Monday, December 21, 2009

Jimmie Johnson named AP Male Athlete of 2009

It's been about a month since I last posted. In that time I've graduated college and embarked on a new chapter in life. Just wanted to get that out of the way and now on to my point...

Monday morning Jimmie Johnson was announced as the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. He beat out names like Peyton Manning, Alex Rodriguez, and (yes) Tiger Woods. He became the first NASCAR driver to ever win the award. Yes, Jimmie Johnson has done something else that Petty, Earnhardt, Pearson, and Yarborough never did. Just the fact that Johnson was in the running is remarkable and it boasts so much about how NASCAR's place in mainstream sports media has jumped over the last decade. When I began watching NASCAR in the late 1980's, I doubt anyone would have selected a racecar driver as male athlete of the year. Here we are: December 21, 2009, and it's become reality.

I've talked at length about the enormity of the Johnson's accomplishment this year. A fourth straight championship is remarkable in any sport. I've noticed over the years that drivers who win a lot get booed by fans. Gordon, Stewart, Kyle Busch all come to mind for receiving their fair share of boos. But in the races I've been to in the four seasons that Johnson has taken home the crown, I don't ever remember hearing boos. I don't remember hearing cheers either. Are NASCAR fans nonchalant about Johnson and what's he done?

But back to the point at hand and this morning's announcement of Johnson's newest title. Take a look back at the 2009 sports world. Let's see what's happened in the last 12 or so months. A-Rod finally won his World Series title, Big Ben Roethlisberger won the Super Bowl with great heroics, Peyton Manning is on the verge of perfection in this year's version of the National Football League. And Tiger Woods overshadowed both John & Kate separating on national television and Mark Sanford and his antics with South American women.

But whatever Rodriguez, Roethlisberger, Manning, and Woods have done this year, have they done more than what Johnson has done? The obvious answer is no and anyone who is still thinking about this question needs to hit the refresh button because you are taking WAY too long.

I think NASCAR fans look at this from a two-fold standpoint. First, those that are Jimmie Johnson haters don't like this because it's Jimmie Johnson and they'd rather someone else had won the award. On the other hand, you've got a core group of NASCAR fans, some of whom have felt very neglected by mainstream media over the years, that are just happy that a driver had been chosen.

I remember when Dale Earnhardt made the cover of Time Magazine following his February 2001 death at Daytona. I remember thinking how huge it was for the sport to have one of its own on the cover despite the manner in which Earnhardt got there. Last February I was surprised to see the number of different national news outlets that were on hand for the season-opening Daytona 500. And now I'm seeing news people from all over the world at Daytona to watch Danica Patrick make single-file runs in an ARCA car (a topic by the way that I haven't even begun to vent about and will do so at length at a future date and time.)

But the fact of the matter is that the Associated Press has named a NASCAR driver as it's male athlete of the year. I like the idea and I say that while disclosing that I'm not necessarily a Jimmie Johnson fan. It's true I didn't like him that much when he first got into the sport and he certainly didn't help his cause with me when he won his first, second, and third championships. But you've got to respect the man and his latest accomplishment.

Take pride NASCAR. For the next 12 months you have the top male athelete in your ranks. Enjoy the ride. Maybe five in a row will also warrant the honor as well.

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