November 16, 2012

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. Please vote for your Inspiring Performer, Photo of The Year, and Moment of The Year on our Facebook page.

In a perfect world, SI's Sportsman of the Year award would always go to an athlete who was both transcendent on the field and a humanitarian off it. And when I say humanitarian, I mean the real thing: someone who has demonstrated courage, humility and a depth of concern for humanity. The fact is that most years nobody qualifies in both categories, but 2012 was different. This year gave us a man who won a championship for his team at the highest level of his sport and who continued to set a global standard among athletes for his work in the social sphere.

This year gave us Didier Drogba.

The 34-year-old forward has scored nine goals in nine finals over the years, and he saved his greatest sports moment for this year's UEFA Champions League final, the most prestigious annual tournament in world club soccer. A heavy underdog against a Bayern Munich team playing on its own field, Drogba's Chelsea was all but defeated until he scored a stunning equalizer in the 88th minute on May 19. Then, in an extra-time filled with dramatic turns, he survived the ignominy of committing a penalty (Chelsea keeper Petr Cech saved Arjen Robben's spot kick) and converted the decisive penalty in the shootout. It was soccer's version of a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series, with the added dimension that it was Drogba's last kick of his remarkable eight-year Chelsea career.

Drogba has since joined the Chinese club Shanghai Shenua, but part of his astronomical salary is going toward relief projects in his native Ivory Coast. As the most famous athlete his country has ever produced, he has shown an admirable willingness to use his fame for important causes. During Ivory Coast's Civil War, he implored the two sides to come together and follow the example set by the national soccer team, which was made up of players from all parts of the country. Since then, Drogba has also donated and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a hospital-building project in his home city of Abidjan, one that now includes erecting five clinics in different parts of the country.

When I met Drogba at a tournament in Angola two years ago, he demonstrated a quality that's rare in athletes: the desire to listen and to learn. Here is what he told me he plans to do once his playing career is finished: "I want to help with a lot of things -- my charity, the hospital -- and I want to travel. I hope to meet interesting people, to keep learning from people I see and meet. For me it's important to open my mind and be ready to get a lot of information. I love to meet people and listen to their stories, their experiences."

For his play, for his caring, and for his commitment to being a world citizen, Didier Drogba is a perfect choice for Sportsman of the Year.

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