Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/27/2006 04:04:00 PM
My Sportsman: Tiki Barber
Even though he's putting up the best numbers of his 10-year career, Tiki Barber announced he'll retire at the end of the 2006 season.
By George Dohrmann
When Tiki Barber announced in October that he would retire at the end of this season, ESPN's Michael Irvin said he "quit" on his team, pundit Gary Myers accused him of creating a "season-long distraction" and countless people questioned why he would walk away when he seemingly had several productive seasons left in him.
During a year when several former NFL players have criticized the health-care coverage (or lack thereof) provided by the league, Barber shined a light on the subject by announcing he'd rather walk away now then not be able to walk later.
"People never pay attention, but I do. I see the long-term effect of injuries," Barber said. "I'm very cognizant of the fact that this game knocks you out and no one cares."
During the outbreak of press attention following his surprise announcement, Barber talked about former players too crippled to play with their kids. He talked about seeing his predecessor as the Giants' featured back, Rodney Hampton, break down overnight. He talked about wanting to create a legacy beyond his football career.
These were true and insightful statements, yet Barber found himself on the defensive. Player after player offered a counterpoint, saying they loved the game too much to walk away before their time was up. At one point, Barber felt compelled to announce that he did indeed "love football."
It's a sad statement about sports that a player wanting to retire before he is crippled gets criticized. It's even sadder to suggest that if an athlete doesn't play until he can't play, he doesn't love the game.
Barber is a smart guy. He has worked hard to define himself as something more than an athlete; he most recently did some reporting for Fox News. He knows that no matter how much he loves football, football is not going to love him back. Football is a machine that uses and spits out player after player. You either have to be lucky or smart to get out before it shreds you, and Barber was not going to let luck dictate his long-term health.
For that decision alone, Barber would be my pick for Sportsman of the Year. But I'd add this achievement to his case: Too often, athletes forget that they will be remembered for what they did last. Barry Sanders didn't give anyone the chance to see him robbed of his quickness; we only know him as the most dynamic back of his era. Last we saw Jerome Bettis he was plowing to a Super Bowl victory, his legacy as "The Bus" intact. But what about Emmitt Smith, who rushed for more yards than Bettis and Sanders? "I remember him as a guy picking up yards in Arizona," Barber said.
Barber won't be remembered that way. He'll be remembered as a Giant in the prime of his career. And he'll be relevant long after he's done playing a game.
You have offered up the most compelling and insightful argument for a SOY candidate I have seen in a while. Being SOY is not merely a numbers game (MVP aptly covers that terrain); indeed, a comparative methodology that allows us to look beyond the sphere of numbers is necessary since each sport has its own team dynamic.
A sensible basis of comparison would factor on-field merit--as well as the "other" that distinguishes the athelete from every other athelete. While there are perhaps one or two others, I would pick as SOY as well, Tiki Barber is up there with anyone. Smart and productive, he is exactly what a model NFL citizen should be. He eloquently states what he sees as the truth, retains interests outside of football and approaches his career in a professional, respectful manner. I would have no problem with my kids looking up to someone like him.
These articles by various sports writers on who should be SOY are all very nice, but there should only be one candidate and that is Roger Federer. Nobody in the sports world comes close to his accomplishments this year. He handles himslef with class and he is probably the most modest sports superstar in the world. If he is not already, he will soon be considered the greatest tennis player ever and he deserves recognition for this. I don't think that anyone can argue against Roger being SOY. If he doesn't win, I may cancel my SI subscription for good.
Not sure I agree with Tiki being SOY. A player who rips his coach publicly because he is not getting his touches is not being a role model. I enjoy watching Tiki and beleive he is a star player in the NFL, however, this recent incident should not be overlooked. As far as who should be SOY, I beleive on the field and off the field accomplishments should be given equal consideration. Alber Pujhols comes to mind with what he and his family do in the St Louis communities
In our professional sports culture that relishes felony charges and a lack of education, it is refreshing to see a Tiki Barber slip through the cracks. Those questioning his motives for retiring from football probably don't remember he attended UVa. on a full academic scholarship. He is active in the community, a great family man, and is open about his other pursuits in life. The man clearly has goals in life apart from running through safeties and dodging linebackers. Good for him.
great choice for sportsman of the year, really. gosh! it's so sportsman of the year to bash your coach and complain you don't get the ball enough. really, the guy's a good player, but there's a lot of them out there. could you at least pick someone who doesn't act like a cancer? thanks!