We will look back on 2015 as a transitional year in sports. Remarkable young talents like golf's Jordan Spieth and basketball's Stephen Curry surged to the top of their respective sports. The U.S. Women's National Team captured the World Cup. American Pharaoh won the fabled Triple Crown, the first horse to do so in a generation.
But one athlete rose above them all with a combination of skill, will, grit and tenacity. Serena Williams posted a season for the ages, and Sports Illustrated has named her its Sportsperson of the Year for 2015.
"In 2015 Williams hit this rare sweet spot, a pinch-me patch where the exotic became the norm," Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price wrote in annoucing Williams' honor. "She danced with Donald Trump on New Year’s Eve. She spent a night telling bedtime stories to the children of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Growing up, Williams had devoured every Harry Potter book, marveled at the business empires of Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. Now J.K. Rowling was tweeting against a critic of Williams’s body, now Oprah was hustling to watch her at the U.S. Open, now Stewart was calling Williams 'the most powerful woman I know.' President Barack Obama, the most scrutinized man alive, told her how great it was to watch her."
But it's not just the public persona that won Williams acclaim. She excelled at her chosen profession, winning three majors and, at one point, putting more distance between herself and the No. 2 player in the world than there was between No. 2 and No. 1000. She fell short in the U.S. Open in September, a heartbreak for her and for fans of sports history, but in some way that further humanized her, showed that even giants can still stumble. She now has only one fewer Grand Slam singles title than Steffi Graf's record 22.
Williams could not quite close out the Grand Slam, even though by holding all four tennis majors, albeit not in the same year, she had completed a "Serena Slam." She also made peace with her past, returning to play at Indian Wells, a California tour stop where, in 2001, her family claimed they were victimized by taunts of racial abuse. She used the heavily-publicized occasion to speak out on matters of racial and social justice.
That, then, is what sums up a true "sportsperson," the ability to excel at the game and, in turn, use that skill and fame to improve lives other than one's own. By that measure, Serena Williams is absolutely deserving of one of sports' most notable year-end honors.