This year, albeit an incredibly difficult and trying one, has been filled with bright moments in the darkness as athletes and individuals across the country fought racial inequality, broke glass ceilings and inspired all of us.
Sports Illustrated nominated the following leaders who brought much-needed optimism to our world for the Inspiration of the Year award.
- Sarah Fuller
- Maya Moore
- Chris Nikic
- Jaylen Brown
WNBA star Maya Moore took home the honor for her efforts fighting for criminal justice reform and pausing her professional basketball career.
Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller
The Commodores goalkeeper broke the glass ceiling this year by becoming the first woman to score in a Power 5 game (went two-for-two in PAT attempts), play in a Power 5 football game on Nov. 28 (squibbed the ball short right and was unreturnable) and the first woman to suit up for a Power 5 game since 1999.
Because of COVID-19 protocols, the specialists were placed in quarantine and Fuller found herself practicing with the football team as a kicker, The Vanderbilt Hustler's Simon Gibbs reported. The kickers had returned by the time Vanderbilt faced Tennessee on Dec. 12; however, the coaches elected to use Fuller in the lineup.
Only two other women have also played in FBS games. Katie Hnida was the first woman to suit up for a Power 5 conference program while at Colorado in 1999. She kicked two extra points for the University of New Mexico against Texas State in 2003.
April Goss kicked an extra point for Kent State during their 2015 game against Delaware State.
"I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to—you really can," Fuller said after the Commodores lost to Missouri on Nov. 28.
Minnesota Lynx's Maya Moore
The former SI Performer of the Year sat out her second straight season this year to fight for criminal justice reform and played a major role in the release of Jonathan Irons in July.
Irons, 40, was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1998 for the alleged shooting of a Missouri homeowner. His lawyers told The New York Times that there were no corroborating witnesses, forensic evidence or physical evidence to connect Irons to the crime. The homeowner testified that it was Irons who burglarized their home.
Irons, an African-American, was later sentenced by an all-white jury. However, his wrongful conviction was overturned after fingerprint evidence strengthened his defense in March.
The two met through a prison ministry program when Moore was 18 and the two formed a friendship over the last decade. Irons later proposed to Moore after he was released from Jefferson City Correctional Center.
Moore, 31, is a four-time champion and the 2014 MVP, earning six All-Star appearances and five All-WNBA first-team honors.
American amateur triathlete Chris Nikic
Florida native Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon this November.
He swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles in 16:46:09 in the Ironman Florida, which has a 17-hour time limit. The 21-year-old hopes to make history again at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in October 2021.
He told TODAY prior to the Florida Ironman that he trained with Dan Grieb, who has completed 16 Ironman races, four to eight hours each day for approximately a year.
"You have shattered barriers while proving without a doubt that Anything is Possible!" Ironman Florida wrote on Facebook. "We are beyond inspired, and your accomplishment is a defining moment in IRONMAN history that can never be taken away from you. ...The opportunities you have created for others around the world through this journey you embarked upon, is immeasurable."
Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown
The Georgia native has continued to fight against systemic racism and for racial reform throughout his career but even more so in 2020 as the country experienced a racial reckoning.
The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked nationwide protests against racial injustices. Days after Floyd's death, Brown drove 15 hours to lead a peaceful protest in Atlanta. He was joined by Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, former first-round pick Justin Anderson and rapper Lil Yachty on the march.
Brown and Brogdon are both vice presidents of the National Basketball Players Association.
"Being a celebrity, being an NBA player, don’t exclude me from no conversations at all," Brown said at the march. "First and foremost, I’m a black man and I’m a member of this community... We’re raising awareness for some of the injustices that we’ve been seeing. It’s not OK.”
Brown has also backed students at his alma mater Wheeler High School in Cobb County as they petition to change the name of their high school. It's named after a Confederate general.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black students make up more than one-third of the enrollment. Senior Jake McGhee told CBS News that the name is a "slap in the face to the students of color at our school."
"I've been introduced to a bunch of young ladies who have been pushing to get that changed," Brown explained during Celtics Media Day. "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. I think it's time to move to the future, so I tweeted out a link."
Most recently, Brown weighed in on a Massachusetts bill concerning facial recognition technology. The Boston Celtics players joined him in the fight, penning an op-ed in the Boston Globe in an effort to call for greater limits on police use of this technology.
Along with "Inspiration of the Year," SI will also award:
- Best Dressed, presented by JCPenney
- Breakout of the Year, presented by Emsculpt Neo
- Player of the Year, presented by Yappa
- Game of the Year, presented by Brooks Brothers
- Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, presented by Wheaties
- 2020 Sportsperson of the Year recipients
The SI Awards will announce the winners on Dec. 19th. To watch the ceremony, tune into the free global broadcast starting at 7 p.m. ET streaming on the Sports Illustrated Facebook page. The broadcast will also be broadcasted by our partner LiveXLive across 20+ other platforms, including SportsIllustratedAwards.com, LiveXLive, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter and more.