SI’s Sportsperson of the Year, round two

American Pharoah, far right, with Victor Espinoza on board, captures the Preakness.

American Pharoah, far right, with Victor Espinoza on board, captures the Preakness.

Well, now we have the backlash to the fallout from Serena Williams being named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year.”

How dare she be picked over fan fave American Pharoah, went the fallout.

How dare anyone compare her to a horse or pick an animal over an African-American female athlete, went the backlash.

Let me try to make a nuanced argument here, not the Internet’s forte. Williams was chosen as much for what she symbolizes – African-American female athleticism in a racially troubled country – as for what she has accomplished. She was not the most successful athlete of the year. She wasn’t even the most successful tennis player of the year. Serena won 94 percent of her matches to Novak Djokovic’s 93 percent. He, however, played some 30 matches more. She quit the field after her greatest upset, at the US Open. He won Wimbledon and the US Open after his greatest upset, the French Open.

He got one column in Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” issue. She got 15 pages – and as many ads, it seems, which may be the point. It’s an American magazine, and she’s an American superstar.

But if SI is basically about American sports, no sports story galvanized America this year the way American Pharoah’s Triple Crown triumph – the first in 37 years – did. The Pharoah won his Grand Slam (Triple Crown plus the Breeders’ Cup Classic.) Serena failed to win hers. She didn’t transform her sport or electrify the country the way he did. (The Pharoah made people who never watched racing, or don’t approve of it, sit up and take notice. There are plenty of people who watch tennis who never watch women’s tennis.)

But how can an animal be a sportsman – or the more awkward, sportsperson – when he lacks the consciousness of a human being? At the end of the day, American Pharoah is a horse, of course.

Then why nominate him, knowing the fans were likely to pick him? So you can put the fans down?

Nice piece with a handsome photo of AP (five pages) in the Sportsman of the Year edition, though.