NBA champion LeBron James, Super Bowl winner Patrick Mahomes and Japan’s Naomi Osaka were among five athletes honored Sunday by Sports Illustrated magazine for their off-field activism.
SI’s annual Sportsperson of the Year was The Activist Athlete and paid tribute to off-field activities by James, Osaka, Mahomes and his NFL teammate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Women’s NBA champion Breanna Stewart.
The magazine cited “five men and women who in 2020 were champions in every sense of the word: champions on the field, champions for others off it.”
James sparked the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA title, capturing the fourth of his career, and became the first three-time winner of the SI sportsperson award after 2012 and 2016, having previously matched the two Sportsperson awards given golfer Tiger Woods in 1996 and 2000.
“With his efforts for racial justice, education reform and Black community empowerment as well as his voting rights campaign and varied charitable work, there is no doubt that he sets the standard for the modern socially conscious athlete,” SI said of James, who was also awarded the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his career dedication to public service.
James spoke out on police brutality, racial inequality and championed a voter registration program, More Than A Vote, that helped sign up more than 10,000 poll workers as well as register voters in combating voter suppression.
Osaka won her third Grand Slam tennis title at this year’s US Open. She took part in Black Lives Matter protests this year following the death of George Floyd and wore black masks during her US Open run, each with the name of an African-American killed by police.
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Mahomes sparked the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl crown, pushed the NFL to recognize the Black Lives Matter movement and backed the right of NFL players to conduct social protests.
Duvernay-Tardif, the starting right offensive guard for the Chiefs but also a doctor, gave up his NFL uniform for doctor’s protective personal equipment when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, joining the front line of a battle for people’s lives.
Stewart supported Black Lives Matter from the start of the Women’s NBA bubble to the finish, when she helped the Seattle Storm claim a fourth title and winning WNBA Finals MVP honors after recovering from an Achilles injury.
“If there is brightness in this dark year, it’s the leadership — and sorely needed optimism — shown by some of our nation’s top athletes in facing down our many challenges,” SI wrote in announcing the winners.
“The issues and challenges of 2020 will no doubt still be there in 2021 and beyond. But our Sportspersons of the Year set an example of how to face and one day fix them. With principle. With passion. And with an athlete’s optimism — the belief that no matter the obstacles, better days are ahead.”