Deion Sanders deserved Sportsman of the Year — 28 years ago


In 1992, Deion Sanders made history by being named first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career as a cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons. However, what made this achievement even more remarkable was the fact that he also played in the World Series for the Atlanta Braves that same year. While some critics saw his decision to play both football and postseason baseball simultaneously as a self-centered sideshow, Sanders proved them wrong by being the best position player in that World Series.

During the World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, Sanders showcased his exceptional skills on the baseball field. He batted an impressive .533 with a 1.255 OPS and stole five bases. His performance was outstanding, and had his team won the World Series, he would have undoubtedly been the MVP.

Sanders had a clear goal in mind – to establish himself as the best athlete on earth by taking on the challenge of being a two-sport athlete. He aimed to surpass the achievements of Bo Jackson, for whom football was simply a “hobby” that he pursued only after the baseball season was complete. Sanders wanted to push the boundaries further and excel in both sports simultaneously.

Even 31 years later, Sanders remains one of the most recognizable figures in sports. His enduring fame and popularity can be attributed to his force of personality and ingenuity. Sanders’ high-stepping touchdowns may not be the reason why he was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year in 2023. Instead, he received this honor for his remarkable performance as the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes football team.

When Sanders took over the Colorado Buffaloes, the program had only experienced one winning season since 2007. However, he wasted no time in remaking the team in his image. He brought in 50 players through the transfer portal and quickly grabbed national attention. Sanders’ swagger and defiance, reminiscent of his playing days, propelled the team into the spotlight. Unfortunately, despite the initial success, the Buffaloes were unable to maintain their momentum throughout the season.

Sanders’ one-season transformation of what was arguably the worst FBS program in America was commendable. He elevated a team with only one victory to the national stage, showcasing his signature style and confidence. However, Colorado’s subsequent struggles on the field highlighted the fact that Sanders, as one of the greatest athletes ever, could no longer single-handedly shut down half of the field and return punts for touchdowns.

Sanders’ recognition as Sportsperson of the Year in 2023 is a testament to his lasting impact on the world of sports. He was a trailblazer, part of a new era of Black athletes that began with Michael Jordan. Sanders, like Jordan, exuded confidence and unapologetic swag. He sprinted into the spotlight, making a name for himself and earning a substantial amount of money along the way.

Despite his achievements, Sanders did not always receive the respect he deserved as a transcendent sports figure. In 1995, he reset the contract market after years of building his “Prime Time” persona. However, Cal Ripken Jr. was named Sportsperson of the Year for setting a record for consecutive games played, overshadowing Sanders’ accomplishments.

Sanders’ impact extends beyond the field. He has left an indelible mark on both sports and pop culture. Sanders himself acknowledges his ability to move the needle and provoke opinions. His presence has shifted tectonic plates for more than three decades, and he continues to be a generational talent.

While this late recognition is appreciated, it comes at a time when Sanders is no longer the brash, young athlete who pushed boundaries and defied norms. Instead, he is now a cool dad, easier to embrace and appreciate. Nevertheless, his legacy as a truly groundbreaking figure in sports remains intact. Sanders was unapologetically Black and great at a time when many were not ready to embrace that. He was dangerous then, and now he is a respected icon.

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