Deion Sanders and Sports Illustrated (SI) have been the subject of much public discourse over the past week. SI has been on the hot seat for allegedly using AI to write and publish stories under phony names and most recently named Sanders its Sportsman Of The Year which touched off another outbreak of criticism.
Sports Illustrated has annually presented the Sportsman of the Year award to “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” So the question is whether Sanders season meets that criteria beyond any athlete or team in sports this year.
Some pundits hilariously criticized Sander’s choice by insinuating that the selection was made by AI who was not in possession of real time information. Sanders Colorado Buffalos team has a record of 4-8 and has not won a game since October 10th, losing its last 6 games.
The naysayers say that awarding Sportsman of the Year to someone who has the worst defensive team in the country and last in the Pac-12 conference should not be the recipient of this award reserved for champions the likes of Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King, true champions of their sport.
Those who support Sanders winning the award point to his unprecedented positive impact he has had on the University of Colorado football program and the tremendous economic impact enjoyed by the city of Boulder as a result of Sander’s charismatic approach to coaching and his early season success.
I had previously written that Sanders deserved a $100 million contract as a result of his early season success (he had only lost 2 games at the time I wrote the article). I focused on the “Coach Prime effect” that had literally taken the nation by storm. Everything was up astronomically: TV ratings, ticket and merchandise sales; and tourism to the city of Boulder. Last but not least, contributions to both the Colorado University athletic program and university itself had risen significantly. I also noted how graciously and effectively Sanders had handled defeat. He is a master communicator and instinctive marketer. However, when you lose 6 in a row even a spinmeister like Sanders runs out of steam.
So the question is does Sanders deserve this award based upon SI’s criteria for the award? I would say yes when it comes to “sportsmanship” because Sanders has definitely shown he can be a gracious loser, but even gracious losing wears thin after 6 losses in a row. However, Sanders simply cannot compete with many others when it comes to “achievement”. His 4-8 record simply sinks him when it comes to achievement portion of the equation.
Here are just a few athletes that were probably more deserving of the award that looks to reward excellence in both sportsmanship AND achievement:
- Patrick Mahomes: won the Super Bowl, enjoys numerous high profile marketing deals and is highly active in charitable activities and known as a great sportsman.
- Aaron Judge: broke Roger Maris’ long standing Major League Baseball home run record and is the creator of the All Rise Foundation, a charitable organization to inspire youth. He is a great sport as well.
- Aja Wilson: is back to back and reigning WNBA Champion and MVP of the WNBA Finals. She is also known for her charitable giving and good sportsmanship.
I love Deion Sanders. And if this honor was awarded towards the beginning of the season, his selection could be defensible. However, if we are looking at the entirety of 2023 there are far more deserving candidates and it looks like SI used AI to identify the award recipient with a research cut off date of Oct 1, 2023.