Why Jimmie Johnson Is NOT the Athlete of the Year

M. S.Correspondent IDecember 22, 2009

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 02:  Four time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson speaks at Las Vegas Motorspeedway for the Champions Roast during Day 1 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champions Week on December 2, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

News broke today that NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson had been awarded the AP Male Athlete of the Year award.  Johnson became the first race car driver to win the award in its 78-year history since it has been handed out. 

He had quite the year in 2009, winning his fourth straight NASCAR Championship, something no other driver had ever accomplished.  He won four of seven races he drove in and in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, finished outside the top ten just once.

Congrats, Jimmie.  Now give the award back.

That’s right, folks.  I don’t care if Jimmie Johnson can lift 450 pounds or run a 4.2 forty-yard dash, he is no athlete of the year.

What Jimmie Johnson does is not easy by any stretch of my imagination and if the majority of people tried to drive in a NASCAR race, they would end up looking like Will Ferrell did after crashing his car in Talladega Nights .

Then again, it’s probably difficult to be an oil driller, and I don’t think we’ve seen any of those guys win the award.

According to the dictionary, the word athlete is defined as:

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“a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength”

We can all but assume the dictionary means sports when it says “exercises or contests.”  Let’s not even get into the argument of whether or not race car driving is a sport. 

In my father’s opinion, and one I agree with, a sport must have a) a ball (or puck), b) a defense, and c) a definite winner.  While it’s true that race car driving does not pass this test, we will continue onward with the discussion of why he isn’t an athlete for what he does.

In his acceptance speech for the award, Johnson was asked if he was an athlete, to which he responded “100 percent.”

“I’ve looked at other sports, particularly baseball, and I’ve seen plenty of out-of-shape, fat players.  So to anyone who wants to go head-to-head with me in athletic ability, let’s go.

"I talked a lot with Jason Sehorn about this, and I don’t know how exactly you measure athletic ability, but I know my 5-mile run time will destroy most NFL players.”

Let’s break this down, Jimmie.  The AP Male Athlete of the Year Award is given to someone who excelled the most by being the best athlete in their sport.  Going back to the definition of “athlete,” that includes doing so through physical agility, stamina, or strength.

So as out of shape and fat you might think Prince Fielder is and as badly as you think you’d beat him in a five mile race, he could hit a ball out of Miller Park faster than your little car could go. 

The fact that you believe you could win in a five mile race means very little because that isn’t what you do in your “sport.”  Rather, you make left turns faster than other drivers make left turns and have done so for the last four years.

Johnson’s accomplishments have been incredible and no one has matched what he has done in that span, but that doesn’t make him an athlete.  For all we know, Johnson could really beat most NFL players in a five-mile race (I’ll go ahead and say he couldn’t), but he is being awarded a trophy because of what he did while driving in a car. 

My mom is no athlete and she drives my little brothers to school every day.  She even makes left turns.

If you want to hand out who had the best year in their particular sport, it’d probably be a two-man race between Johnson and Roger Federer. 

But that isn’t what the award is based on.  While driving inside a race car for hours is probably physically exhausting, it requires no physical strength or agility. 

At 5′11″ and 175 pounds, I’d like to see Johnson chase down a gapper in the outfield or take a hand-off on third and goal.

Go search America’s gyms and you are bound to find a better athlete than Tiger Woods or Albert Pujols.  Those people are extremely athletic but they do not put it to use in the realm of professional sports. 

Johnson tries to make it sound like an athlete needs to have a muscular body and ability to run far or lift weights.  In reality, that’s the definition of a gym rat or what one would call a “physical specimen.” 

Johnson plays a professional “sport,” but does not put any of his so-called athletic traits to use when he sits down in his driver’s seat and goes around in a circle.

Johnson claims he “[doesn't] know how exactly you measure athletic ability,” but in his particular “sport,” there’s nothing to measure.

There’s a reason that no race car driver has ever won the Male Athlete of the Year, and that’s because their sport has nothing to do with being athletic. The most athletic thing a race car driver does is back-flip off their car after winning a race.

Dave Wiegand won the Scrabble Championship this August, his second time winning the championship.  If he was also a bodybuilder and could whoop NFLer’s in a five mile race, would he have received any votes for Male Athlete of the Year?  Didn’t think so.