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Was it ‘bull junk’ naming Deion Sanders Sportsperson of the Year despite 4-8 record? SI says no

Colorado coach Deion Sanders extends his hand to players during a football game
Coach Deion Sanders, who led Colorado to a 4-8 record in his first season, has been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.
(C. Morgan Engel / For The Times)
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Deion Sanders has been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year — and some people think that’s bull junk (to use one of Coach Prime’s signature phrases).

Stephen Curry received the honor last year after leading the Golden State Warriors to the NBA title for the fourth time.

Tom Brady got the nod in 2021 after his seventh Super Bowl victory.

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Megan Rapinoe was the 2019 honoree after leading the U.S. women to World Cup gold a second time.

Sanders, who was announced as the latest recipient of the iconic award Thursday, led Colorado to a 4-8 record in his first season in charge. That has led some on social media to criticize Sports Illustrated for bestowing such an honor on Sanders.

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Stephen Cannella, the magazine’s editor in chief, told The Times in an email Thursday that he stands by the decision made by SI’s editorial leadership after “an ongoing conversation throughout the year, with the staff nominating and debating candidates.”

“Deion is our Sportsperson because when we looked back at the sports year, it was clear that he dominated the conversation as a transformative figure not just in Colorado but for all of college sports,” Cannella said.

“He reinvigorated the Colorado program on the field, he tapped into the growth of the transfer portal and NIL as a recruiting and brand building tool — in a lot of ways he’s the model for the modern college coach. Add in the impact he’s had on the program’s culture, on the Colorado campus and on the Boulder community, and he was an easy choice as Sportsperson.”

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If 2023 had ended roughly two months ago, it’s unlikely anyone would have questioned the selection.

A year after finishing at 1-11, the Buffaloes got off to an electric 3-0 start, beating Texas Christian, Nebraska and Colorado State. They were 4-2 after beating Arizona State on Oct. 7. It turned out to be Colorado’s lone Pac-12 Conference victory.

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The bottom fell out after that win, with Coach Prime and company losing their final six games and finishing 1-8 in conference play. Through it all, Cannella told The Times, Sanders remained the clear pick for Sportsperson of the Year.

“There wasn’t much discussion about changing the pick as Colorado’s season went on,” Cannella said. “We of course were impressed by the Buffs’ performance early in the season — the entire country was. But our choice and the story we’re telling about Deion is about more than wins and losses. The reasons that he’s our pick hold regardless of their final record.”

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