After a stellar year that included winning 53 of 56 matches, racking up her 21st Grand Slam title and being ranked the number one player in women’s tennis, Sports Illustrated just named Serena Williams its 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 14, 2015
Williams is the first solo Black woman to grace the annual cover. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team—which included Black players—appeared on the cover in 1999, and Olympic track and field star Judi Brown King appeared with seven other athletes in 1987. Williams is the first woman to dominate the space on her own since 1983, and only the third woman in the award’s history.
While there have been Twitter grumblings about William’s pose and body conscious outfit, Sports Illustrated makes it clear that the concept was hers:
The cover shot of this issue? Her idea, intended, like the Pirelli shots, to express her own ideal of femininity, strength, power.
Williams took to Instagram to say how much she appreciates the top spot:
This year was spectacular for me. For @SportsIllustrated to recognize my hard work, my dedication, and my sheer determination gives me hope to continue on and do better. As I always say, it takes a village it’s not just one person. This is not just an accomplishment for me, but for my whole team. I am beyond honored. I love you guys! 2016? #letsdoit
Some critics are upset that Williams won the title over American Pharoah, the horse that clinched the Triple Crown. The Courier-Journal laments the win, saying that the horse received 47 percent of the votes in the magazine’s reader poll and that he and his handlers should have been recognized by the magazine’s editorial team instead of Williams.
What SI should have instead considered for its award is “Team American Pharoah.”… Plus, as Monday’s results showed, this recognition’s name is capable of changing. “Sportshorse” could have been a reality…. What Team American Pharoah did in raising racing’s profile—on the heels of plenty of negative publicity, no less—was unmatched in 2015.