Are fans right to be upset that Serena Williams beat American Pharoah for SI Sportsperson of the Year?


Sports Illustrated announced Serena Williams as its sportsperson of the year on Monday, and a lot of people seem to be upset about it.

They wanted a horse.

To be fair, American Pharoah is not just any horse. He is horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. And he won the magazine's readers' poll for the award.

Of course, a strong argument can be made for Serena as well — one that goes beyond the obvious points that the award is called the sportsperson of the year and only humans have won it since its inception in 1954.

Williams won 53 of the 56 matches she played this year, including three of the four Grand Slam events, and held the No. 1 spot in the WTA rankings every week.

Sports Illustrated's Christian Stone pointed out that the 34-year-old Williams was also recognized for career achievements, which include 21 Grand Slam titles, as well as something that goes beyond sports.

"We are honoring Serena Williams too for reasons that hang in the grayer, less comfortable ether, where issues such as race and femininity collide with the games," Stone wrote. "Race was used as a cudgel against Williams at Indian Wells in 2001, and she returned the blow with a 14-year self-exile from the tournament. She returned to Indian Wells in ’15, a conciliator seeking to raise the level of discourse about hard questions, the hardest ones, really."

SI states that the sportsperson of the year award goes to "the athlete or team whose performance that year embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement." That puts American Pharoah at a clear disadvantage since horses can't really display sportsmanship.

But he did treat sports fans to something many of them hadn't seen in their lifetimes -- the Triple Crown. Meanwhile Williams came up short in winning what could be considered her sport's equivalent, the calendar-year Grand Slam.


Sportsperson of the Year debate draws its own backlash