Every athlete tries to win performance-based awards, but some prizes mean more than scoring touchdowns or shooting goals. In many cases, awards are handed out for someone’s conduct off the field. One of the most celebrated awards of this nature is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award, which helped two members of the Kansas City Chiefs add to their trophy cases for reasons far beyond football.
The Sportsperson of the Year award
The Sportsperson of the Year award has been around since 1954. Starting as the Sportsman of the Year award and keeping that gendered moniker until recent years, the criteria to earn has always been loose. From big-time professional athletes to superstars that changed their sports forever, many of the biggest names in sports history have received the honor.
In many ways, the award reflects society beyond sports. Bill Russell won the 1968 award as player-coach of the Boston Celtics when he was also one of the loudest voices in the Civil Rights movement. The US Hockey team won the 1980 award for beating the Soviets at the Olympics at the height of the Cold War. While technically an award about sports, sometimes it seems like an award for everything else.
This year, after so much went on around the world of sports, Sports Illustrated awarded it, five different athletes. LeBron James won it not only for getting his fourth NBA Ring but for his work as an activist and leader off the court. We could say similar things about tennis star Naomi Osaka and WNBA player Breanna Stewart. However, the other two went to teammates who started the year by hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy and finished it as something far more significant than they could have imagined.
What can people say about the young superstar’s career that hasn’t already been run into the ground? As Sports Illustrated explains, Mahomes spent most of his rookie year on the bench, was the MVP of the league the following year, and a Super Bowl Champion and MVP his third year in the league, capping that off with a historical contract worth a half-a-billion dollars.
Mahomes has been a poster child of excellence during his short NFL career. While these athletic accomplishments alone might be enough for some to lay their hats on, Mahomes didn’t stop there. One could argue that despite all of Mahomes outstanding athletic accomplishments this year, his off-the-field accomplishments are what makes him unique.
Mahomes became a loud voice for the Black Lives Matter movement and was vital for a video by the NFL where Roger Goodell was forced to acknowledge problems he once made a point to ignore. Furthermore, Mahomes’ work in helping the Chiefs convert their stadium into a polling place was another charitable act that should not go unnoticed. However, Mahomes wasn’t the only Chief to win the award.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif might not be the typical choice for such an award. Yes, he served as the starting right guard of the Super Bowl champions, but that’s not typically good enough to win the honor. Duvernay-Tardif’s inclusion with these behemoths of their fields goes strictly beyond sport.
While many professional athletes used their college years to supplement their sports, Duvernay-Tardif studied medicine for eight years after graduating from high school and did not let college sports or professional football get in the way. This helped set him up for life after football, whether as a trainer or a doctor. However, it came in handy this year, Duvernay-Tardif announced that he would sit out the 2020 season.
While many players did so to avoid complications from the COVID-19 outbreak, he did so to work at hospitals during these challenging times to take a load off of the medical professionals and do his part to fight the pandemic. He didn’t have to do this. Even as a guard, he makes NFL money. Duvernay-Tardif did so out of the kindness of his heart.
This might best encapsulate what the award is all about. While all of the other winners did important work, Duvernay-Tardif isn’t the household name that they are. He took the sports part of his life and put it on hold to make the world a better place.
The story of the Sportsperson of the Year helps reflect the times we’re living in, and while all of the athletes help define this, few have made the sacrifice that Duverney-Tardif did this season.