University of Colorado head football coach Deion Sanders was crowned Sports Illustrated’s 2023 Sportsperson of the Year this week, and people had a lot to say about it.
“Help me understand how Sanders meets the criteria for Sportsperson of the Year,” blasted columnist Dave Feit on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Sportsmanship? He ran off players, turned molehills into mountains, & had players flashing jewelry at fans. Achievement? 4-8 CU beat zero teams w/ winning records. Best win is what? TCU? Nebraska?”
College Football Home said, “Spotify Wrapped ends in November. Turns out SI’s Sportsperson of the Year voting ends in September.”
Sanders, who took over the CU program last December, brought renewed energy to what was a flailing program and ushered in the first fully sold-out season in Folsom Field history — going 4-8 after a 3-0 start. He was joined by his family in his coaching quest, with sons Shilo and Shedeur becoming members of the team; his eldest, Deion Sanders Jr., is a media manager, and Sanders's daughter, Shelomi, is a CU student and basketball player. Celebrities and famous athletes also drank the CU Kool-Aid this year, with many showing up on the sidelines throughout the season.
The Sports Illustrated story focuses on Sanders's impact in Boulder, including ticket sales, application numbers and his strengthening of the Black community in what is a very white town. “This is just the beginning,” the CU football account posted on X. “Congratulations to Coach Prime on being named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year!”
The magazine cover depicts Sanders standing in front of important characters in his story — his family, his agent, Chip the CU mascot, the university’s chancellor and athletic director, and even superfan Peggy Coppom. Often known just as Peggy, she’s an emblem of the fans who stuck with CU through what were some truly rough years on the gridiron. There’s also a man just to Sanders's right wearing a tan hoodie whom most people might not recognize. That man is Sam Morini, manager of talent development for SMAC Entertainment, the company that represents Sanders and his family and produces the Amazon Prime series Coach Prime, which follows Sanders’s coaching journey.
Through a spokesperson, Morini declined to comment. But the 28-year-old told Sports Business Journal in October that he is trying to soak up the Sanders mindset as he manages the day-to-day schedule of the coach.
“Believing in yourself and all your endeavors without a shadow of a doubt because you know the work and preparation you put into it,” Morini said of what he wants to learn. “I’m tremendously blessed to be exposed to this mindset on a daily basis from Coach Prime.”
Though Sanders has yet to make an official statement about the SI cover, he joined the Thursday Night Football broadcast to discuss the 2023 college football season. “We instilled hope not only in our fan base, but in college football alike. But next year is a season of expectation,” Sanders said. “Right now, we are recruiting our butts off. I’m recruiting as I speak.”
Coach Prime has always been aware of what making a splash and owning your personality in the media can do for you, and that includes winning awards that might make people on the internet mad as hell. He seemed to be tuned into what many were saying on Thursday night.
Feit, who writes about the University of Nebraska, was one of countless people to bring out the receipts on why Sanders didn't deserve to be "Sportsperson of the Year." He shared a screenshot on X of a description from SI on how it picks the award each year, saying it's based on “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.”
Sure, Feit’s allegiance to the Cornhuskers makes him seem salty, but plenty of unaffiliated people have had the same response.
X user @ok_post_guy wrote, “Deion Sanders upended what, 70 college kids' lives in order to OVERHAUL Colorado Football from 1-11 to 4-8? And that is somehow deserving of SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR? He cut 70 kids with almost zero notice, made the whole thing about him, and he's the example SI wants to celebrate.”
Upon his arrival in Boulder, Sanders caught flak for telling players to “hop in that portal” because he intended to fill the roster with his own recruits. The result: Of the 114 athletes on CU’s roster in 2023, 86 were newcomers.
Just before the Sports Illustrated announcement, the magazine had been busted for using artificial intelligence to write articles without disclosing that it was doing so — even going so far as to create fake writer profiles to post the AI stories under. Not surprisingly, many people joked that Sanders’s selection was the result of faulty AI.
“The AI that wrote this: ‘I'm sorry, but I don't have real-time information or updates on specific events after my last training cut-off on September 16, 2023,’” Matt Grossenbach parodied on X, referencing the fact that many AI models aren’t always 100 percent up to speed with current events. Rocky Mountain Showdown. After that date, the team won just one more game, on October 7 at Arizona State University, which ended the season with a paltry 3-9 record.
Lots of people have pointed out that athletes like Major League Baseball phenom Shohei Ohtani, Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark and NBA Finals MVP Denver Nugget Nikola Jokic were more deserving of the award.
“I mean I can fire out at least twenty more that fit the definition better, but interactions are worth more than facts, so I get it,” said Khirey Walker, an assistant professor of sport management at Elon Communications, on X.
Denver entrepreneur Nick Brown, however, backed the Sanders choice: “People are going to flame Coach Prime for the team not finishing strong, and that is fair,” he said. “But you can't argue the following: No one has brought more attention to any sport in the last decade than Prime brought to college football in the first half of the season. Congrats, Coach!”
Brown referenced television viewing numbers showing the CU-CSU matchup was the fifth-most-watched college football game in history to back up his point. Plus, Colorado played host to both of TV's main college football shows — ESPN’s College GameDay and Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff — during the season.
Plenty of people from the sports world also praised the choice of Sanders for the award, including NBA star Lebron James and retired NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who both penned columns for Sports Illustrated about Sanders’s impact.
“I’ve never seen anything in sports quite like what Coach Prime did for the recognition of the program,” NFL analyst Emmanuel Acho said on X. “The amount of hope he brought to Colorado is astounding. Well deserved.”
User @Reallytheitgirl, whose bio identifies her as a “Coach Prime Supporter,” summed it up with this: “People will hate regardless but the reality is Deion Sanders was the most talked about person in sports and Colorado was the most talked about team in sports ALL YEAR LONG. Those are the facts: The cover does not say ‘the person who won the most games.’”
Those who agree — or those who simply want to join in on the fun — can try to snag a ticket to the December 6 event at CU where Sanders will accept the award and celebrate the premiere of Coach Prime season two, which the state gave $500,000 to make possible.