everyone’s phones in four minutes. (I have no idea how hackers work, but I’m assuming they can do anything and I wouldn’t dare kick them out in the first round. Are you crazy?)

#BringBackOurGirls. #BlackLivesMatter. #UmbrellaRevolution. #Ferguson. #ICantBreathe.

This was the year the hashtag finally grew up. The year it blossomed out of the confines of simply an aggregator and became a catalyst for movements. Or the name of the movements themselves. 2014 was the year grassroots activists realized they couldn’t proceed without the Internet, as well as the year the Internet decided it wanted to actually cause change and would consider walking away from a computer to do so. So they met in the middle, and that middle was the hashtag. And while movements and protests and attempts to cause change would have happened to some degree without these hashtags, there’s no ignoring how powerful it is to rally around one word, one phrase, one message.

Tinder’s dope if you enjoy doing thumb exercises on your phone while you poop (there’s a good “swipe” pun to be made somewhere in there). But, unfortunately, that’s just not going to get it done against many mini-revolutions. #HASHTAGTIVISM (a portmanteau of #Hash and #Tagtivism) is off to the Sweet 16.

Let’s cut to the chase. This comes down to who is more influential to society at the end of 2014: Taylor Swift or Shonda Rhimes. Taylor’s richer, Taylor’s more popular, Taylor’s probably more powerful, but somehow Taylor’s opinion still doesn’t seem to matter.

Take it away, Chappelle:

Stop worshiping celebrities so much. Just don’t pay attention. I remember right around September 11, Ja Rule was on MTV. That’s what they said. “We got Ja Rule on the phone. Let’s see what Ja’s thoughts are on this tragedy.” Who gives a fuck what Ja Rule thinks at a time like this, n​ -​-​-​-, this is ridiculous. I don’t wanna dance. I’m scared to death. I want some answers that Ja Rule might not have right now. You think when bad shit happens to me, I be in the crib like “Ohh my god this is terrible. Could somebody please find Ja Rule? Get hold of this motherfucker so I can make sense of all this. Where is Ja? Find me Ja Rule.”

Sub out “Ja” for “Tay” and it works eerily well.

And then there’s Shonda. Outside of her shows — shows that do make her insanely powerful — her year has been littered with making statements that have either been conversation shifters or the final word. She gave a commencement speech at Dartmouth and told everyone that “a hashtag is not helping,” followed later by “don’t be an asshole.” She received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award from The Hollywood Reporter and gave a speech addressing the glass ceiling while paying tribute to the female trailblazers who helped make her career possible. She was called an “Angry Black Woman” by New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley and instead of attacking Stanley, sent a few tweets and let Stanley dig her own quasi-Internet quasi-apology grave. She’s getting lifetime achievement awards. And when something happens in the culture and she tweets about it, Shonda’s opinion becomes news.

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Taylor’s tweets also become news. But, as you can see, comparing Shonda and Taylor is like comparing apples and oranges.

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I have no vested interest in taking anything away from Taylor Swift. But two years ago Taylor Swift was an entertainer, last year Taylor Swift was an entertainer, and this year Taylor Swift is an entertainer.

Shonda, in the past year, has become a cultural force. And she’s got answers that neither Ja Rule nor Taylor have. Throughout 2014, we’ve collectively been like “get ahold of this motherfucker [Shonda] so I can make sense of this.” And she’s delivered, voluntarily, in a way few celebrities do. And for that, she shakes Taylor off and does the wobble into the Elite Eight.

The winner of this, a musician versus a musician, goes against Shonda. And Shonda just knocked out Taylor, arguably the biggest musician of the year. So, being quite realistic about this, there’s no way Iggy or Drake beats Shonda. Because Shonda is not playing. Shonda has no time for these ’80s babi—

Screenshot 2014-12-19 18.48.46

Shonda versus Amethyst? Oh yes. This feels right.

But before I give it to Iggy, mostly because I like the idea of Shonda beating Iggy more than Shonda giving Aubrey side-eye until he takes his elbows off the table, there is one reason that Iggy actually wins this matchup. They’re going head to head at the Grammys. And if Iggy wins the Grammy, she’s a winner because she won a Grammy. And if she loses the Grammy, she also wins because she won’t have to deal with people denouncing her entire existence, calling her “Chriggstopher Columbus” or whatever the kids are saying these days.

But if Drake loses to Iggy, Drake is CORNY.

Grammy advantage: Iggy. Iggy advances to face Shonda, which I, for one, am so excited for.

Yes, LeBron saved the city of Cleveland from being traded to Real Madrid for cash, but his winning in 2014 isn’t only defined by his move back home. He’s becoming that superstar athlete who transcends the playing of a sport. And not just in popularity, but in impact. He’s the star who knows his fellow athletes are taking cues from his actions, the star who knows if he speaks up, the league will be forced to take note and even listen and change its ways.

LeBron picks his spots. And in 2014 he picked well. As in, he seemed authentic. He stated “there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league” and after the Darren Wilson non-indictment, he Instagrammed an illustration of Mike Brown walking, arms over shoulders, with Trayvon Martin.

These are all things he doesn’t have to do — potentially polarizing things — but this year he embraced his leadership role within the NBA, within professional sports, and as a powerful black American. It’s been fascinating to watch him come into his own in this regard.

And if he had not lost in five games to the Spurs, he might have stood a chance against footage.

It’s pretty incredible that the Atlanta Hawks now have the first chief diversity and inclusion officer in the NBA, Nzinga Shaw, all stemming from an email that led to the release of an audio recording in which the GM of the Hawks, Danny Ferry, maybe/absolutely insinuated that Luol Deng’s African heritage (“he’s got some African in him”) suggests either he’s not who he seems, is not to be trusted, and/or is a fraud (“he has a storefront out front that’s beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you”).

But let’s look for silver linings in 2014: At least there’s now a chief diversity and inclusion officer. Who knows how long that would have taken had Ferry not been snitched on and the tape of his views on the connections between being African and being shady not been made public?

And this might not even be a top-10 moment in which audio and video footage brought the news cycle to a standstill. Which is why it will continue to trample over very good athletes. Bye, LeBron. See you next year.

This was the first year it was widely acknowledged that TMZ not only would be first, but that TMZ would also be correct. That, in itself, is a gigantic win for the website (and a sizable loss for any other outlet that prides itself in breaking stories). How TMZ gets its information, who knows? But in this, a very hit-or-miss-or-miss-or-miss-or-miss year for online reporting, the question of standards is a universal concern, not just at the Harvey Levin empire.

Not only did TMZ break the Sterling–V. Stiviano story, but it posted the video of Ray Rice attacking his then-fiancée in the elevator. Footage, made public by TMZ, was one of the stories of 2014.

The only thing standing in its way is Legal Weed.

But it’s not really standing in its way. The only way TMZ gets knocked out this early in 2014 is if weed had been legalized in all 50 states and Barack Obama renamed his daughters Hasha and Malijuana. ONLY THEN.

So there it is. TMZ vs. Footage. Which is confusing to parse out, because they’re so interconnected.

A quote:

“Last year Taylor Swift was an entertainer, and this year Taylor Swift is an entertainer.” —Rembert Browne, about six to eight minutes ago, depending on how slowly you’re reading this

This year’s Taylor Swift is even bigger than last year’s Taylor Swift. But, at the core, she’s still purely entertainment. And even though Vine became an increasingly important tool for protesters to upload footage, for the most part, “pure entertainment” is also where Vine falls. In a year during which even the most joyous things could be looked at through a cynical lens, Vine found a way to escape that. In some ways, Vine was one of the great, highly necessary tools of distraction in 2014.

The bad things that Vine helped distract you from were the bad things that also distracted you from Roger Goodell. And did he ever have bad-thing distraction after bad-thing distraction in 2014, yet another reason why he won so tremendously this year. Even other members of his 1 percent club, like Sterling, bailed him out. Goodell surely got lucky this year, but that’s only half the story. The thing is, he has all the life cheat codes — codes that allow him to keep his job and elite standard of living, no matter what he does, no matter what he says, and no matter what he doesn’t do or say.

That Roger Goodell still has a job as 2014 comes to a close is proof that everything’s out of balance.8 It’s proof we (non-Goodells) can say anything and everything about him, but our tweets at @nflcommish aren’t really going to do much. Or at least they didn’t in 2014.

In a year that brought unheralded amounts of shame to the NFL, the league’s owners could have fired Roger Goodell. But the NFL owners did not fire Roger Goodell. So Roger wins.

Look at this:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 18.12.32

Notice anything? Of course you do. Mo’ne Davis: NOT VERIFIED.

Now look at this:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 18.15.26

This sums up 2014 and Mo’ne Davis. We got more from her than she got from us. Everyone seemingly had a plan, a suggested narrative, an opinion about who she is and what she wants, the 13-year-old pitching phenom. And Mo’ne has consistently responded by not playing the game we’ve attempted to trap her in, the game we play with every other inspirational celebrity in the history of ever.

I’m sure Twitter has asked Mo’ne if she wanted to be verified. And while unconfirmed, I would not be surprised if Mo’ne was like, “Nah.”

“I’m good.”

“I’m 13.”

“None of my friends are verified, but thanks for asking.”

Easily one of the sports stories of the year, Mo’ne beasting tween fools in the Little League World Series turned her into a phenomenon. Look at her, striking out the side during a two-hit shutout.

But it wasn’t just on the field. Off the field, be it in the dugout or on camera, she was as impressive as she was on the mound. She wasn’t a child (ignorant of her position in society and just happy to be there) and she wasn’t an adult (unwilling to accept the responsibility that goes with her suddenly elevated position). Mo’ne is a unicorn, the rare sports superstar who got it.

Mo’ne, on the media:

I can always say no, so that’s like my special weapon for the media.

Mo’ne, on being a role model:

I never thought that I would be a role model at this age. It was kind of shocking to me when I first came down to watch a game. There was a crowd of people. I was kind of nervous but I was, like, excited for it. So I just have to be myself.

Mo’ne, on creepy adults:

People were like, “Oh, there are going to be people running up to you taking pictures,” and I thought it was going to be a bunch of little kids. But it’s grown-ups! And that’s, like, creepy.

An absolute legend. Already.

Going against Mo’ne is NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

Adam+Silver+Mo+ne+Davis+Sportsman+Year+Ceremony+KRWBt0W6XdCl

This is Silver and Davis, flanked by a tall man and a short man, at the SI Sportsman of the Year event.

Knowing Silver — which I don’t — he doesn’t want to knock Mo’ne out of the bracket. But knowing Mo’ne — which I don’t — I know she’s not out here to be the centerpiece of some dumb Internet experiment.

A major difference between the two is that Silver is forced to care about the way he’s perceived, whereas Mo’ne is just Mo’ne. She doesn’t have the time to be bothered with anything beyond the nonessentials. Every move Silver makes, on the contrary, is under scrutiny. Which is as it should be.

Mo’ne came out of nowhere, became a darling, and then did everything right, further establishing herself as important. Silver began in the red and had to spend the entire year working his way to a place where he could be trusted. He’s in an easily criticized position, and these days we expect the worst from a commissioner.

And somehow, he became a respected, trusted, and at times beloved character in 2014. Not as much as Mo’ne (impossible), but he went above and beyond the call of duty. Between the handling of Sterling, writing New York Times op-eds on the need to legalize and regulate professional sports betting, and picking Mark Tatum as the NBA’s deputy commissioner and COO, Silver commissioned like a man who wants his league to mirror the times.

In 2014, Silver needed to convince us that he was a winner, and he did. So he’s moving on. Selfishly, we’re all the real winners when it comes to Mo’ne, because we got Mo’ne. She’ll be OK, though. Because she’s above this. And Goodell doesn’t deserve her as an opponent. Also, she’s got Snapchats to send and bat mitzvahs to attend. Having her lose is for the better.

This is a safe space, so I’ll just be honest. When I wrote the first-round entry for Chris Pratt, I hadn’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Then I procrastinated for a few days between writing the Round of 32 and Sweet 16, and in that time period, finally learned what all the Groot fuss was about.

That movie is incredible and Pratt is incredible. And he’s good in this way that you know it’s not a fluke. Even beyond the 17 future Guardians movies I’m sure they’ll make, he’s got something to him — a humor even in serious situations, a Clooney-esque streak — that is going to work as long as great scripts are thrown his way. Which I’m sure they will be. For years to come.

And just like that, I’m out of things to say about Pratt. There’s no world in which a nation divided by the act of protesting loses to Pratt, a man many people have opinions on, many more don’t, and a handful do but are actually talking about Chris Pine. Being a protester, the act of protesting, and countrywide protests have become one of the stories of the second half of 2014, with seemingly everyone having an opinion, either as a participant, as an onlooker, or as one vehemently against the act of this type of disturbance.9 Either way, the impact is being felt. The sheer fact that protesting is back in the culture as an effective way to get a message across is huge. Of the unpredictable things that became realities in 2014, the reemergence of the protester is up there, if not at the top of the list. So it moves on.

We’ll always have the first round, @prattprattpratt. Weird how I knocked you out after seeing you being amazing in that amazing movie. Yes, I know the saying “life comes at you fast,” @prattprattpratt. And yes, this would apply to you right now. Sorry, man.

If there are two things in this bracket that cannot be judged simply in black and white, it’s hacking and activism by way of the hashtag.

There are hackers for good (white hat) and hackers for bad (black hat), hackers who leak things that need to be leaked, hackers who are out to entrap, and hackers with the sole goal of stopping other hackers. It’s very confusing. Unfortunately for hackers, the idea of winning is complicated because there doesn’t seem to be any common goal — or a clear idea of what a “win” would even be. It’s clear some hacks don’t represent the entire community of those doing the hacking, but this year, the most high-profile, privacy-invading, nefarious ones got the most press, and thus defined the species.

And then there’s Hashtagtivism. On the Internet, becoming part of a movement sometimes obscures the actual goals of the movement. Being on the right side of history, on Twitter, rarely translates to a world beyond sitting behind a laptop and typing. But in 2014, the “slacktivist” concept began to wilt.

We got to a point, by the end of 2014, when we had both #ICantBreathe and #ICanBreathe trending at the same time. It was hashtag activism becoming political, using one hashtag activist movement to take down another hashtag activist movement. This happened online, but the conflict was also out in the streets, shouted by those protesting and standing up for themselves.

Hackers definitely left their mark on 2014, but in just a 12-month period, it seems as if much of the edginess that once surrounded the idea of the breach has given way to panic that surrounds blackmail (threatening Iggy Azalea with a leaked sex tape), humiliation (stolen celebrity nude photos), and fearmongering (threatening violence on any movie theater that showed The Interview). While that’s certainly what some people want, the world of hackers as a truth-seeking unit took a hit in 2014. Because this was the year that hacking almost becoming synonymous with cyberterrorism.

That’s not how you get a win. Also, The Interview eventually was released, so that whole fear thing didn’t really work out. Sorry, but I just made the call on that. So that’s the end of the road for hackers.

YOU HAD A GREAT RUN, THOUGH, SO PLEASE HAVE MERCY ON THE SOULS OF THOSE WHO STILL DON’T HAVE TWO-STEP VERIFICATIONS.

Before going on, yes, I will address the rumors that this is working out a little “too” perfectly. Footage vs. TMZ? Protests vs. Hashtag Activism? ROGER GOODELL VS. ADAM SILVER?

I see where you’re coming from, letter writers. But riddle me this: Shonda vs. Iggy? What sense does that make? None, right? What point am I trying to prove with that? Answer: There is no point. Things just work out the way they were meant to sometimes. Kind of like when Serena and Venus would somehow play each other in a Grand Slam final.

My spokeswoman has something to communicate regarding this scandal, on my behalf.

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Thank you, Beyoncé. I couldn’t ask for a better JPEG spokeswoman if I tried.

For a considerable chunk of 2014, Iggy has been in the middle of a cyclical debate pertaining to the “whitewashing” of black culture, this idea of a white artist finding her or himself in a once-maligned, now mainstream black medium and achieving levels of success that a black counterpart typically does not (or cannot) achieve.

She’s long been called out about this by critics, but as the year has raced to a close, it’s increasingly become her fellow artists who are joining in. Iggy’s beef with fellow rapper Azealia Banks is seemingly never-ending. And then there was A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip, who went elder statesman on Iggy, giving her a lesson on hip-hop over Twitter. When it comes to Banks, Iggy has pushed back, which would be admirable had it not been so dismissive, which as you could guess, has not helped her cause.

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Getting into the intricacies of this back-and-forth is a tangent that would get away from the task at hand (declaring Shonda the winner), but there is a takeaway from Iggy’s 2014 that is connected to Shondaland: this idea of proving your worth.

Is it fair, having to do more than some of your peers to be respected? No.

Is it fair, having to go out of your way to prove your legitimacy, when others around you are granted a pass? No.

Is it fair, having to convince the public you’re not a fraud? No.

What seems to rub so many the wrong way is that Iggy doesn’t seem to acknowledge that many others live in this unfair world. And when it comes to getting respect, black artists — especially black female artists — constantly live in a world where they have to do more, prove more, convince more just to be taken seriously. Taken as seriously as someone like Iggy Azalea.

Someone like a Shonda Rhimes couldn’t just hop off the bus in Hollywood and start demanding prime-time airspace for her show ideas in a world of powerful white men. She had to do more than her peers to be respected, and she had to go out of her way to prove her legitimacy in order for there to eventually be a land of Shonda called Shondaland. Was it fair she had to jump through more hoops? No. But we don’t live in a fair society. But Shonda still got it done.

Which is why Shonda advances to the Final Four.

I set this up to seem controversial and complicated, but this is actually a pretty simple decision. TMZ gave us some of our most important audio and video footage of the year.

But there was footage that was not TMZ-related that changed the course of 2014. Some of the year’s most brutal imagery — things you never want to see — like Staten Island’s Eric Garner being put in an unsanctioned chokehold and killed, were not spread via TMZ but instead by way of a man, Ramsey Orta, sharing his video from his phone with the Daily News. The video of Tamir Rice being shot in Cleveland or John Crawford being shot near Dayton were both captured by surveillance cameras, though not aired by TMZ. This is the footage that proved what many have long believed to be true, that the relationship between the police and black men is often anchored in suspicion, fear, and in some cases, complete lack of regard for human life. And in large part because of the existence of these videos, the country has exploded.

It all comes back to the footage. And while the celebrity audio and video that TMZ did unearth helped define the year, it’s even bigger than TMZ. Which is why TMZ’s run is over in the Elite Eight.

Nice guys finish last. For now.

When it’s all said and done, I believe history will look at this moment — two polar-opposite professional sports commissioners representing two very different models on how to lead and will remember Adam Silver in the most favorable light. But this shit right here — this is not history. This is right now. And of these two men, one was a good boss and the other is a borderline dictator.

Not many people win in a dictatorship. Which is why Roger Goodell won in 2014.

This is how powerful Roger Goodell is: I’m not convinced that he can’t fire Adam Silver. How that would even happen, I haven’t the first clue, but after everything that happened in 2014 that didn’t disrupt his path to becoming a more powerful commissioner, why not?

So there it is. Roger Goodell beats Adam Silver because Roger Goodell could probably fire Adam Silver.

And yes, if you’re keeping score, one of the four finalists in Who Won 2014 is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Told you this bracket was dark.

Remember 2011?

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It was a groundbreaking year for the protester in 2014, but we’ve been here before. What is being protested, condemned, and marched about has changed, but what happened in 2014 isn’t a new phenomenon. Two of the primary reasons 2014’s acts of protests are different than years past are because of the footage we have to support anger and the laundry list of movements that have gained steam and branded themselves by way of hashtags online.

“I Can’t Breathe” has been one of the foundations of protests in many cities across the country. But that doesn’t happen without #ICantBreathe, nor does it happen without the gut-wrenching tape of Garner pleading for his life.

This is one of those moments when “win” isn’t really the right word. So many of these protests come from a place of pain, as do these movements that began online.

What has happened, however, is a reversal of fortune. Hashtag activism has long engendered backlash, but slowly it found ways to legitimize itself in 2014. Even moments like the recent argument that protesters (and the support of protests) are responsible for things such as anti-cop sentiments, which are then responsible for the killing of cops, were just a setback. It doesn’t diminish their importance, but it does makes the protests pawns in a blame game.

Eventually, these protests will result in a win. And hopefully that’ll come in 2015. But in 2014, in a moment of heightened emotion, these hashtags — online and in the streets — got people to rally around the same message and gave moment after moment much-needed solidarity. And for that, they move on to the Final Four.

This run of Shonda’s has been one for the ages. Defeating McConaughey, Swift, and Azalea is almost like Tiger at the 1997 Masters, taking out a team full of Toms (Kite, Tolles, Watson) to win his first major.

Almost like Tiger. Because Tiger won that tournament. And golf is very different from this bracket. And at the Masters, Tiger didn’t have to face off against Sauron.

Actually, the only real way it’s the same as Tiger is that a bunch of white people got beat in a game they don’t usually lose. There really aren’t any other parallels.

BUT SHONDA. BOW DOWN TO SHONDA.

You scared, Roger?

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Here’s a leaked conversation between myself and Roger Goodell after I told him he might win this bracket:

Browne, R: Roger, you’re almost in the final.
Goodell, R: Of what?
Browne, R: My bracket for Grantland.
Goodell, R: What’s Grantland?
Browne, R: Bill Simmons’s site.
Goodell, R: Who’s Bill Simmons?
Browne, R: You know … ESPN.
Goodell, R: What’s ESPN?
Browne, R: Whatever. Anyway, you beat the Spurs.
Goodell, R: What is the Spurs?
Browne, R: THEY WON THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP, ROGER.
Goodell, R: What’s the NBA?
Browne, R: You’re insane. After that, you beat Vine.
Goodell, R: Oh, I LOVE VINE. Was it close?
Browne, R: You know what Vine is? And no, you destroyed Vine.
Goodell, R: That’s too bad. “Do it for the vine, do it do it for the vine.”
Browne, R: And then you beat Adam Silver.
Goodell, R: Of course I did, I just fired him.
Browne, R: I KNEW YOU COULD FIRE HIM.
Goodell, R: Duh.
Browne, R: And now you’re up against Shonda Rhimes.
Goodell, R: Ooh, Scandal lady?
Browne, R: Yeah. I don’t know, Roger, she might have you beat.
Goodell, R: I want to beat her.
Browne, R: But–
Goodell, R: She’s out.
Browne, R: This isn’t your–
Goodell, R: I’ll make you and Shonda disappear.
Browne, R: I HATE YOU, ROGER.
Goodell, R: Wait, who are you again?

When you’re Roger Goodell, you hear and see only what you want to hear and see. And the same goes for the people you keep around you. So, in Goodell’s inner circle, he’s probably killing it. So, in that sense, Goodell thinks he’s killing it. Because, for what it’s worth, Goodell’s still killing it.

Shonda, this isn’t your fault. In a year in which winning equates to doing good things, this is your bracket to win. But that’s not what 2014 was all about. And for refusing to fail up, you’re out of this bracket.

Roger Goodell is in the final of Who Won 2014. Awesome.

Millions of people could tweet #FireRogerGoodell and nothing would happen. Activism can’t take down Goodell. Only proof. Evidence. And even that will have an uphill battle, as we saw when it came to footage of Ray Rice. Whether Goodell saw all the Rice footage became one the most crucial points in the case. Goodell said he did not see the second tape. But in November, a judge ruled that the Rices accurately informed him of its contents.

And that’s where we are with that. But it wasn’t a movement that almost uprooted him. It was the existence of footage and whether Goodell saw it. And while Goodell was left relatively unscathed in that Ray Rice tape melee, it was the first time in 2014 he seemed remotely rattled.

Footage, be it personal or obtained from other sources, proved repeatedly in 2014 to be the foremost way of getting the nation’s attention and rattling the power structure. Hashtags got us talking, but footage is what made us believe. Which is why it’s advancing to the final.

In this no-good year, it was footage that repeatedly rocked us to our core. But in those low moments, it also forced us to conduct a healthy self-examination to figure out how to make things better.

Seeing Solange, Jay, and Beyoncé in that elevator crumbled this naive, artificial idea of what the perfect family represented. It also made us question what right we had to jump into the life of a family — a family with issues just like every other family. Seeing Ray Rice hit his then-fiancée made us turn away in shock. It also brought domestic violence out from the confines of the home and threw it in the country’s face as a problem we all need to deal with. Hearing Donald Sterling talk comfortably and confidently about the racial composition of an arena made us shake our heads at how disrespectful an owner can be to his own team’s fans. It also made us broadly question how those in power truly feel about anyone seen as “beneath.” And watching videos of black men being killed by police officers confirmed for some that black lives didn’t matter to wide swaths of the population. It also bound much of the country together, people of all kinds chanting “black lives matter.”

Seeing and hearing these things in 2014 made it impossible to ignore some of society’s taboos. Each time, it brought on a mix of anger, shame, confusion, and sadness. But what emerged was a sense of hope. A sense that, if what we’re seeing is rock bottom, the only way to go is up.

That’s bigger than some football commissioner. Because the footage that came out in 2014 was bigger than a game. It repeatedly reminded us of how far we have to go, and also how far we’ve come. The response to the year’s revealed footage has been the silver lining, the exact momentum needed to actually believe 2015 will be a step in the right direction. And not simply more of the same. 

Filed Under: 2014 Year in Review, Adam Silver, Best of 2014, Beyonce, Canadian Hockey, chris pratt, CNN, Drake, drones, Footage, German Soccer, Hackers, hashtagtivism, Ice bucket Challenge, Iggy Azalea, Jay Z, Jennifer Lawrence, john oliver, LeBron James, Legal Weed, lupita nyong'o, Mo'Ne Davis, Protesters, Richard Sherman, Roger Goodell, Serial, shmoney dance, shonda rhimes, Taylor Swift, The McConaissance, tinder, TMZ, Uber, Venmo, vine

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Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert