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.
11/13/2006 12:27:00 PM
My Sportsmen: Barbaro's owners and trainer
Barbaro's Kentucky Derby victory team (from left): jockey Edgar Prado, Gretchen Jackson, Michael Matz, Roy Jackson.
By Frank Deford
Sportsman of the Year 2006 in the world we live in? No dispute. Easy as pie.
Not only did he have by far the best year of any athlete playing on the face of the earth in 2006, but he is adored by all those he beats as gracious, fair, kind, generous, and, yes, sportsmanlike. So, that settles that.
Yeah, sorry, I forgot. We're 'Mercans. We don't count athletes who don't come from here'bouts. Quick, there must be a linebacker or some Texas hold 'em poker player we can dredge up to name instead of Federer, thereby to salvage the honor of the neighborhood.
And luckily there is someone just right with the right address -- actually, three people who are bound up in a common enterprise, who so utterly represent all the values of sportsmanship, even as it flows into the well of humanity.
The Americans I nominate for Sportsman and Sportswoman of the year are Roy and Gretchen Jackson, and Michael Matz. The Jacksons own a 3-year-old thoroughbred named Barbaro. They put Barbaro in the care of Matz. Racing folk were appalled at how Matz trained Barbaro. Did everything wrong, did Matz. Raced his colt on the turf. Didn't race him enough. What kind of training is that for the Kentucky Derby?
The Jacksons never blinked. They trusted their trainer; they knew what the man was made of. Matz was in a plane crash once. He escaped, but he went back into the fiery wreckage and pulled three children to safety. An equestrian before he was a trainer, he was selected to carry the flag for the U.S. Olympic team at the '92 Olympics.
Matz botched Barbaro's training so completely he won the Kentucky Derby by six-and-a-half lengths. The colt was suddenly revealed as potentially a horse for the ages. But then, of course, in his next start, the Preakness, Barbaro horribly fractured his right hind leg.
The obvious thing was to put the poor beast down. No one offered any hope. But, instead, the Jacksons decided to do everything possible to save him. So long as Barbaro did not incur more pain, they would try. Matz comes virtually every day to see him, and yes, miraculously, despite terrible setbacks, Barbaro approaches recovery. He's taller now, weighs more than 1,100 pounds. He can't understand why he has to wear this damn cast, but he's even starting to get a little frisky.
Maybe someday Barbaro can even stand at stud. It would make the Jacksons (and Metz) lots of money. But that isn't why they spent so extravagantly to try and save him. They did that because they felt that this great, gorgeous beast deserved the chance to have live, to eat some sugar and clover and maybe someday even run a little, if only in a green field.
But in saving Barbaro, the Jacksons and their trainer made so many people care -- even people who never paid much never mind to horse racing. They embroidered their sport with goodness and nobility and made us all see that sometimes dreams can come true -- even if it wasn't the dream we first had in mind. Barbaro didn't win the Triple Crown. Because of the people who loved him, he won life.
The Jackson's and Matz are a great story and I think that the entire sports world was rooting for Barbaro, in competition and in his fight to restore his health. However, I find it hard to ignore what Tiger Woods has accomplished this year. Outside of Roger Federer, no one has dominated their sport the way Tiger has this year and despite still coping with the death of his father, he has remained focused and driven to succeed. Most people assume that Tiger is the best and that he "always" wins but any true sports fan and/or golfer knows that what he has done can not be replicated. Barbaro is an amazing animal and a tremendous competitor and his owners and trainer deserve praise for their efforts to care for him, but lets honor them in other ways. My second and third choices: Tony Larussa and The New Orleans Saints (Lets see how far tey can go)
The Barbaro story is compelling, but the sportsman of the year also should offer a compelling story or interest. Very few of us care about tennis and we never have. Even if Federer were 'Merican, he would not be our sportsman of the year without a compelling story. Give us Tiki Barber, Brian Leonard, or Barbaro, but not a Tennis player with no personality or interest, despite his dominance or nationality.
I agree with Robert 100%. The only person who would even deserve mention behind Tiger, would be Federer. But, Tiger's story with the death of his father and the amazing results he produced in so few events is undeniable. For Tiger to reinvent himself AGAIN and so dominate the PGA AGAIN, just when it looked like Phil might be ready to take over is astonishing. Even though he didn't quite reach his own personal record for majors or wins, I would still rank this season as his best ever because of the extenuating circumstances. And, when the best ever has his best ever year, how can he not be Sportsman of the Year?
The Catergory is "Sportsmen of the Year"... how does owner of a horse qualify? The horse shouldn't even qualify, let alone the fat rich man that own's him. Tiger could win it every year for the next dozen years if they wanted. And two coach nominations? Cowher and Larussa, That's silly. Pujols, if any baseball player, and I do like the Bettis call, but the Saints story is real good, and I have to go with Reggie Bush, after the heisman win and all he's done for New Orleans.
How about the entire Rutgers football tesm? I have watched no greater game where the winners are actually people who deserve it but will love this moment in all sincerity. No other event this past year can even come close to this special game.
All those suggestions for Sportsman of the Year are nice, but they all only represent a small portion of the sporting world - tennis, golf, and horse racing are good sports, but not participated in by a huge portion of the earth's population. My nomination is Yao Ming. Nothing like having the hopes and dreams of a few billion people riding on your shoulders - and he handles it with a style and poise that David Stern only wishes the rest of the NBA's players had a 1/4 of.
I totally agree with Mr DeFord. Mr and Mrs Jackson, along with Mr Matz, show what true sportsmanship is all about. I would, though, stick Barbaro's jockey in there, Edgar Prado. These are wonderful people who just loved their horse and the sport.
The only other person besides Roy and Gretchen Jackson and Micheal Matz that should get the Sportsman of the Year Award is Edgar Prado--he deserves to be named with the other 3 of this stellar group.
These people know what it is to truly be sportsmen--it's not just about athletic feats.
No story is more compelling than the story of love, compassion, and sportsmanship these 4 have allowed to unfold--Barbaro's chance at survival against all odds. What more could any story, or any human with a heart, want?
Frank, I've read you with great pleasure for twenty years, but, this new anti-American Derangement routine of yours has turned you into a elitist, blathering snob. I guess American are too dumb and ignorant to understand international greatness like the great, wordly. Frank Deford. You sir, a talented and fortunate man, have become the epitome of what Tom Wolfe calls the "Atlantic Man", too hip and smart for the "Fly Over People" of middle America, you're more at home in Europe and New York, and LA, where people are enlightened and root for teams and personalities without national prejudices. Ever been to the World Cup, Frank? Nationalism exists everywhere. Frank, We hardly Knew ye. A lasped fan, Doug Hardee
Right On!!!!! I totally agree. As one who has followed Michael Matz, has come to know the Jackson's through the press, and admired Edgar Prado's poise that saved him, this is a story that may well indeed have a happy, happy ending. This is a story that usually ends in tragedy. But to push this group to the front of the line, is down right American.
Barbaro and his team display all the qualities we look for in our athletes, particularly those who win such a prestigious honor. Spirit, determination, heart, humility, grace, perseverance, and the list of admirable qualities go on and on for these sports persons. Missing are those ugly characteristics of ego, brashness,rudeness, excuses,selling out, and oh yeah...greed. How refreshing it would be to honor the Jacksons and Matz for their exemplary sportsman like qualities
Mr. DeFord, you have it right. The Barbaro story is by far the greatest story in sports this year and more importantly, and it will have far reaching consequences. His owners are highly moral and noble people who've done all the right things for Barbaro and put his best interests first. The push for racetrack safety for example is but one of the "Barbaro Effects." Advances in equine medicine is another. I too think Edgar Prado deserves it. He is the greatest, in a class by himself.
Finally....someone else gets it!!! I am a devout fan of Barbaro, among many others, who call ourselves Barbaromaniacs, or Bobby Heads,(Bobby is his stable name) or FOB"S (fans of Barbaro). Our efforts and love for this great beast, as you refer to him, have crossed all barriers. This boy has brought together a family who care not only for racing, and for all horses, but for all Gods creatures...human and animal. Unbelievably, given the power- house that Barbaro was on the track, Barbaro, perhaps, has done more off the track than he was more than capable of doing on the track.And one more thing...in your nomination for team Barbaro, please do not forget to include Barbaros' brilliant surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson. The man has moved more than mountains to save this horse. The entire team caring for and loving this animal back to wholeness, more than exemplifies what true sportsmanship is all about. This team has heart, especially the 3 year old colt, named Barbaro.
I love Tiger Woods and what he's done for golf. Talk about class and grace under pressure. But if we take those into account, and to me, that's what sportsmanship is really all about in world-class athletic cirlces, the the Jackson and Matz represent the pinnacle. The didn't fold under the pressure of life and death decisions, they've continued to fight the good fight under the scrutiny of millions of Barbaro fans and most of they'e dedicted themselves to an incredible athlete. We've all come out a little bit better for having seen this story unfold. Cyndy S.
I beleive all those that have already been mentioned are great stories. But lets not forget a year Ryan Howard had. He is the first player who has not suspicion of steroids who had a great year. If I were to nominate anyone it would be him. He hit 58 homeruns, batted of .300 and batted in over a 140 runs.
I think there is some confusion between athlete and sportsman. Argue all you want about Tiger and Federer for athlete of the year, but the vote has to go to the Jacksons, Michael Matz and Eduardo Prado for Sportsmen of the Year!
I agree wholeheartedly with Frank DeFord's honoring of the Jackson's and Michael Matz as Sportsmen of the Year. Only I would add Edgar Prado to the team. Barbaro is the horse of the ages. He is everything a sportsman should be and then some and that is reflected in his overwhelming popularity with Americans who root for him daily. He has the heart of a champion and is a symbol for all those whose journeys have taken a wrong turn and yet have come back stronger than ever. He is the Seabiscuit of our lifetime.
BARBARO IS ON MY LIST.BELIEVE IN MIRACLES BELIEVE IN BARBARO. HE HAS PRAYER VIGILS, HE HAS CANDLES,HE HAS THE FANS OF BARBARO WHO ARE CALLING, FAXING, AND WRITING THEIR STATE SENATORS ON HOW WE SLAUGHTER OUR HORSES TO SEND OVERSEAS. HOW SO MANY PEOPLE CAME TOGETHER TO HELP EACH OTHER, TO DO THE RIGHT THING. THE TIM WOLLEY HORSERACING SITE HAS BROUGHT ALL THESE PEOPLE TOGETHER TO HELP EACH OTHER. ISN'T THAT ALL WE NEED IS TO HELP EACH OTHER ALL TO GET ALONG!!!
That's the nicest thing I've read in a while. I've sent Barbaro get well cards and check on him daily. I am a horse lover, but honestly had never heard of him until the Derby. And you're right, it's part Barbaro being the gorgeous, talented horse that he is, but it's also the class, nobility, and heart of his connections that make this such a heartwarming story. He's received about 177,000 e-mails you know....
it's sad that you fail to address what goes into making a horse competition-worthy when you praise the owners' efforts to heal barbaro. they did all that for the horse? please. will the stud fees go to charity? do they not whip the horse down the stretch? is horse racing not the domain of white, aristocratic america? ridiculous.
I quite agree. I felt numbed when I saw Barbaro's leg fracturein the Preakness,and stunned by a feeling that there was some destiny in the long odds that it would be this already iconic horse who would break down. Sure enough the myth this remarkable horse, the Jacksons, and Matz have created far exceeds any superficial Triple Crown hoopla. The Jacksons and Matz, as role models for compassion and responsibility to the trained animals who have served them, have inspired a country--and world. An amazing, timely myth.
As far as I am concerned Brian Leonard of Rutgers is hands down the athelte of the year and of this century so far.He is the most gracious and unselfish young man that I have ever seen.He turned down a scholarship offer at Notre Dame because he wanted to repay the loyalty that only Rutgers had for his brother.Last year when he had eye-popping stats and could have entered the NFL draft and gotten third or even second round money he chose to come back for his senior year because he wanted to help Rutgers achieve its dream of being a winning football team.He has played all year in the shadow of newcomer Ray Rice and he has not only done so with grace but he has been Rice's mentor and biggest fan.In my view,if every athlete were as sportsman-like as Brian Leonard,sports writers would only have the game to write about since there just wouldn't be any on the field or off the field nonsense to write about.His shining example should not go unrewarded.He is THE sportsman of the year....hands down!
You have summed up the feelings of thousands or Barbaro lovers. The Jacksons also bred George Washington who won the English 2,000 Guineas. In additon the Jacksons have also spearheaded a campaign to end horse slaughter for human consumption. This isn't always the popular view, but it view that keeps in focus many pasture-sound horses who, like Barbaro, deserve to live their lives out in horse heaven on earth, grass and grain.
Michael Matz has not only shown his horsemanship by running Barbaro and Round Pond to titles by traditionally unconventional methods, he does so using good old-fashioned horse sense. He listens to his horses, and trains them as they see fit, not the rest of the world. He is an Olympic silver medalist, an American hero, one of the best and kindest horseman the world has every seen, the trainer of Breeder's Cup winner and longshot Round Pound, and, of course, trainer of Barbaro, the most decided winner of the Kentucky Derby in my lifetime.
first, the rutgers story is compelling and normally, i'd love that choice/selection.
earlier this year, i emailed SI that it was so wonderful when frank deford penned the sportsmen of the year when the magazine honored true sportsmen/women...people who made a difference not just be the quality of their play, but by the breadth of their hearts as well (1987?).
selecting barbaro, the jacksons & martz wd be in the same tradition and in this day/age, a welcome departure fm the everyday selfishness and corruption we hear and read in the media.
Federer is the top athlete in the world.This award is for best athlete, period; not for best athlete in the favorite sport.Mr. Deford states what we've noted for several years now; because he is not American, he doesn't get the SI nod. As far as Barbaro; yes his team has been amazing-but Mr. Prado has to be included-was it just an oversight? With his courage saved Barbaro from doing further damage which would have been fatal. I'm convinced he saved Barbaro; at least to have his chance to survive.Other jockeys don't react the same.
I wanted to add that in an ironic twist, Round Pound won in a race in which two horses broke down, one with an injury similar to Barbaro's, but sadly much worse. Mr. Matz handles victory with as much aplomb as defeat. Horses are fragile animals; they can humble you in a moment. And Mr. Matz lives his life with that knowledge. I'm sure his tragic experience in the plane crash changed life's complexion as well.
Mr. Matz is a sportsman, but above all a kind man. I met him when he was riding at the Devon Horse Show in 1994. He was quiet and soft spoken, as he is in his interviews.
Edgar Prado should without doubt be considered part of the Barbaro team. Without his skill, surely Barbaro would've had to have been euthanized. I am competent show jumping rider, who has galloped off-the-track thoroughbred rejects for conditioning. I weigh 20-30 pounds more than Mr. Prado, and it is still hard to pull up a slow thoroughbred that has the adreneline to run. Not only did he pull up Barbaro, he kept Barbaro's balance off his right hind and enabled this brave colt to run three strides on three legs.
In what could've been a disaster for the whole sport of racing, the Jacksons, Mr. Matz, and Mr. Prado have shone as true sportsmen - shining in victory, as well as defeat.
The Jacksons, Michael Matz and Edgar Prado embody sportsmanship and richly deserve the title. Anyone who saw Edgar Prado's face after winning the Breeder's Cup Distaff and heard Michael Matz expressing empathy for the connections of Pine Island knows that these are the best people around. America (and the world) need to recognize those sportsmen who not only have ability and luck but place integrity and humanity above money. I'd add that the Jacksons have harnessed the concern for Barbaro to spearhead the Congressional initiative to ban slaughter of horses, bringing good out of tragedy.
What a fabulous article by Mr. DeFord.......as one of the original Barbaromaniacs, I couldn't agree more, and applaud his courage and honesty in writing this story. Sometimes success is truly not in winning the game at hand, but in winning the larger game of life.
The autistic high school kid that drilled all those three-pointers is a nice story, but closer observation of the viseotape shows that nobody was guarding him. Make the kid feel good, but don't give him false hope. Somebody should have showed him what it is really like in a basketball game. No offence to him or his affliction, but that wasn't a game; it was practice!
I have a dog. He was doing what comes naturally to him - running for a stick in the park and he hurt himself. I took him to the vet. Vet fixed him up good, although it cost me a fair penny. Maybe we are the sportsmen of the year, the vet and I.
If 'merican citizenship is a requirement to be SI's sportsman of the Year then by all means let's select Tiger Woods and be done with it. If all world sports athletes qualify then Mr. Deford, please, tone down the condescending rethoric to SI readers and select someone whose athletic prowess and accomplishment this year is unparalleled. Roger Fereder would fall in that fold. So would Justine Henin-Hardenne, Dwayne Wade, the Florida Gators Basketball team, etc... Your selection of Barbaro's owners and trainers is a cheap attempt to generate debate where none exists. Should Earl Woods and Federer Pere be up for the award as well? Better yet, should all your journalism awards have gone to your parents who raised and fed you and the academics who taught you? Mr. Deford, you can do better. I know you can.
As a lifelong Steelers fan, my sportsman of the year would be Jerome Bettis, for the leadership and selflessness he brought to his team. Someone tried to make him out to be selfish, for imploring his teammates to "get him home." I seriously doubt whoever made that comment knew how Bettis took both a huge pay cut and a lesser role with the team. It was Bettis' infectious attitude that transcended to the entire team, which enabled their Red Sox-like run of 8 wins after 3 losses, culminating with the Super Bowl XL win.
shaq and d-wade. the passing of the septer of basketball royalty from the most engaging, enraging and intriguing (and certainly, the largest) personality in sports to an outstanding player who isn't afraid to be a role model. champions in life.
It's about time someone besides Wertheim at SI acknowledged Federer. Good job Deford. If Federer doesn't win Sportsman of the Year, at least SI will have given him his third straight Heisman.
No athlete in the world today is more dominant in what he does for a living than Federer. Beyond that, Federer is everything that's great about sports -- confident yet respectful, cool under pressure, delivers the goods in big moments, and let us not forget a humanitarian and all around good dude.
Kudos to Frank DeFord and his spot on article about the courage and class of Barbaro, Dr. Richardson, the Jacksons, Michael Matz, and Edgar Prado. Barbaro will be forever timeless, and his day-to-day recovery is a classic example of the power of love and hope for this magnificent champion. They are all winners! D. M. Cashman
These people really do deserve this award. Sportmanship is about the approach to the game, not necessarily about winning. These people won, yes, but when the chips were down, they followed their hearts and accepted the challenge, and the cost, to support their Gladiator.
I admire them for their resolve.
Hopefully, what they have done will help their sport for a long time to come.
Some of the comments on DeFord's article are very unsportsmanlike! Just because horse racing isn't popular on the level of golf or football doesn't mean the Jacksons and Matz are undeserving. And yes, horse owners and trainers can be sporting because they're the ones that decide to take on challenges and enter their horses in the most important races vs. just deciding to ship the horse off to the breeding farm for a massive stud fee. I can't believe people are actually criticizing the Jacksons for trying to save Barbaro. If it were all about money, they wouldn't have bothered, because keeping a horse in intensive care for six months is NOT cheap. Additionally, there's no guarantee that Barbaro's legs will ever be strong enough for him to have a breeding career, so that shoots down the "only saving him for stud duty" argument. So those of you who think that "horse racing is only for the white aristocracy" or that it's somehow "sick" to send well-wishes a horse, please open your eyes and see how much the Jacksons, Michael Matz, Edgar Prado, and so many other people love Barbaro, and how their actions have been positive for horse racing and the sports world in general.
Although I had my opinion set before reading the article, I decided to read all the comments beforehand, nonetheless. It is very interesting to see all the different opinions, to my humble judgement some good, some absurd. However, I stand with the Barbaro connection, including Edgar Prado - and yes - I will never forget his face upon winning the Distaff....Thank you for supporting this wonderful group of people who have a magnificent fighter named Barbaro. There is still hope for this category....and for the true meaning of horse racing.....
Barbaro's picture, looking handsome in his cast, decorates my bedroom wall as a reminder to 'buck up' and NOT complain about my off-hind pain. Congratulations to his connections for training a champ and his doctors for pulling him through his injury.
Great story on Barbaro. In a world where athlets rape, gamble, do drugs, ride motorcyles, cheat, complain and on and on. Here we have an athlete that only wanted to run. A group of people that only represent what is good in sports and life have teamed together to save this beautiful athlete's life. Good luck Barbaro and thank you to your team!!
Thank you Frank DeFord. What the Jacksons, Matz and the team at New Bolton did are worth more than a won-lost column or a scoreboard. They showed compassion, love, commitment and a willingness to spare nothing to save Barbaro. Those are principles that transcend sports or records and as a father, they are the principles I would love for my children to remember more than someone's record book. Through his recovery, through the laminitis scare earlier in the summer to his recovery today, Barbaro has shown a spirit that is both timeless and championship caliber. One more vote for Barbaro!