Of Sportspersons and Horses

Sports Illustrated announced its Sportsperson of the Year on Monday, and it selected Angela Merkel. Wait, wrong pointless year-end honor! The editorial team actually selected tennis great Serena Williams. Very fitting, as she destroyed all sorts of competition on her way to winning three of the year’s four major titles. My money was on JaVale McGee, as it has been for the last six years, but that’s beside the point.

As Deadspin points out, however, there was also a fan vote. And in that fan vote, the definition of “person” was stretched beyond its limits to include Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who ended up winning the poll. Yes, horse lovers felt that winning three races propelled the three-year-old outside of the realms of horsey-dom and into humanity. It’s not the first time science has failed to dissuade people from holding incorrect opinions on the Internet, but it’s rare for this to spill over into the sports world, and boy, am I glad of that. The fact that there is an overlap between horse racing enthusiasts, racists, and Twitter users is the reason I had to go clean my eyes out a few minutes ago.

It would have been unsurprising, as a last grasp at relevance, for Sports Illustrated to have assigned personhood to a horse. It would have received more press, and maybe would have led me to buy the issue, doubling the print sales. But I agree with the magazine’s choice. Being Sportsperson of the Year is about more than just winning things. The gritty human element of sports is part of the appeal, and that’s just missing when you try to pretend a horse is a person.

Photo: TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images


Raynell Cooper is a writer who is currently deflecting the ire of horse racing fans. You should follow him on Twitter.