The Century in Sports

The Eighth Annual Village Voice Sportswriters' Poll

Runners-up: Jackie Robinson. He earned his place in history by breaking baseball's color barrier. But it's interesting to note that Robinson's feat came in his fourth-best sport. The '49 NL MVP had lettered in basketball, football, and track at UCLA, earning a national championship in the long jump. As for his role as a social pioneer, that was nothing new to him either. In the army, Robinson once refused to sit in the back of the bus, earning him a court-martial (he was later cleared). » Pelé. The greatest soccer player ever was somehow absent from most of the century-ending lists of greatest athletes. Voice voters addressed this omission, pointing to his three World Cup championships with Brazil, and his 12 goals in 14 Cup games. Pelé was beloved all over the globe—when his club team went to Nigeria in 1969, the civil war there stopped for the duration of his visit. In 1975, Pelé came out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos, creating an explosion of soccer popularity in the U.S. He has been an ambassador for his sport ever since.


WORST SPORTS FIGURE OF THE CENTURY

Don King. The unrighteous reign of this street hustler- turned-boxing fixer started in 1974 (with his promotion of the "Rumble in the Jungle"). A long, slimy trail of accusations have followed him ever since (none of which seem to stick, except, of course, for that manslaughter rap that got him 4 years).

Runners-up: Walter O'Malley. The destroyer of Brooklyn's soul was not the first to pull up a Major League team and move elsewhere. But he took a beloved team away from a borough that saw the Dodgers as the core of its identity. Brooklyn still feels the pain from that 1957 disaster—just ask Pete Hamill. If the evil O'Malley had any heart whatsoever, there might be a grand old ballpark at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic instead of a mall. » Adolf Hitler. The Führer's attempt to turn the '36 Games into a propaganda display for the master race, fortunately, fell on its face. We have Jesse Owens to thank for that. But by festooning as many swastikas on the stadium as possible, Hitler still managed to turn the Olympics into a Nazi pageant and forever doomed the games to being as much a show of jingoism as a sporting competition.


PREVIOUS WINNERS OF THE VILLAGE VOICE SPORTSWRITERS' POLL

MALE SPORTS FIGURE OF THE YEAR
1998: Sammy Sosa
1997: Michael Jordan
1994: Mark Messier
1993: Michael Jordan
1992: Magic Johnson
1991: Magic Johnson
1990: Roger Milla

FEMALE SPORTS FIGURE OF THE YEAR
1998: Chamique Holdsclaw
1997: Martina Hingis
1994: Martina Navratilova
1993: Sheryl Swoopes
1992: Manon Rhéaume
1991: Martina Navratilova
1990: Lisa Olson

TEAM OF THE YEAR
1998: New York Yankees
1997: Chicago Bulls
1994: New York Rangers
1993: Chicago Bulls
1992: USA Olympic Basketball "Dream Team"
1991: USA Women's Soccer
1990: San Francisco 49ers

WORST SPORTS FIGURE OF THE YEAR
1998: David Stern and the NBA owners
1997: Mike Tyson
1994: Bud Selig/Richard Ravitch and the Major League Baseball owners
1993: Vince Coleman
1992: Marge Schott

SPORTS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
1998: Andrew Zimbalist (SportsBusiness Journal, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
1994: Darcy Frey (The Last Shot)/Steve James, Peter Gilbert, and Frederick Marx (Hoop Dreams)
1993: USA Today Sports Section
1992: Phil Mushnick (New York Post)
1991: Robert Lipsyte (New York Times)

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