In a move that surprised and outraged an entire fan base of horse racing, Sports Illustrated named tennis star Serena Williams as their 2015 Sportsperson of the Year. To put this bluntly–this is a huge Public Relations blunder for Sports Illustrated. American Pharoah was the Readers Choice in an SI online poll for the award by a considerable margin. See this article
Essentially what Sports Illustrated has said to the readers is that their opinion doesn’t matter or they are stupid when 47% voted for American Pharoah vs 1% for Serena Williams (the second lowest vote total of any of the candidates). If you are in the business of selling magazines, that isn’t smart business. Especially when Sports Illustrated has had Co-Sportsman of the Year….eight different times in the past.
But it shouldn’t be about selling magazines. American Pharoah won the first Grand Slam of horse racing–it will probably be another 50 years before that happens again– if ever. Serena Williams didn’t win a Grand Slam in tennis and has never won one in her career. American Pharoah did more for the sport of horse racing than any of the SI candidates have done for their sport.
For those who don’t think a horse shouldn’t win Sportsman of the Year, then Sports Illustrated should not mislead the public by putting American Pharoah on the ballot in the first place. But is not all about a horse but those behind him–American Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat, his trainer Bob Baffert and his jockey Victor Espinoza–have shown more sportsmanship and class than SI’s pick Serena Williams.
It had been 37 years since we had a Triple Crown Champion and there have only been 12 Triple Crown Champions in the history of a sport that predates the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, etc. And in the Super Bowl of Thoroughbred Racing–the Breeders’ Cup Classic–American Pharoah wired the field, posting the top Beyer Speed Figure of the year (120), thus becoming the first horse to win the Grand Slam of Horse Racing.
A Sports Illustrated subscription given to me as a birthday present as a young teen in the 1970s is partly what grew my interest in horse racing as I read about the Triple Crown races, Secretariat, jockey Bill Shoemaker, Seattle Slew, a teenage jockey Steve Cauthen, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, etc.
Sports Illustrated, I feel you dumped me and so many horse racing fans off at the curb on this one. I suggest that the first foal from American Pharoah be named “Effinbull” in memory of this grand snub.