This column is not an indictment of LeBron James, Breanna Stewart, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, or Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. It is, however, a callout of Sports Illustrated for limiting their “2020 Sportsperson of the Year: The Activist Athlete” to those who were “champions on the field, champions for others off it.”
In the eyes of SI, if you don’t win it all, you don’t deserve to be recognized for your sacrifices and humanitarian efforts for Black people.
In a year in which sports became the playing field for politics, social issues, and systemic racism, athletes fearlessly and willingly stepped up and used their voices, platforms, and money like never before.
The game was forever changed in 2020.
This year, LeBron James started “More Than a Vote,” which is determined to undermine voter suppression. James, of course, is the face of a league that went on an unprecedented strike after police shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times for no other reason than his just being Black.
Breanna Stewart, arguably the best player in the WNBA, used her white-woman privilege to be a voice all season, and her league has long been an unstoppable force in the fight for equality.
When Patrick Mahomes wanted Arrowhead Stadium to be a polling place for voters in Kansas City, he went into his wallet to get it done.
While the country was burning, as people protested in the streets and thousands died in hospitals due to COVID-19, Naomi Osaka showed up to the U.S. Open with seven masks to show people she was being safe, and to remind them of the Black people that have died due to racism or police brutality.
And as millions across the globe were succumbing to the coronavirus, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif refused to bask in his Super Bowl win. He decided to opt out of this season and used his doctorate in medicine to work as an orderly in Canada.
All of those athletes did amazing work this year and went above and beyond. And they all won some type of title in 2020. But, should winning be mandatory for Sports Illustrated when it comes to giving out its “Sportsperson of the Year” award, with so much at stake this past year?
Because, if you hadn’t noticed, the narrative of athletes needing to only focus on sports has been eradicated. By just picking five people — champions only — in the year of the activist athlete, it marginalizes the work of other athletes that should never go unnoticed.
Maya Moore, one of the WNBA’s greatest players, hasn’t worn a uniform since the end of the 2018 season, as she’s stepped away to focus on her advocacy for criminal justice reform. In July, Moore helped the wrongly convicted Jonathan Irons out of jail. Irons had been serving a 50-year sentence after he was falsely found guilty of burglary and assault in 1998. Sports Illustrated didn’t deem Moore worthy. I guess it was because she wasn’t a “champion.”
Ironically, Moore was honored as SI’s “Performer of the Year” in 2017 for her accomplishments on the court.
In a year in which kneeling became the latest trend, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are still doing the work, and being blackballed by the NFL. Remember this?
Sports Illustrated didn’t acknowledge either of the men, even though last year’s “Sportsperson of the Year” winner — Megan Rapinoe — has stated that she wouldn’t be here without Kaepernick. While Kaapernick was honored with SI’s Muhammad Ali Sports Legacy Award in 2017, it seems remiss to leave him out of an issue honoring “activist athletes.”
When WNBA star Renee Montgomery chose to forego the season and focus on racial and social justice, Kyrie Irving was giving the WNBA $1.5 million so that players — like Montgomery — who opted out wouldn’t have to worry about a paycheck during a pandemic. And when NBA players were trying to decide how they would continue their racial justice messaging, Chris Paul stood tall as President of the player’s union.
They were all ignored by Sports Illustrated because they didn’t win a “championship” in 2020.
For anybody wondering why the magazine couldn’t just name all of them, the answer is that they simply didn’t want to. In the past, SI has proven that when it comes to this award there isn’t a limit on how many people can be highlighted. Because in 2018, the award was given to an entire team, the Golden State Warriors.
But, this is Sports Illustrated we’re talking about. A publication that dared to release this cover in 2017, as if Roger Goodell isn’t the commissioner of the most corrupt league in sports.
That same year, SI gave its “Sportsperson of the Year” honor to J.J. Watt and José Altuve. A few years later, the Astros infielder would be exposed as taking part in one of the greatest cheating scandals in sports history.
Again, this column was not meant to be an indictment of LeBron James, Breanna Stewart, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, nor of the outstanding work they did in 2020.
The intention was to show you how phony Sports Illustrated is. Because, as you can see, this is a publication that only highlights the activism of athletes they deem appropriate.