We are on the brink of our last full college football Saturday slate before bowl season. So, it’s apropos that Deion Sanders’ overhype earned him Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year. After announcing Sanders as the recipient of the honor, Sports Illustrated is dodging tomatoes from the Internet gallery the same way Sanders sidestepped tacklers on his way to the end zone in the 1990s. The jury is still out on his long-term success at Colorado, but it’s not looking good on the recruiting trail.
Twenty years after hanging up his cleats, Sanders intercepted another reward intended for a receiver. Travis Kelce should have run away with Sportsperson of the Year, but I get the reasoning behind Sanders.
Typically, SI’s Sportsperson of the Year winners have been champions like Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and regrettably Lance Armstrong, but they’ve taken unorthodox swings before. In 2020, they chose Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif after he sat out the 2020 season to serve as a physician during the deadliest COVID-19 epidemic. In 2017, it was J.J. Watt. By then, Watt was well past his prime, but his philanthropic efforts earned him recognition after he raised more than $37 million for Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Brett Favre earned it after his retirement in 2007. That one aged like an avocado. Dean Smith earned a lifetime achievement Sportsperson award on the verge of his retirement.
As I said back in September, Sanders is one of the endgames of unbridled capitalism proliferating throughout college football, where coaches are marquee stars, not the rotating cast of recruits. Sanders’ influence this year was analogous to Johnny Manziel circa 2013, without the Heisman. Sanders became a metonym for the professionalism of college sports. His introductory meeting with college football in which he walked in and told them he was moving in his Gucci bags through the transfer portal, which all but told them to get to steppin’, exposed the dog-eat world of college football to fans who are incapable of surrendering their outdated notions of amateurism.
The case for Travis Kelce. Or Angel Reese
However, Kelce fit all the criteria. A reigning Super Bowl champion who has more of a personality than Patrick Mahomes. Hosted SNL. Then shot his shot with Taylor Swift and somehow pulled it off, proving the old age, closed mouths don’t get fed, is advice to live by.
Nobody has had quite a year as stellar all-around as Kelce’s. The only thing that would have topped it off would have been advocating for higher record salaries for the tight-end market. He was the leading receiver in the Super Bowl, a regular off-field target of Aaron Rodgers, his podcast is on fire, he faced his brother in the Super Bowl, his mom is an overnight celebrity and he’s still continuing to knock it out the park as Mahomes’ only elite target. Sanders became the face of an entire sport this year, for better or worse. Eventually, he wore out his welcome, but that’s the price of overexposure and overinflating expectations.
SI’s official nominees included Steph Curry, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Rafael Nadal and Armand Duplatis. But if we are really keeping with the times, there were a bevy of superior options for SI’s prestigious Sportsperson honor.
Angel Reese would have made another worthwhile honoree considering her role as the embodiment of the new opportunities NIL’s implementation has granted college athletes and as the most recognizable face in women’s hoops this year. Reese rose from relative obscurity after transferring from Maryland, upset Caitlin Clark’s coronation and then spent the offseason raking in endorsements and receiving apologies from the First Lady. Her season may have had a funky start to it because of her own coach, but she hit all the right notes during the season and after. The Bayou Barbie struck more deals than any college hoops or WNBA star.
If there’s one theme that SI’s management has embraced lately, it’s the commitment to an integration between artificial intelligence and sports. No athlete embodies that more than Seese, a 2K player so singular, who like Pele or Carmelo, is referred to by just one name. Jeremy Seese is a living, breathing person behind the controls, but his NBA 2K avatar is who would don the cover.
While the Golden State Warriors might be on the verge of getting washed out of the title contention rankings, their NBA 2K Gaming Squad is crushing it. I can already see the headline now: Step Aside Steph, It’s Seese’s Time. In August, Seese led Warriors Gaming to their first league championship and clinched the NBA 2K League’s Defensive Player of the Year. During the 2022 cycle, Seese was a key cog for the Bucks Gaming NBA 2K League 5v5 Championship, and became the first player in NBA 2K League history to win back-to-back championships with two different teams. SI loves winners and wouldn’t It would be refreshing to see a humble, auto-generated avatar on the pages of Sports Illustrated?
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