On December 26 and 27, the Associated Press – AP – announced their Athletes of the Year.  This year’s winners were honoured more for their activities away from their chosen sport as they were for the activites in the filed of play.

Two thousand twenty has been a tough year all around from lockdowns to fanless sporting events; athletes have struggled to make a mark on their sports.

Despite a shortened season conducted in a bubble and surrounded by tragedy, LeBron James helped to bring another championship to his Los Angeles Lakers while earning himself a fourth NBA title and MVP Award.  When not playing basketball; James worked to get fans out for the vote, and worked to help the people in his hometown community.

This was the fourth year in a row that the AP has named James the Male Athlete of the Year; tying Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods for four wins on the male side.

James spoke to the AP saying, “I still know what I do on the floor and obviously, I give everything to the game.  But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play the game of basketball. But there’s so many more things that I can do off the floor to help cultivate people, inspire people, bring people together, empower them.”

The AP Female Athlete of the Year goes to Japanese-Haitian tennis player Naomi Osaka who won her third Grand Slam tournament this year.

When not out on the tennis court, Osaka is a champion for racial injustice and police brutality.

Via an email, Osaka said, “it was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people.  And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”

The 23 year old added, “there are clearly so many worthy issues. This one especially resonated with me because of my own personal up-bringing; and also while the tennis tour was paused, I was able to watch and read news at length for the first time in my life. This summer in the U.S., tensions were high and reached boiling point.  It was the right time for me to speak up.”

Helping to shine the limelight on racial injustice by arriving at the U.S. Open matches wearing face masks that featured the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and Philando Castile; she said, “to be honest, I really didn’t stop to think about what others would think of my actions. Other people’s opinions weren’t going to stop me from doing what I know in my heart was the right thing to do.  The strong voices of Colin (Kaepernick) and LeBron were certainly positive influences for me and gave me strength in my own convictions.”

feature photo credit: AP Facebook page