Hold your horses! Serena Williams is the worthy award winner, not American Pharoah

As Sports Illustrated face a backlash over the decision to name Serena Williams their sportsperson of the year, Ahmed Rizvi explains why the tennis star was indeed a worthy winner.

Serena Williams was named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year despite receiving just nine per cent of the public vote. Bullit Marquez / AP Photo
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What is all this brouhaha over Serena Williams winning Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year?

Over the past week, trolls have been out in force, spreading venom over Sports Illustrated’s decision to honour Williams ahead of Horse of the Year American Pharoah, the first winner of the US Triple Crown, as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in 37 years.

Of course, there were a few genuine American Pharoah fans who were offended their votes were not taken into consideration when deciding the awards and expressed their indignation, but most of the other critical posts were simply dripping of hatred.

True, Williams would have had absolutely no chance if the awards were decided on the basis of the votes on the SI website.

She managed just over 5,000 (about 0.9 per cent) of the nearly 600,000 votes cast, while American Pharoah had over 275,000.

But Sports Illustrated have explained their decision.

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They chose her not just for her “dominance in 2015”, when she won 53 of her 56 matches and came close to achieving the calendar grand slam, but also for “reasons that hang in the greyer, less comfortable ether, where issues such as race and femininity collide with the games”.

Williams is the first individual black woman to win this award since its inception in 1954, and just the third solo female winner and the first since Mary Decker in 1983.

And she certainly deserved to be named ahead of American Pharoah, according to respected British racing journalist Brough Scott.

“I don’t think there is any comparison between the two,” he told CNN.

“If that is how Americans are reacting, that is something of a wider discussion about society.

“It is about their attitudes to race and female emancipation.

“There has been an anti-Serena element because she didn’t fit the stereotype of the old-fashioned, elegant white female tennis player.

“She was big and muscular and black.”

Going through the anti-Williams comments on social media over the past week, you can vouch for Scott’s assessment.

In 1973, American thoroughbred Secretariat became the first winner of the US Triple Crown, but that year’s Formula One world champion, Jackie Stewart, was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year. Nobody complained at the time.

In fact, no horse has ever won this award, although jockey Steven Cauthen did win in 1977, and for understandable reasons.

The award is for the Best “Sportsperson”, the Sports Illustrated pool notwithstanding.

The 2003 movie Seabiscuit, based on the life and racing career of an American thoroughbred, was nominated in seven different categories at the 76th Academy Awards.

The horse, called Popcorn Deelites, who played the lead was not a nominee in any category at the Oscars or any other awards that year.

I wonder why?

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