Today, it was announced that NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson was voted the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. It is the first time in the history of the award that a race car driver has walked away with the honor.
Johnson received 42 first place votes, followed in line by Roger Federer and Usain Bolt.
No offense to any of them. Federer is maybe the greatest men's tennis player of all time, and Bolt is unbelievable. Jimmie Johnson drives a car. I'm not saying there's no athletic prowess required. You have to be in shape (and in Johnson's case, he stays in great shape), have to do a lot of things I can't imagine doing with that much horsepower and that much speed. I don't have anything in the world against NASCAR.
But friends, from where I sit, Jimmie Johnson is no Manny Pacquiao, and for the Filipino boxing phenom to not even get any real recognition in this race is a bit of a travesty.
This is not about downplaying Johnson's stunning dominance in his field. He's already an all-time great, and he's so good at what he does that he, like Pacquiao, has crossed over into the mainstream.
But Manny Pacquiao has done so in a sport that the rubes, know-nothings, dolts and sportswriters insisted was dead. Insisted. It's not what it was because their paper doesn't cover it and ESPN couldn't care less.
Pacquiao sold about two million PPVs in two fights this year. He blew out the undisputed junior welterweight champion of the world in two rounds, and he later dominated a terrific welterweight in Miguel Cotto. He became a celebrity. HBO's "24/7" cameras caught the likes of Mickey Rourke and Mark Wahlberg going to the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles just to watch the diminutive destroyer work out.
If boxing was really dead or dying, Manny Pacquiao started taking it off of life support last December. (Of course, if you've been here, you know how I feel about the moronic notion that the sport was ever in any danger of "dying.") When Pacquiao dismantled Oscar de la Hoya, a lot of people who didn't know anything about boxing past Oscar took notice.
Who the hell was this guy? So he fought Ricky Hatton, who had gained a lot of international fame in recent years, particularly for a 2007 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., his only loss. Pacquiao took Hatton apart in scintillating, thrilling, jaw-dropping fashion.
And then came Cotto. And there went Cotto.
Now, Pacquiao has people who a year ago probably couldn't have named four active boxers salivating over the idea of a fight with Mayweather, boxing's other drawing card, who returned in September with a win over Juan Manuel Marquez. Manny and Floyd will fight on March 13 in Las Vegas, and the fight is being discussed as a potential blockbuster the likes of which the sport has never seen.
Who else has done something like that? Manny Pacquiao has changed the course of his entire sport. I'm not saying he did it single-handed, because there are a lot of other great fighters in the world. But he's clearly the new flag bearer for the sweet science, which is in the middle of a long-deserved renaissance.
Federer, Bolt, Johnson, and so many others are phenomenal at what they do. But if I could pick one guy in the world of sports that has transcended said world of sport in 2009, it's Manny Pacquiao. Nothing to do with being a massive boxing fan, even; Manny Pacquiao deserved the award.
But all congratulations to #48, too. He earned it and then some. All in all, with four guys out there like Pacquiao, Johnson, Bolt and Federer (among others), it's a pretty nice time to be a sports fan, isn't it?