I have been known to break promises before, so when I said my last column on American Pharoah would be my last on the Triple Crown winner you didn’t really believe me, did you? I had actually intended to keep that promise until the recent announcement that the colt is among the 12 finalists for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award.
First off, there are several women among the finalists, so they obviously are not limiting the award to “men,” as in sportsmen. And by including a Thoroughbred racehorse, they acknowledge that one can be construed as a sportsman. So let’s get that potential little obstacle out of the way.
Sports Illustrated first announces the results of a readers’ poll before the official announcement the following day, as selected by the publication's editors. At last count, American Pharoah is a close second behind the World Series champs Kansas City Royals, which certainly isn’t “a” man or “an” athlete. This is not a sports team of the year award, so is every member of the Royals worthy of this award? Are you going to consolidate and alter its very essence and include the players on the team who batted .112 and hit one home run or a pitcher with an ERA of 8?
I have faith in the SI editors that they will not cop out and select a team as best sportsman. Let’s be honest, it cheapens the award and the entire concept of the what a sportsman is, which, according to Dictionary.com is an athlete “who exhibits qualities especially esteemed in those who engage in sports, as fairness, courtesy, good temper, etc.”
Who has been more esteemed by so many? Who has demonstrated more fairness? Who has been more courteous and has exhibited more good temper toward his or her fans than American Pharoah? In short, who has exhibited the qualities American Pharoah has over the course of the entire year? This actually is a no brainer. The placing of the Royals at No. 1 no doubt is a knee-jerk reaction by the fans and based on a small fraction of the baseball season. How many times during the regular season did you see the Royals mentioned? It was all about the Mets, Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs, and even the Dodgers with Greinke and Kershaw.
Let’s look at the most recent results of the fans’ poll. The Royals currently have 42% of the votes, followed by American Pharoah at 34%, and then a huge gap to soccer’s Carli Lloyd at 4%. So if you really give it some thought and eliminate the team concept from this award, then American Pharoah is by far the most logical winner.
As for one on one matchups, would you rather watch the speed, grace, and power of American Pharoah as he strides out majestically down the stretch or watch Steph Curry take one of his 20 jump shots a game? Yes, he is an exceptional shooter, but the Warriors still had to struggle to win the championship against a depleted Cavaliers’ team that had lost almost all their starters and had to resort to third and fourth stringers.
Try getting Usain Bolt to go a mile and a half. His races are over in less than 10 seconds. Would you rather pet and hug American Pharoah and have your photo taken with him in a tender, unforgettable moment or watch Rhonda Rousey smash an inferior opponent to the ground in 15 seconds?
Let’s be honest, Panthers’ linebacker Thomas Davis and gymnast Simone Biles, and even soccer player Lionel Messi, in all due respect to their talents, have no shot, as most people have never even heard of them. Tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are same old, same old every year and voting for them requires no creativity, Djokovic had an outstanding year, but he did he didn't change the face of his sport the way American Pharoah did. While American Pharoah became the first ever winner of racing’s newly titled Grand Slam, sweeping the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic, Williams’ bid for a Grand Slam in 2015 was ended by someone named Roberta Vinci, in what many consider the greatest tennis upset of all time.
Carli Lloyd and Jordan Speith made great impacts on the world of sport, but Lloyd was part of a World Cup championship team that included other heroes, and Speith, I believe, should be No. 2 (individually) behind American Pharoah, but it usually takes a Tiger Woods for a golfer to get the award. Golfers just do not have the emotional impact on the public that American Pharoah had. Just compare the applause that greeted Speith after his victory in the Masters to the pandemonium that greeted American Pharoah following the Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational, and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
You never find horses on the cover of Sports Illustrated anymore, but who can forget that remarkable cover photo of American Pharoah crossing the finish line in the Belmont, providing the backdrop to a frenzy of wildly flailing arms, many capturing the moment on their phones. There was no single greater, more emotion-packed moment in sports this year. The women’s soccer team created a major buzz that resulted in a ticker tape parade down New York City’s canyon of champions, but again we’re talking team concept. No individual equaled the emotional impact of American Pharoah.
Sports Illustrated’s editors deemed American Pharoah worthy of inclusion on their top 12 finalists list. They opened the door to this historical and emotional phenomenon. There’s no turning back now.