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Serena Williams Is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, Racehorse Fans Cry Neigh

Ah, there's that pesky 'agenda' again.

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Serena Williams is Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsperson of the Year, the first solo woman to win this title since 1983. 2015 has been an amazing year for Williams; not only did she win three major titles and “built the most yawning ranking points gap between her and her closest competitor in tennis history,” she did so under huge physical restraints: bone bruises, sickness, and an elbow strain among them. Casual racism and sexism also didn’t make things much better (the SI article cites several moments where Williams at 19 would hear the n-word thrown at her, with no one at Indian Wells saying a word).

Williams was also making huge steps as an activist this year. Her cover and editorial in WIRED covered her work in African schools, black girls in tech, and a rousing call for action. “Keep it up,” she writes. “Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too.” Her athletic prowess, as well as her work for equality, were all factors in SI’s decision, Christian Stone states.

But we are honoring Serena Williams too for reasons that hang in the grayer, less comfortable ether, where issues such as race and femininity collide with the games. Race was used as a cudgel against Williams at Indian Wells in 2001, and she returned the blow with a 14-year self-exile from the tournament. She returned to Indian Wells in ’15, a conciliator seeking to raise the level of discourse about hard questions, the hardest ones, really. Williams, S.L. Price writes in his cover story in the Dec. 21 issue, “proffered an open hand. Far past the time that anyone expected it, she demonstrated a capacity for change—innovation if you will. She’s groping for answers and realizing she has much to learn.


Carli Lloyd, Stephen Curry, Novak Djokovic, and American Pharaoh, the horse who won the Triple Crown and Grand Slam, were among other names in the discussion. Some readers were upset when American Pharoah, who won the readers’ Sportsman award through a poll, didn’t received the magazine’s title. This article on Horse Racing Nation criticized the decision, which they called a denial of horse racing on the part of mainstream media, commenting “Sports Illustrated, your agenda is showing.”

Ah, there’s that pesky agenda again. SI’s horrid agenda of honoring a black woman with a long and iconic career for athletic achievements and work outside of sports. Silly silly decision. LA Times ran an article/poll titled “Are fans right to be upset that Serena Williams beat American Pharaoh for SI Sportsperson of the Year,” which, thankfully, was full of readers who overwhelmingly agreed that Serena Williams is the more deserving winner.

Sorry if I’m not very sympathetic towards the people arguing that a horse has more sportsman merits than freaking Serena Williams, but honestly? Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it. I promise you, the stakes are not that high, and American Pharaoh will be just fine. Send him some hay and carrots if you’re really gutted about it, but don’t dismiss Serena Williams’ achievements and the good she’s done because positive representation and acknowledgement is important here and, in my opinion, long overdue.

Sports Illustrated stood behind their decision, S. L. Price commenting:

For those who think that’s hardly enough to justify an award that for 60 years has emphasized an athlete’s “manner,” consider the fact that profanity never disqualified a male candidate (cough, Tiger Woods), that microphone technology has improved greatly over the decades and that the only safe pick might be a champion like American Pharoah (page 144), who may well be cursing in a language you don’t know.

Now that that’s out of the way, how amazing is that cover? Congratulations on the title Serena!

(via LA Times)

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