Sports Illustrated’s PR Blunder – American Pharoah doesn’t win ‘Sportsman of the Year’

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.



  1. Bethany · December 15, 2015

    I wasn’t entirely surprised when they chose Serena over Pharoah, I was, however, shocked at the way SI went on to flat out mock racing fans, in response. How classless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael J. Cox · December 15, 2015

      So many put tremendous effort to support American Pharoah. Only for the rug to be pulled out from underneath them. Shame on Sports Illustrated. We may be horse racing fans but we have a memory like an elephant.


  2. Patrice Moran · December 15, 2015

    I feel that the editors of SI were disingenuous, condescending, and manipulative in nameing the champ as one of 12 nominees for their award when they apparently had no intention of ever nameing him “sportsperson of the year”, despite the enormous public support for the horse. What was the purpose of an online poll after all if not to use AP’s horse celebrity to garner attention for the magazine. It backfired on them big time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael J. Cox · December 15, 2015

    They tried to garner attention to their magazine by seizing on the opportunity to include a popular horse like American Pharoah as one of their candidates with no real intention of ever naming him Sportsman of the Year. How do we know? American Pharoah has revolutionized a sport and accomplished a feat that none of the other candidates can come close to in their sport. He was a no-brainer pick this year. So SI, in turn, alienates many fans who overwhelming voted for him in the poll, probably bought the Belmont Triple Crown SI issue and even a framed issue from SI directly like I did. Talk about a huge marketing blunder.


  4. Patrice Moran · December 15, 2015

    The most offensive part of this SI award scenario for me is how the editor’s “played” the public and used our great american treasure, American Pharoah, to do it. Very cynical move as I don’t believe anyone made them include AP as one of their sports “People” award nominees.
    Very disrespectful to horse, the Zayats, trainer, jockey, fans. Totally classless guys over there at SI. They should stick with the bikini swimsuit babes – thats just about their speed!


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