NASCAR'S Jimmie Johnson AP Athlete of the Year: Are They Kidding?

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIDecember 23, 2009

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 03:  Four time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson speaks to the media prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champions Week NMPA Myers Brothers Awards at the Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino on December 3, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Upon hearing the news that Jimmie Johnson won the AP Male Athlete of the Year award, I have to admit that I was perplexed. 

I thought he retired years ago to his yacht after leaving the Miami Dolphins in the "good hands" of his buddy Dave Wannstedt.

And besides, is a coach considered an athlete?

But then I realized this Jimmie Johnson was a race car driver and that the spelling of his first name was different.

It turns out he's won the NASCAR Sprint Cup points championship four years in a row.  

So let me ask the question again: Is a race car driver an athlete?

If it's shown on ESPN, does that mean the participants are athletes?

I love those poker players with their visors and dark sunglasses playing for big bucks. They look so cool.

They also look so athletic sitting around the table manipulating the cards between their fingers. They have such amazing manual dexterity.

How about Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky back in the day?

Was that a heavyweight slugfest or what? Two cerebral minds going mano to mano to checkmate each other into submission.

Oh, the humanity.

That was chess for those who don't go back that far.

I can even question whether golf is really a sport; or is it just a game with very skilled players competing against each other, though not directly.

In golf you can only stop yourself. Your opponent has no say over how you perform.

In poker, part of it is the hand you're dealt, and part of it is knowing how to play that hand.

But in NASCAR, there are actually a bunch of lunatics tailgating you and trying to stop you from achieving your goal—being the first to cross the finish line.

That somewhat meets my criteria for a sport, someone trying to stop you from winning.

But is sitting behind the wheel driving a car really a sport?

I live in Chicago and drive over sixty miles a day on I-94; locally known as the Dan Ryan Expressway. Anyone driving the "Ryan" at night knows you're taking your life into your own hands when cruising that highway.

I consider myself a pretty good driver.

I can usually anticipate when someone is going to change lanes before they do and I constantly check out my mirrors so I know what I need to do in case the inevitable happens.

I don't watch NASCAR, so I'm not sure if they signal when they change lanes, but I have to think they probably don't.

Your reflexes have to be incredible, and with someone on your bumper at anytime, it has to be white-knuckle driving.

I imagine your heart is racing the whole time.


The possibility of that exists in the four major sports, mainly in football or hockey, but it is highly unlikely. 

You can get shot for pulling a card from your sleeve in poker, but that's probably not on ESPN.

In golf, you could get a club wrapped around your head, but that's because you strayed from the course you were supposed to be playing on.

So I'm trying to figure out if the AP knows something that I don't.

Should I give credence to Jimmie Johnson and recognize him as "Athlete of the Year?"

I'm really fighting with it, but I just can't see a race car driver as an athlete.

They are incredibly skilled with tremendous reflexes as I previously mentioned, but for me to recognize somebody as an athlete, you can't be sitting behind the wheel of a car when you do what you do.