My Sportsman: Miroslav Klose
The entire world's a stage and all the soccer players merely players.
There is no sport that invites theatrics like soccer, where they strut (Cristiano Ronaldo) and fret (Mario Balotelli) for 90 minutes, falling and feigning and emoting like silent film stars of almost a century ago. FIFA refers to this fakery as simulation. (In the NBA it's called flopping and in the NHL it's labeled diving, but a pose by any other name does not smell sweet.) The cheating ethos that entangles soccer is, by definition, antithetical to the concept of sportsmanship.
Enter Miroslav Klose, stage left.
The 34-year-old Klose is a German striker who's been around the soccer block. He has more than 125 caps and averaged more than a half goal per game in his international career. In 2002 and 2006, he was named to the World Cup finals all-tournament team. Klose now plays club football for Lazio, in Italy's Serie A; the setting for one of his great triumphs that, paradoxically, occurred in a 3-0 loss to Napoli in September.
In the fourth minute at San Paolo Stadium in Naples -- the same verdant pitch that once showcased the soccer stylings of Diego Maradona -- Klose apparently scored off a corner kick to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Only the striker knew better. Klose, the adult in the oversized room, approached the referee and said the goal should be disallowed because he had put a hand on the ball. In the wake of the admission, the score came off the board and the match continued, the beautiful game scrubbed to a lustrous shine for Klose's ablution.
The Neapolitan venue is significant because Maradona is soccer's most renowned celebrant of the dark arts. In the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal against England, the Argentine punched the ball into the net for the opening goal. Following the 2-1 victory, the too-coy Maradona said the goal had been scored "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God." (Apparently to err is divine.) In a 2008 interview in England, Maradona, through an interpreter, said he was sorry for the Hand of God goal. Yes, no time quite like the present.
As you might remember -- and if you are Irish or ever have drunk a pint of Guinness, you surely do -- Thierry Henry was less obtuse about his cheating. In 2009 the French striker, blatantly handled the ball near Ireland's end line, batting the ball with his left hand to his foot. He then flicked a pass to William Gallas, who headed the ball home for a late goal that allowed France to eliminate Ireland and qualify for the World Cup final. Seizing the amoral high ground post-match, Henry said, "Yes, I handled the ball, but I'm not the referee." So there.
After Klose blurted out his confession and started jogging back up the field, several Napoli players patted him on the back in tribute to his integrity. After the game, Napoli defender Paolo Cannavaro said, "His gesture deserves a prize."
SI's Sportsman of the Year sounds about right.