Next week we willannounce Sports Illustrated's 2006 Sportsman of the Year. It is always adifficult choice; that is why, for the third consecutive year, SI writers havecontributed a series of essays on who they think deserves the magazine'shighest honor. The always provocative Frank Deford, for example, wrote aboutBarbaro's owners and trainer, while Phil Taylor argued for the BALCOreporters.
Nearly 50 MySportsman essays will appear on SI.com. There are, or will be, tributes tothose who have fallen (John Garrity on the 94-year-old baseball"ambassador" Buck O'Neil, and Mark Beech on the 28-year-old Armywomen's basketball coach Maggie Dixon), as well as an array of unpredictablechoices (Tom Verducci on Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ian Thomsen onMavericks owner Mark Cuban and Peter King on Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard).Other writers stuck with pure sports heroes (Michael Farber on Suns All-Starguard Steve Nash).
Grant Wahl'sargument for the head-butting Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane, as 2006's Sportsmanused Time magazine's classic definition for its Man of the Year--the figurewho, "for better or for worse, most affected events during theyear"--and Wahl's choice has generated the most feedback from readers thusfar. (They tend to dislike the idea.) He was, in fact, nominating "acultural phenomenon for the YouTube age, a strange mix of finger-waggingindignation and Three Stooges farce." Wahl notes that "by the next day,as media around the globe were enlisting professional lip-readers to divinewhat was said, a Zidane head-butt game had already appeared on theInternet."
Garrity's essayon O'Neil and Michael Silver's on Colts coach Tony Dungy have also drawnsubstantial response, with many readers praising those choices as consistentwith the SI definition of its Sportsmen: "The victory may have been theirs,but it is not for the victory alone that they are honored. Rather, it is forthe quality of their effort and the manner of their striving." Theoutpouring for O'Neil, the Negro leagues star and the major leagues' firstAfrican-American coach, has been eye-opening, especially coming a few monthsafter he was denied admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Roger Bannisterwas SI's first Sportsman, in 1954, for running the first sub-four-minute mile.When asked what it took, he replied with original directness, "It's theability to take more out of yourself than you've got."
Read all of theessays at SI.com/sportsman--and let us know who you think deserves to win thisyear.
SI writers and readers are making their case at SI.com's Sportsmansection.
NEGRO LEAGUES BASEBALL MUSEUM/AP (O'NEIL)
BELOVED O'Neil has strong reader support.