Sports Illustrated announced their much ballyhooed Sportsman of the Year award during halftime of last night's Sunday Night Football game. The venue of the announcement might have given away the fact that this year's choice played in the NFL and that held true as Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning took home the award/trophy/certificate/whatever he gets for being picked as the winner.
Manning's choice as Sportsman of the Year is, let's be honest, rather uninspiring. It feels like he's getting it as some kind of lifetime achievement award because he hadn't yet received the honor, like when it was given to Derek Jeter (2009) and Brett Favre (2007).
What has Manning really accomplished in 2013? He went 0-1 in the playoffs after losing a home Divisional Round game to the Baltimore Ravens. Yes, he's on pace to break some NFL single season passing records this year, but the Broncos don't have the best record in football at the moment and are tied for the lead in their division. Aside from that he's filmed some more funny commercials and got interviewed by Ron Burgundy.
Who else could Sports Illustrated have chosen? David Ortiz is a logical choice given his team actually won a championship and he was named World Series MVP. Not to mention his role in carrying forward the Boston Strong mantra. For that matter, you could name anyone associated with the Boston Marathon for responding to the terror attack there and it would have been fitting.
If SI wanted to go the lifetime achievement route, what about Mariano Rivera, whose retirement tour was celebrated across baseball throughout 2013?
As far as on-the-field exploits go, Joe Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP and beat Manning in that playoff game head-to-head although he hasn't quite lived up to that highest paid player in the NFL status in the 2013 regular season. Serena Williams won 2 more majors in 2013 to make it 17 for her career. Miguel Cabrera won his second straight AL MVP award and almost had back-to-back Triple Crowns. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo continued to shine on the world stage in soccer. Jimmie Johnson won yet another NASCAR championship.
What about the inspirational story of Louisville's Kevin Ware, returning to action after breaking his leg in the NCAA Tournament in front of a nationwide audience?
For an off the radar selection, the Fainaru brothers' work in concussion reporting for League of Denial may have the longest lasting impact of any work in sports this year.
Another inspired choice for Sports Illustrated could have been Robbie Rogers, Jason Collins, Tom Daley and other openly gay athletes coming out this year and beginning the transformation of the sports culture.
Of course, this is part of the trouble in trying to define what a "sportsman" is exactly. Is it the person who performs best on the field? Is it the person that best exemplifies integrity in the endeavor of athletics and inspires others? Is it someone that changes sports for the better? It's hard to pinpoint exactly. Whatever the criteria are, Manning falls somewhere in between all of them. Many others had more impact both on and off the field in 2013.
It's not that Peyton Manning did anything wrong this year, it's just that an award that purposely has a bit of a mythical nature to it could have looked to a choice for Sportsman of the Year that was more meaningful.