Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Serena vs. Carli: Sportswoman of the Year

Sports Illustrated has selected Serena Williams as its Sportsperson of the Year.

This was no mere "lifetime achievement award," although her career merits that. This year, she came within a lost Semifinal of winning tennis' grand slam: She won the Australian Open in Melbourne, the French Open in Paris, and then Wimbledon in London, before running out of gas at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadow.

Certainly, a great achievement. Who else should have been considered?

* It wasn't an Olympic year.

* Boxing remains a muddled mess.

* American Pharoah became the 1st horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years, but no animal has ever won the honor -- not Secretariat in 1973, not Seattle Slew in 1977, not Affirmed in 1978. Affirmed's jockey, Steve Cauthen, won it -- in 1977, before he won the Triple Crown aboard Affirmed. But can you even remember the name of the jockey who rode American Pharoah? I hate to admit it, but, just 6 months after this epochal achievement, I had to look it up: Victor Espinoza.

* No baseball figure stood out.

* The leading football figure is Tom Brady, and he's a cheater.

* The leading hockey figure is Patrick Kane, and while the legal case against him fell apart, there's still a cloud over him.

* They could have chosen Lionel Messi. But while the U.S. team that won the Women's World Cup was collectively chosen for 1999, no individual soccer player has ever been chosen, not even .

* There is Stephen Curry in basketball. The Golden State Warriors defeated LeBron James and The Other Guys to win their 1st NBA Championship in 40 years, and they followed that up by winning their 1st 24 games of this new season.

So it's between Serena and Steph. And SI went with a woman.

But there's another woman they could have chosen. And I'm not just saying this because she's a fellow New Jerseyan, or a Rutgers graduate.
Carli Lloyd led the U.S. to win the Women's World Cup this past early summer. She won the Golden Ball as the tournament's most valuable player. She scored 3 goals in the Final to beat Japan. To put that in perspective: The women's edition of the World Cup has been around since 1991, and the men's edition since 1930, and only once before had anyone scored a hat trick in the Final: Geoff Hurst of England in 1966. And the 3rd goal be like, "Nice pass, Carli, hey, that's not a pass! Holy shit! What a goal!"

No, Carli isn't as image-conscious as Serena. She doesn't go out of her way to show us how fit or sexy she is. Serena does, but, except for Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, none of the '15 USWNT players do that. There's no Brandi Chastain, "Hey, I ran my ass off for this body, I'm proud of it" on this team.

But what Carli did was stunning. Remember, it had only happened once before. And while Serena seemingly wins at least 1 tennis major every year, the World Cup happens only once every 4 years. If the U.S. team had lost, as they did in 2003, 2007 and 2011, they would have had to start all over again with the qualifying campaign for 2019. Just typing the number looks strange. I grew up in the 1970s, when 1990 seemed like "the future," and here I am, typing 2019. (Assuming no tragedy or crime gets in the way, I'll be 50 at the end of the year.)

Serena Williams will have the chance to go for the Grand Slam again in 2016. Who knows, she may even get it. Had Carli Lloyd's achievement happened last year, or next year, Serena would have been an easy choice, ahead of Steph Curry and Victor Espinoza and everybody else.

But Carli Lloyd did something even more remarkable, making the most of the best chance she was ever going to get. Something that legendary soccer players like Ferenc Puskas, Johan Cruijff, Socrates, Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Steven Gerrard and, thus far, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo haven't been able to do.

Am I wrong? Let me know what you think.

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