November 12, 2009

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

If Manny Pacquiao didn't win a single fight in 2009, he would still be a viable candidate for SI's Sportsman of the Year. If Pacquiao had not put down once-beaten Ricky Hatton in a stunning second-round knockout last May, he would undoubtedly warrant consideration. If Pacquiao hadn't cemented his status as the world's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter this year, I would still be touting his candidacy.

Why? Because Sportsman, by my definition, is about more than just a superior performance. It's about contributions, to both sports and the world. And in that regard, Pacquiao has no peers.

A commonly used cliché in sports journalism is that (insert athlete name here) "fights with the weight of the world on his shoulders." A little hyperbolic, certainly, but in Pacquiao's case, it rings true. In the Philippines, Pacquiao borders on deity. He's an athlete and a rock star, an actor and a politician. He's Derek Jeter, Jon Bon Jovi, John Travolta and John F. Kennedy rolled into one. His popularity stems from his athletic accomplishments; the Filipino army, in which Pacquiao is a reserve, routinely declares a temporary truce (P-Day, they call it) with insurgents on days Pacquiao fights. But Pacquiao's impact extends even deeper into the culture.

Like most professional athletes, Pacquiao spends money as he makes it. But his paychecks don't go towards a fleet of cars or flashy bling. His money goes back into his country. For Filipinos, Pacquiao is a one-man stimulus package. When he's not fighting, Pacquiao can routinely be found in General Santos City, handing out bags of food and wads of cash to anyone who needs it. When a series of typhoons ravaged the islands recently, Pacquiao was on the front lines handing out supplies. His home isn't his hideaway. If someone shows up looking for a handout, chances are they walk away with one.

Both Pacquiao's trainer and promoter have publicly suggested that Pacquiao's generosity will eventually lead to him going broke. Pacquiao doesn't disagree. He has no intention of stopping.

"I believe our mission in this world is not only to make money, but we have a big responsibility," Pacquiao once said. "If you get the blessing from God, we are to give some to our people, and especially the poor people."

On Saturday night, Pacquiao will face the stiffest challenge of his career when he steps in the ring with welterweight champion Miguel Cotto. Once again, an entire country will pause to watch. If Pacquiao wins, there will be a nationwide celebration upon his return. But even if he falls Pacquiao will still be there, his door open and his wallet nearby. How many athletes can say that?Agree with this selection. Give us your Sportsman pick here.

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