12/18/2015 12:18PM

Simon: American Pharoah was obvious choice for SI Sportsman of the Year

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Barbara D. Livingston
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was the clear winner in an online poll for Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, but tennis player Serena Williams was chosen as the winner by the magazine's editors instead.

It was the year of American Pharoah. Anyone even casually knowledgeable about racing will look back at 2015 as the year racing shed decades of frustration for a number of moments of exultation through the racing talents of American Pharoah. He made an indelible imprint not only in racing, but he also crossed over to high name recognition with the mainstream public, with the television ratings for the races in which he competed reaching unprecedented heights compared to previous years.

So, clearly American Pharoah was worthy of such a title as sports figure of the year, sports individual of the year, sports newsmaker of the year, or any other such title. He was part of the American sporting conscience. Well, not so fast, said Sports Illustrated.

That venerable magazine has been naming a Sportsman of the Year since 1954, and it failed to give the award to American Pharoah this past week despite overwhelming support from fans. Before announcing the winner, Sports Illustrated conducted an online poll with 12 finalists, and American Pharoah was voted the clear winner, no mean feat for a sport that has struggled to gain a foothold with the general public and indicative of how transcendent of a sporting figure American Pharoah became in America. Sports Illustrated instead last Monday announced that tennis player Serena Williams was its Sportsperson of the Year, even though she was 11th in the vote of fans.

Shunning a horse is nothing new for Sports Illustrated. In 1973, Secretariat, who made the cover of both Time and Newsweek the year he won the Triple Crown, was not Sportsman of the Year, the magazine editors instead choosing auto-racing driver Jackie Stewart. In 1977, Seattle Slew did not win, but give SI some credit for picking apprentice jockey sensation Steve Cauthen as its Sportsman of the Year. In 1978, Affirmed lost out to golfer Jack Nicklaus.

The selection of Williams over American Pharoah outraged many racing and non-racing fans, and Sports Illustrated received a lot of backlash in social media.

So, what happened? How was American Pharoah not honored by the magazine?

Here were the 12 candidates whom Sports Illustrated considered, with some observations on each of their creditworthiness.

Simone Biles. Who?

Usain Bolt. His name must have been mistakenly left on the list from four years ago.

Steph Curry. Okay, he’s a legit candidate.

Thomas Davis. Any football player not named Tom Brady is ineligible. And I’ve never heard of Thomas Davis.

Novak Djokovic. His name is too hard to spell.

Carli Lloyd. I love women’s soccer, but not even I would vote for her over American Pharoah.

Lionel Messi. Really?

American Pharoah. This list is presented as Sports Illustrated presented it, so what’s odd here? That he was put between Messi and mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey. Clearly, this is an alphabetical list, according to SI’s editors, and his last name is Pharoah. We wish we had known that months ago so we didn’t have to fill up most of the headlines in Daily Racing Form with his real name. Now we learn we could have gotten by with Pharoah, like we do with Pletcher, Baffert, Castellano, and others. Perhaps the Sports Illustrated editors thought that if they put his name first on the list, where it belonged, he might have gotten too many votes – wait a second, he did anyway.

Ronda Rousey. This might be my selection just so she wouldn’t beat me up for not voting for her.

Kansas City Royals. They accomplished the near impossible for a small-city team, but it is Kansas City.

Jordan Spieth. Does anyone play golf anymore? I thought they were building 9-hole courses now to get people interested again.

Serena Williams. She failed to win the grand slam when heavily favored in the last leg.

So, exactly how was the decision made to make Williams Sportsperson of the Year over American Pharoah? We think this is how the discussion took place around the editors’ table.

“Forget the fans and readers,” said one editor. “What do they know anyway? We need to sell some magazines off the newsstand because ESPN the Magazine is eating our lunch. What’s the best cover we can publish to get people to pick this thing up? What kind of cover would American Pharoah, Steph Curry, and the Kansas City Royals make?”

“Well,” answered another editor, “we could get the entire Royals team to wear nothing but jockstraps while taking a team picture, but the players have scattered to all corners of the country already, and it would be too hard to get them all back together again so fast. And Kansas City doesn’t sell. They aren’t the New York Yankees.”

“Okay, what about Steph Curry?”

“He’s a possibility, but he won’t sell many magazines either. He plays on the West Coast, and no one watches those games. No one saw him play till the NBA finals.”

“All right, what about American Pharoah?”

“We contacted his connections, and they say he has too much dignity to sprawl on some bales of straw in the breeding shed as if he’s waiting for some mares. The best we could do is a close-up of him in his paddock eating a carrot.”

“None of those sound like newsstand winners. What are our other choices?”

“Well, what about Serena Williams?”

“What about her? You mean the person who was next to last in the voting?”

“Yeah, but maybe we can get her to pose provocatively on a gold throne, wearing a black lace top and black nylons, her legs stretched over the arms of the chair and having a come-hither look. I think our readers would like that. We need something between now and February, when the swimsuit issue comes out.”

“Great idea. She’s the winner if she’ll do that.”

Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
I just got done watching ESPN's Top Plays of the Year. Not one video or mention of American Pharaoh. This was disgusting. Top Play of the Year went to Butler of the Patriots for the interception that won the Patriots the Super Bowl. Not one mention or highlight for this horse... that's disgusting that ESPN is that ignorant. Sports and the Internet coverage of them are really just a game where one media entity (like Yahoo Sports) tries to find more "eyeballs" than the other media entity. There is an absence of real news and our country is "dumbed down" as a result. This is just one example. Serena should've smoke that Italian filly and she choked in her own country on the biggest stage (in NY). A.P. had a much better year than she did.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Interest in Horseracing like professional boxing died a long time ago.Meanwhile the NFL,NBA,,MMA, have excelled in grabbing the interest of the 20 something male.Their preferred gambling is Poker,also much more popular in the last 2 decades.One thing that killed racing is ADW.How do you get someone excited about racing when you take them to the races and the stands are empty?RIP
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
It's the age of the Black Man...
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
that's funny.
RMallsports More than 1 year ago
SI decided since they had never given Williams the award before, they should now. It was more about 'Lifetime Achievement' than it was her 2015 season.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Yeah, that sounds about right.
Keith Murphy More than 1 year ago
Has anyone bothered to ask SI if the award is restricted to humans? It is named "Sportsperson of the year". Maybe if it was re-titled to "SI Athlete of the year", we could really bawl them out, but as it is ... Ah.
David Pearson More than 1 year ago
AP couldn't hold a jockstrap, compared to the triple crown winners of the 70's...!!!! The only race of the year where he was pressed, the Travers, he gets beat by a horse with ONE win lifetime...!!!! I'm tired about hearing how great he was... Went box to wire in a slow pace in the Belmont and Breeders Cup, And won on a speed favoring track in the Preakness beating the front runner that had NO chance... And oh yeah in the Derby as in Kentucky Derby, how often have you seen all THREE horses run 1,2,3 all the way around the track and finish as the top THREE..??? NEVER...!!! He was anything but Sportsman of the year...!!!
Frank More than 1 year ago
amen David -- finally someone with enough sense to see through this non-sense.... Horse racing wanted a TC winner and this horse was the chosen one.
saratogajunkie More than 1 year ago
The horses of the 70s were great...some of them. I might remind you that the great Secretariat also lost at Saratoga to a nobody ( Onion), not to mention derby fields were half the size as some today. You and Frank should go hang out together under the same bridge.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
"Ten 4" to that Saratogajunkie; they know nothing about how difficult it is to get a horse to win 8 Grade I races on 8 different tracks.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Your comments show just how ignorant you are. do a little research and you will see the other triple crown had their weaknesses too. The best of them arguably was SECRETARIAT and he got beaten more than once and in some small fields of dubious quality. as a matter of fact the previous triple crown winners faced small fields. and SEATTLE SLEW was considered a very weak triple crown winner and the lost is first race against older horses. Only later did he prove people wrong . so to knock a horse who was a very good 2yo then without a doubt the top 3 yo in a long time. winning all but one race and beating the older horses in the country's richest race to knock a horse like that is just ignorant. go do some research before you comment on stuff you know nothing about.
David Pearson More than 1 year ago
Same
Bryan Waters More than 1 year ago
Let's give Usain Bolt an Eclipse Award. C'mon. He runs FASTER than any other human being. He runs faster, comparatively, than any horse in 2015. So let's award his accomplishment with an Eclipse Award. It doesn't matter that he's a human being, right?
Bryan Waters More than 1 year ago
When Serena Williams wins an Eclipse Award that would go to a horse, American Pharoah should win Sportsperson of the Year from Sports Illustrated. If you think a horse deserves to win an award designed for a human being, then you are as dumb as the wood that makes up a quarter pole at a racetrack.
ed More than 1 year ago
After seeing Serena"s cover picture, I would have rather seen AP in horse pants. Serena was a worthy choice, but they sure cheapened the award. If Secretariat didn't get the award, why would you think AP would? Secretariat's Belmont was the greatest sports accomplishment I ever saw.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Lets get serious . How does a sport that allows drugs and cheating to be an integral part of it expect to be taken seriously by any sports publication?. How can any participant not be tainted by all the rot in this sport. Yes American Pharoah achieved a lot by winning the triple crown and the breeders cup. But to the outside world it was achieved in a sport were corruption is rampant so how legitimate are any results. If this sport wants to be taken seriously it needs to address the integrity issues it has. Or it will go the way of boxing.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
This is one of the worst post I've seen on here in some time. First off Ray, I guarantee that EVERY single athlete on this list, including Serena took more drugs this past year than American Pharoah. I've read time and time again from you about the drug problem in horse racing and the "cheating" in horse racing. We all get it......you lose at the races. Have you ever considered changing how you look at the sport and/or handicap it. If you keep doing the same thing over again and expect a different result....well, that's called being crazy. So, please stop. Please. Because I do believe you are a true horse racing fan, I am begging you to just take a deep breath and start dealing with the World how it is....and not how you want it to be. I recommend you start betting faster horses. Have you considered that there are some...in fact several who actually show a profit betting the horses. The same races, by the way, that you bet. Stop thinking folks are cheating and just start betting faster horses that are going off at HIGHER ODDS than their chanced of winning. It's just that simple. Stop whining please. All sports use medications. All athletes use medications. Please lighten up. I truly wish you a happy new year. Can you please make a new year's resolution and stop being so negative. Handicap better. I'd recommend for you to stop betting the favorite so much. Even if there is some "cheating" in all sports. That is reality. So what? If you are living in this reality and you want to play the game.....handicap BETTER. We all know the favorite only wins about 30%, because it's horse racing. If you bet that horse all the time, you will LOSE money. I"m not saying you can't ever bet a favorite. But, stop whining about what "cheating" you think is going on and handicap better. Every race you bet, just bet a horse paying better than his chance of winning....and I promise you'll start showing a profit and enjoy the sport more. Stop looking so much at the past and figure out what COULD happen TODAY. Truth is horse racing will last way past you and my lifetime. It has and it will. The public loves horse racing. Athletes use medication. Please get over it.
Frank More than 1 year ago
"Athletes use medication. Please get over it." What a stupid thing to say. Yea and a horse has the right to decide like a human does. You are a total idiot Frank Reach....
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I think you have me all wrong I'm actually one of very few people modesty apart who do not loose their shirt betting .i do quite well thank you. And that is exactly why I fight for integrity in the sport. Because I know for a fact that when races are clean I have a very good chance I also have been doing this long enough to recogdnise periods when there are serious problems .like now. Those that know me will find your characterization of me as funny since my speciality is finding and betting long shots. And they would tell you very few people do it better than me. But that is not the point. I can understand non serious fans and numbers gamblers not caring about ethics or the well being of the horses ,you don't know any better. I get it. But I do care about the sport as a whole the animals and the honest people who have no shot against those that don't play by the rules. I want horse racing to thrive and to be the best it can be. Most serious handicappers want a fair shot and care about the true stars of the game the horses. American Pharoah is more than just a number on a betting slip he is a living piece of art crafted by numerous breeders who put a lot of time effort and fortune into his genetic makeup over many decades.i could site for you every horse in his pedigree going back 4 generations. I saw his sire Pioneer of the Nile and his grand sire Empire Maker run. I had the exacta when Funny Cide beat Empire Maker. I also saw others in his pedigree run like Tossaud, Unbridled, Yankee Gentleman. I follow racing a lot closer than most and I know what I'm talking about. I'm also not naive I understand athletes use drugs and I know that testing is often ineffective but that is exactly why when caught there has to be a zero tolerance policy. Otherwise there is no truth in the results .how can we call an athlete great if he is aided by something illegal.it is fundamentally unfair to those that play by the rules and distorts the record books.
Frank More than 1 year ago
I agree completely with you Ray and unlike Frank Reach think this is one of the best posts I've seen here in some time. The sport is way to corrupt and is rotting more since its great decline. Most of the people sicken me in this sport. Its also funny to hear one liberal media call out another about conspiring to promote a hidden message since their message (horse racing's) was squashed -- what a joke every liberal news media today does this including DRF - today: 5% of news is fact; 95% is BS to entertain us...