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Serena Williams Is Named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, Some are Angry That Racehorse American Pharaoh Lost


Tennis giant Serena Williams has been named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year. The honor could not have been given to a more deserving athlete. And yet, in a seemingly underhanded compliment, how degrading is it that she had to compete with a horse to win the title?

The award marks the first time the magazine has recognized an individual female athlete since track star Mary Decker in 1983.

“This year was spectacular,” Serena Williams told Sports Illustrated. “For Sports Illustrated to recognize my hard work, dedication and sheer determination with this award gives me hope to continue on and do better. As I always say, it takes a village — not just one person. This is not just an accomplishment for me, but for my whole team and all my fans. I am beyond honored.”

As S.L. Price wrote in Sports Illustrated, the reasons why Williams won as Sportsperson of the Year are clear:

Williams, 34, won three major titles, went 53–3 and provided at least one new measure of her tyrannical three-year reign at No. 1. For six weeks this summer—and for the first time in the 40-year history of the WTA rankings—Williams amassed twice as many ranking points as the world No. 2; at one point that gap grew larger than the one between No. 2 and No. 1,000. Williams’s 21 career Grand Slam singles titles are just one short of Steffi Graf’s Open-era record. Such numbers are reason enough for Sports Illustrated to name Serena Williams its 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.

Regarded as the greatest athlete in the world, and certainly of her generation, Williams is a Black woman of many accomplishments. Throughout her career, she has captured 21 Grand Slam titles, the third most of any tennis player. In 2015, this is a woman who won the Australian Open and the French Open despite health challenges in both matches. The oldest woman to win a major singles title, Williams made a noble effort to become the first player to win a Grand Slam in 27 years, although she failed to reach that level when she lost this year’s U.S. Open to Roberta Vinci. Williams dominated the tennis world in 2015, with a 53-3 record and major three tournament victories, and still had time to appear in the film, Pixels.

Further, off the court, Serena, who has been the target of racial slurs and unfair undue criticism as a Black woman, has spoken up for causes of racial justice. In 2000, years before #BlackLivesMatter, she boycotted a tournament in Hilton Head, S.C., to protest the Confederate flag flying over the state capitol in Columbia. Moreover, she recently raised $100,000 and helped generate an additional $100,000 through publicity for the Equal Justice Initiative. The Montgomery, Alabama-based civil rights legal organization, which assists poor, mostly Black men caught up in the criminal justice system, has saved 115 men from death row.

Meanwhile, American Pharoah, the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, was the most popular choice in SI’s online poll, with 47 percent, according to USA Today. And as Athlon Sports & Life reported, some people are angry that the sports magazine chose Serena Williams over—the horse. Brian Zipse, editor at Horse Racing Nation, reflects the sentiment of those of his ilk who wanted American Pharaoh over Serena:

This reminds us of the days when Black people were regarded as chattel, as domestic animals like horses who were owned by white people and existed to make generate revenue for the master. And we are reminded far too well of Jesse Owens, the track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist who resorted to racing against horses when the checks stopped coming in.

As for Serena Williams, her accomplishments are a source of pride. As detractors have focused on her body type and physical ability while downplaying her mental acuity, or have stereotyped her as the angry Black woman, Serena has demonstrated excellence and risen above all else, and all others.

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