Sports Illustrated has named the "Activist Athlete" its 2020 Sportsperson of the Year, singling out several prominent athletes for their accomplishments on the field as well as their work off the field.
"As we’re all painfully aware, 2020 was a year to try the patience of even the most positive among us," the sports outlet's editors wrote in the announcement. "The [coronavirus] has now claimed more than 275,000 American lives. The Memorial Day killing of George Floyd set off nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality. An ugly presidential election further divided a deeply partisan nation."
Sports Illustrated selected NBA star LeBron James, WNBA standout Breanna Stewart, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tennis player Naomi Osaka and Mahomes's teammate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a doctor who opted out of the 2020 season to fight on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, as its sportspeople of the year.
"There’s a choice to be made at moments like this," the outlet said. "We can turn inward, cowering from destructive forces that feel beyond our control, or work to bend the arc of history. That is the more difficult option, the braver path — and yes, even someone as driven and accomplished as James can have moments of frustration. But it’s clear which path he has chosen, and he is not alone. If there is brightness in this dark year, it’s the leadership — and sorely needed optimism — shown by some of the nation’s top athletes in facing down our many challenges."
Following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis, James was an outspoken proponent of the Black Lives Matter movement, criticizing President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth MORE directly for what he said is rhetoric that divides the nation along racial lines.
Stewart has been equally critical of Trump, publicly protesting his administration's policies as early as the 2017 travel ban.
Osaka wore masks displaying the names of Black people killed by police as she played in and won the U.S. Open in September.
Mahomes helped push the NFL to make adjustments to recognize the Black Lives Matter movement and was also instrumental in the push to make NFL and other sports facilities polling locations for the November election.
In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, several prominent athletes participated in nationally-televised public service announcements encouraging people to register and then vote.
Several pro sports leagues have responded to calls from athletes for racial justice by displaying anti-racism imagery and messaging on courts, jerseys and advertisements.
"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," Sports Illustrated said. "With principle. With passion. And with an athlete’s optimism — the belief that no matter the obstacles, better days are ahead. James could have been speaking for all of them when, three days after the election, he lauded Black voters for helping drive record turnout."