History of The Sporting News’ Athlete of the Year awards: Full list of past winners, 1968-2023

For more than half a century, The Sporting News has been honoring an individual or individuals as the standout sports personality or personalities of the year.

What began as “Man of the Year” evolved into “Sportsman of the Year” and, finally, more recently Athlete of the Year.

College basketball stars Caitlin Clark of Iowa and Angel Reese of LSU are Sporting News’ 2023 Athletes of the Year.

MORE: Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are The Sporting News Athletes of the Year

The award is relatively young in TSN’s awards portfolio, given that The Sporting News has been handing out awards in baseball since the 1930s and in football since the 1940s.

History of The Sporting News’ Athlete of the Year awards

The Sporting News began selecting annually an individual or individuals as the standout sports personality beginning in 1968 when TSN chose the Tigers’ Denny McLain, who went 31-6 that year to become the first MLB pitcher to reach the 30-victory mark since 1934.

Across the early decades of the annual award, there were commissioners, coaches, a golfer, an Olympic athlete, a thoroughbred jockey, as well as an expected array of baseball, basketball and football players.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, TSN began focusing more closely on the people who actually competed in the games, rather than coaches, commissioners, executives and other non-athletes.

And, in fact, for three years, beginning in 2008, The Sporting News expanded the award to honor a professional athlete, a college athlete and a high school athlete.

Against the backdrop of a changing media landscape, The Sporting News didn’t hand out the annual honor from 2013 to 2020. But TSN’s Athlete of the Year returned in 2021 to recognize the singular talent that is Shohei Ohtani.

Who votes on The Sporting News’ Athlete of the Year awards?

Unlike most of our sport-by-sport awards that are voted on by players, coaches and executives from respective leagues, The Sporting News’ Athlete of the Year is decided by the staff.

A multi-step process of voting takes place over several weeks, as the merits of several candidates are considered.

For most of the award’s history, it was limited to North American candidates, but now that The Sporting News has more than a dozen editions in multiple languages, TSN takes a more global approach (PSG’s and Argentina’s Lionel Messi won in 2022).

Sporting News Athlete of the Year

1968 — Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers

1969 — Tom Seaver, New York Mets

1970 — John Wooden, UCLA Bruins

1971 — Lee Trevino, golf

1972 — Charlie Finley, Oakland Athletics

1973 — O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills

1974 — Lou Brock, St. Louis Cardinals

1975 — Archie Griffin, Ohio State Buckeyes

1976 — Larry O’Brien, NBA

1977 — Steve Cauthen, horse racing

1978 — Ron Guidry, New York Yankees

1979 — Willie Stargell, Pittsburgh Pirates

1980 — George Brett, Kansas City Royals

1981 — Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers

1982 — Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinals

1983 — Bowie Kuhn, MLB

1984 — Peter Ueberroth, Los Angeles Olympics

1985 — Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds

1986 — Larry Bird, Boston Celtics

1987 — No honoree

1988 — Jackie Joyner-Kersee, track and field

1989 — Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers

1990 — Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers

1991 — Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

1992 — Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Blue Devils

1993 — Cito Gaston and Pat Gillick, Toronto Blue Jays

1994 — Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys

1995 — Cal Ripken Jr., Baltimore Orioles

1996 — Joe Torre, New York Yankees

1997 — Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals

1998 — Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs

1999 — New York Yankees

2000 — Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams

2001 — Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks

2002 — Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2003 — Dick Vermeil, St. Louis Rams, and Jack McKeon, Kansas City Royals

2004 — Tom Brady, New England Patriots

2005 — Matt Leinart, USC Trojans

2006 — LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers 

2007 — Tom Brady, New England Patriots

2008 — Pro Athlete: Eli Manning, New York Giants; College Athlete: Stephen Curry, Davidson Wildcats; High School Athlete: Manti Te’o, Honolulu Punahou (Hawaii) HS football

2009 — Pro Athlete: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees; College Athlete: Colt McCoy, Texas Longhorns; High School Athlete: Harrison Barnes, Ames (Iowa) HS basketball

2010 — Pro Athlete: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies; Kyle Singer, Duke Blue Devils; High School Athlete: Mike Bellamy, Punta Gorda Charlotte (Florida) HS football

2011 — Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2012 — LeBron James, Miami Heat

2013-2020 — No honorees

2021 — Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

2022 — Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain

2023 — Caitlin Clark, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Angel Reese, LSU Tigers

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