Thursday, December 24, 2009

12/24: COUNTERPOINT - Why JJ isn't the male athlete of the year

My article is in response to my esteemed colleague Robbie Mays' post regarding Jimmie Johnson winning AP Male Athlete of the Year.

Now for my argument
When I heard this announced I was surprised. I too shared in the amazement that the mainstream sports media was finally comfortably voting a NASCAR driver to such a high honor. It does say a lot about how much NASCAR has become a more mainstream sport than ever before, for better or worse. Jimmie Johnson's four championships in a row is a true testament to his abilities given that technological advantages are not a great as they were back when over half the field didn't even compete every week. NASCAR has done everything in its power to prevent a single driver or team from blowing away the field. Not just a few decades ago it took a simple breakthrough and there would someone go on a tear of dominance. That's not today's NASCAR, competition has been legislated and regulated. That's why Johnson's achievement is so great.

There's only one problem with this historic moment: Johnson is not the Male Athlete of the Year. Is he the Athlete of the Past Four Years? Yes, but that's not what this award is supposed to be. Johnson won the championship, but he was by no means the dominating athlete of the sport. This year NASCAR had a champion but not a dominant force. Is Johnson the most dominating athlete of the past half-decade, of course and that's the award he should win.

My AP Male Athlete of the Year
Roger Federer
In the four Grand Slams of tennis Federer won two and was runner-up in the other two. A sport like tennis does not lend itself to an overall champion like NASCAR does, but that does not mean that Federer did not dominate in a way that would have resulted in an overwhelming championship as best in his sport. I don't like tennis, but that does not mean that it isn't a sport worth the award. Believing otherwise would just mean we've become the pot vs the traditional media's kettle in the cross-cultural sports perspective.

Others that would have been acceptable: Kobe Bryant, Albert Pujols, and.... Jimmie Johnson
Kobe Bryant was again an all-star, again a champion, and again a Finals MVP. His dominance in basketball gets obscured by the hype surrounding LeBron James, but come play-off time it's Kobe who sets himself apart.
Albert Pujols hit .327 with 47 HR while leading the Cardinals to the play-offs. Is there any doubt that if not for Pujols the Cardinals would be struggling just to make the play-offs? He led a team that resembled baseball's version of the Land of Misfit Toys.
Jimmie Johnson cannot be denied high consideration, and I just wanted to make it clear that I don't discount his prominence amongst athletes today.

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