FOR THESE SIX MEN AND ONE WOMAN, THE BENEFICENCE THAT INSPIRED SI TO HONOR THEM CONTINUES TO SHINE THROUGH
This is an article from the Dec. 10, 2012 issue
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1974
SI RECOGNIZED THE CHAMP AFTER HE DEFEATED JOE FRAZIER AND GEORGE FOREMAN IN THE SAME YEAR, REGAINING THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP ALI HAD BEEN STRIPPED OF SEVEN YEARS EARLIER
Just as photographs of Ali (often in the pages of this magazine) once revealed the power of sport—most notably, his taunting a flattened Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout in 1965—the image of Ali since he left the ring in '81 has been as an advocate of peace. A 50-minute meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1990 secured the freedom of 14 American hostages being held in Iraq; just last year, though slowed by Parkinson's disease, he called for Iran to release two U.S. hikers detained on spy charges. Less visibly, he has delivered food and medical supplies to children in Ivory Coast, Mexico and Morocco, and advocated in Michigan for laws protecting children from abuse. Ali (left, in Atlanta, 1996) served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace from 1998 through 2008 and has earned plaudits across the globe, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Amnesty International's Lifetime Achievement Award. Such universal adulation is a far cry from the derision (not to mention the banishment from boxing) that Ali endured after his refusal to join the Army during the Vietnam War. Ali has become—as President Jimmy Carter once dubbed him—"Mr. International Friendship" and lived up to another nickname he earned while winning fights and fans the world over: People's Champion.
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1954
BANNISTER WAS NAMED SI'S INAUGURAL SPORTSMAN FOR BECOMING THE FIRST RUNNER TO BREAK THE FOUR-MINUTE BARRIER IN THE MILE, WHICH HE ACCOMPLISHED WHILE STUDYING MEDICINE AT OXFORD
Speaking to SI in 2011 about the Lifetime Achievement Award he had received from the American Academy of Neurology six years earlier, Bannister compared it with his athletic feats and was unequivocal in his assessment. "This is more important," he said, "because it's about my life as a whole and medicine." Indeed, Bannister (shown with the Olympic torch in '12) has built a postracing life worthy of the same acclaim he received for his famous run on Oxford's Iffley Road track. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 for his service to medicine, which has included heading up the British Sports Council, as well as diagnosing the neurological disorder known as progressive autonomic failure—in which the central nervous system shuts down—thus extending the life expectancy of sufferers from three years to six. In '08, Sir Roger helped create a sports-medicine discipline in British medical schools; at 83, he is revising his textbook on autonomic failure first published three decades ago. "Medicine tends to be incremental," says AAN president Bruce Sigsbee. "Key individuals break out of the old framework of how we understood it and look at it in new ways. [Bannister] certainly has one of those minds."
Billie Jean King
SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR, 1972
BOTH THE FIRST WOMAN AND FIRST TENNIS PLAYER TO WIN THE AWARD (WHICH SHE SHARED WITH JOHN WOODEN), THE WOMEN'S SPORTS PIONEER WON THE FRENCH OPEN, WIMBLEDON AND THE U.S. OPEN
Nearly four decades later not a day goes by when Billie Jean King isn't greeted by a new face eager to chat about her epic Battle of the Sexes victory over Bobby Riggs. But the fame she earned from that 1973 match and from 12 grand slam singles titles was never an end in itself. "My goal was always that tennis would be a platform," says King, "so I could work on trying to create equal opportunities for boys and girls." The year after she beat Riggs in the nationally televised showdown at Houston's Astrodome, King founded the Women's Sports Foundation to advance women's lives through athletics, and she has since collected honors ranging from the Presidential Medal of Freedom (left) to having the National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, renamed for her. When not running World Team Tennis, the league she also launched in '74, King serves on the board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and speaks out on gender equality; one of her growing concerns is the shrinking proportion of males enrolling in U.S. colleges. She also addresses audiences from elementary schoolers to women's tennis pros about their potential to further social progress. King's message? "Stay connected to the past," she says, "but also [ask], How are we going to shape the future?"
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 2003
SI RECOGNIZED BIG MEN ROBINSON AND TIM DUNCAN FOR THEIR EXEMPLARY TEAMWORK IN LEADING THE SPURS TO A SECOND NBA TITLE AS WELL AS FOR THEIR SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY
When representatives from San Antonio--based Admiral Capital Group target a new community in which to develop commercial real estate, they turn to the same powerful presence who helped the Spurs win two championships: Robinson, the company's cofounder, who was nicknamed the Admiral when he played for the Naval Academy. "He opens every door for us," says cofounder Daniel Bassichis. "It brings a lot of excitement to what is normally a boring business." The company is part of what Robinson (left) calls his "bigger-picture" approach to giving back, having begun as a means of funding the Carver Academy, a school in east San Antonio that he established in '01 with $10 million of his money. What began as a private institution for 60 students now serves 300 and earlier this year became a charter school in partnership with IDEA, a charter system in Texas. That designation allows Carter to receive state funding to cover operations, freeing up financial support from Robinson and others for building more schools or providing college scholarships. "I can tell you a thousand stories," Robinson, 47, says, but "when you meet these kids, you see the value in affecting just one life, one family."
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1958
IN AWARDING THE HONOR, SI ACKNOWLEDGED JOHNSON FOR SETTING THE DECATHLON WORLD RECORD AND THE "ALL-AROUND DECENCY" THAT HELPED EARN HIM THE UCLA STUDENT BODY PRESIDENCY
Back in the late 1940s, when Rafer Johnson was starring for Kingsburg (Calif.) High, his track coach offered encouraging words a cynic might have dismissed but ones that stuck with him: "Be the best that you can be." During his four years at UCLA and over an Olympic career in which he won gold ('60) and silver ('56), Johnson learned that to reach such a level required the help of others, including coaches and fellow athletes. And in '68, when he attended the first Special Olympics in Chicago and met the organization's founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he found a determined fellow believer. "I saw it come to life so vividly in Mrs. Shriver," says Johnson, 77. Inspired, Johnson founded Special Olympics Southern California the next year and has since helped the chapter grow from 3,000 athletes in '70 to 11,600 today, while the Special Olympics itself has swelled to some 3.7 million participants internationally. But Johnson (left, at a 2004 Olympic ceremony), who is still on the SOSC board and calls the awarding of medals "one of the great joys of my life," hopes to see participation double or triple. "I want to be a part of that legacy," Johnson says. "The Special Olympics is going to be a lifetime effort for me."
Johann Olav Koss
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1994
KOSS WAS HONORED, WITH FELLOW SPEEDSKATER BONNIE BLAIR, FOR WINNING THREE GOLD MEDALS IN LILLEHAMMER AND DONATING HIS BONUS TO THE OLYMPIC AID PROGRAM FOR DISADVANTAGED YOUTH
The $30,000 donation that punctuated Koss's first career can now be seen as a harbinger of his second. After hanging up his skates, he continued his extensive work with Olympic Aid, and in 2000 he founded Right to Play, an organization that implements the sports-based humanitarian efforts that Olympic Aid financially backed. Activities for a few hundred kids in Angola and the Ivory Coast grew into programs in more than 20 countries that benefit more than a million children, who learn about health issues by playing games that act as extended metaphors. As Right to Play's CEO, the Norwegian native (left, with 2006 gold medalist Joey Cheek) travels the world to observe the organization's work. On a recent trip to Rwanda, he saw a 12-year-old boy lead comedic sketches to educate some 200 parents on child abuse; in Uganda, a 14-year-old girl with the highest grades in the country credited her achievement to Right to Play's games-as-education approach. She told Koss she will someday be Uganda's president. "It is tremendous," the 44-year-old Koss says. "When this generation grows up, you will see their impact in the community in ways we cannot even imagine today."
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1984
SI RECOGNIZED MOSES, WITH GYMNAST MARY LOU RETTON, AFTER HE WON HIS SECOND OLYMPIC GOLD IN THE 400-METER HURDLES AND EXTENDED A WINNING STREAK THAT WOULD REACH 122 RACES
In 2000, Moses, then a financial consultant, joined a handful of other world-famous athletes at a gala called the Laureus World Sports Awards, in Monte Carlo, never expecting to discover the work that would come to define him more than a decade later. "I had no idea what was going on," he recalls. But after learning the mission of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation—to use sports to educate at-risk children and bridge social divides—and hearing it endorsed by guest of honor Nelson Mandela, Moses agreed to serve as its chairman. In the dozen years since, he has helped Laureus grow from an idea ("It was basically a blank piece of paper," Moses says) to an international operation with 104 projects in 34 countries, including a new program that trains youth coaches in five U.S. cities. Among his more rewarding experiences, Moses (left, flanked by Olympic boxing champions Nicola Adams and Anthony Joshua) cites bringing together groups of Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland in '01. "It's been a great, great ride," says Moses, who is also chair of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "I never thought that I would be doing it, but it doesn't feel like work."