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SI's Stone Explains Sportsman Pick

Posted Dec 16, 2013

Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Chris Stone talked the Denver media through the publication's pick of Peyton Manning as the 2013 Sportsman of the Year Monday.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sunday night, quarterback Peyton Manning was named Sports Illustrated's 2013 Sportsman of the Year.

Monday morning at the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters, Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Chris Stone talked the Denver media through the publication's thought process.

The transcript from the press conference is below.

On the selection of QB Peyton Manning as 2013 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
“I just want to kind of give you a little overview about our selection here. Obviously we’re honoring and acknowledging excellence in performance and really kind of historic excellence here, but beyond that a big part of being a sports fan is how you connect to the athletes that you watch and that you root for. I think in the case of Peyton we’re talking about he’s been in three locations in his career since 1994—Knoxville, Indianapolis and mostly recently [and] obviously Denver, and in all of those places his body of work speaks for itself. But the emotional connection that he’s kind of established with each of those fan bases and those communities is exemplary, needless to say. It’s easy to throw around the word ‘iconic’ and frequently we overuse the word, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that certainly in Knoxville he’s achieved that status and in Indianapolis there’s a good case to be made [he’s] still the most popular athlete in Indiana history. Even though he’s only been here two years, maybe it’s a little presumptuous to call him iconic just yet, but he’s clearly established a real connection with the fan base, with his team, with his teammates [and] with the larger community out here. All of those things embody what we look for—what we look for in a Sportsman. If you were to ask a seven-or-eight-year-old kid what’s an example of sportsmanship, I don’t think you could ask for [a] more obvious example than when after a really tough loss last January, he took the time out to go speak with Ray Lewis. [He] waited around patiently and that alone isn’t the reason we chose him as Sportsman of the Year—it’s not even one of the primary reasons we chose him—but I think it speaks to the type of athlete and individual that Manning is and that is Sportsman of the Year—our 60th.”

On Manning being named the Sportsman of the Year despite not winning a championship this year
“I think that’s a fair question—one I anticipated. This is my second year in this position—it’s actually my 14th month, my second Sportsman. I don’t like the idea of narrowly defining a Sportsman based on what he’s done in the last 12 months. I think you can take somebody’s collective body of work and everything that they’ve established throughout their careers. The first two Sportsmen at SI after I came to Sports Illustrated back in the early 90s were Arthur Ashe and Don Shula and neither of them were champions that year, but I think kind of their collective body of work is what we’re rewarding here. In the case of Peyton I think it’s reflexive to say, ‘Well they were upset in the first round of the playoffs way back in January—hasn’t won a Super Bowl yet this year.’ But to accomplish what he’s accomplished over the last [16] years now in the NFL, but really what he’s accomplished since having four very serious neck procedures in the last two years. I’m not up to belief, I’m not a strict constructionist when it comes to Sportsman and that it has to be based on winning a championship.”

On how long it took to make a selection for the award
“I think we kind of have a role in selection process throughout the course of the year. We’ll start thinking about it early in the year because at the very start of the year, you have the BCS National Championship, you have the Super Bowl early in the year—and those are the types of events that can inform a Sportsman decision. And throughout the course of the year, you’ll have plenty of others. We’ll start throwing out probably around the late spring, early summer, we’ll start engaging this exercise of like, ‘If the year ended today, who would our Sportsman of the Year be?’ Obviously, a lot of things happen throughout the course of the year that kind of force you to rethink. I remember having discussions after Phil Mickelson won the British Open, the way he won it. ‘Is this a Sportsman of the Year?’ It’s certainly worthy of the discussion after a performance like that. Miguel Cabrera, before he got hurt at the end of the year, was pursuing his second-straight Triple Crown. That’s worthy of being in the discussion. Football is interesting because you have the Super Bowl at the start of the year, but then you start a whole new season much closer to Sportsman. We make the selection—we probably settled on Peyton about a month ago when the Broncos were probably about 9-1, I want to say—about that point. You do cross your fingers because any number of things can, you know, all of the sudden his game can just collapse. He can have a season-ending injury. So there is a little finger-crossing that goes in all this. We had two very strong candidates this year from baseball. Mariano Rivera, who kind of embodies a career of excellence, even though his season—it was strong, but it might not have been considered one of his five best. And David Ortiz, what he kind of symbolized for the Red Sox towards the end of the season and how he was kind of the face of a team that went from worst-to-first. All these things competing—it’s a very difficult process every year and one that is challenging. But we really enjoy the process of it.”

On how the panel comes to a consensus on a Sportsman
“In the end, they have one vote and I have one more than the rest of the room (laughing). No, I’m joking. That’s just not true. Back in October, towards the end of October, I gathered about 17 senior editors across our platforms at Sports Illustrated, including my boss, Paul Fichtenbaum, who is the head of the Time Inc. Sports Group, and we just kicked it around the room. I won’t say what the exact tally was, but there was a strong consensus, a very strong consensus for Peyton as this year’s Sportsman. A couple of weeks later, the Red Sox won the World Series the way that we won it and we rethought it a little bit. But we’re very comfortable and confident in our selection.”

On not picking a Yankees or a Red Sox player
“I’ll tell you, whoever you choose, there is going to be a broad population out there that’s going to tell you why you’re 100 percent wrong (laughing).”

On whether Manning had been a previous finalist
“He’s definitely been somebody who has been in the discussion a number of times. It’s kind of hard—he hasn’t had a losing season in his career in which he’s been healthy. All the numbers that he’s put up, really that kind of consistency of his excellence has made him—I can’t say specifically. I’d really have to kind of rummage through each year to tell you, but this isn’t the first time his name has come up. It’s not the second time [and] it’s not the third time his name has come up.”

On the selection of Manning as more of a ‘lifetime achievement’ award than just 2013 production
“Yeah, it definitely is. I think I alluded to this before, but I don’t want to conflate the idea of a lifetime achievement award as kind of diminishing everything that he has accomplished in 2013. Yes, we’re absolutely honoring him for everything that he has done throughout his career. It would be foolish of us not to recognize that and include this year—but just look at those numbers. Look at the direction he’s taking this team. Like I said, I don’t think you need a championship necessarily to validate everything that he’s accomplished.”

On how this issue of the magazine sells compared to other issues like the Swimsuit Edition
“It does very well. Nothing touches the Swimsuit Edition, frankly, from a commercial standpoint (laughing). But no, it’s definitely one of our franchise issues and it’s one of our signature events. It’s more than just an issue. It’s an event and it’s a part of the broader discussion—the media discussion, the social discussion that exists out there. It’s something that we take very seriously to reflect that. If you look at the response and the discussion and the debate surrounding our choice since we’ve made the announcement at about 8:00 MT last night, it gives you an idea that it’s something that is—it means a lot to a lot of people. Not least of all, us.”

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