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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Let the debate end? It should, but it won't


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quite a few of you seem bothered that Jimmie Johnson was named The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. Some of you seemed to be offended that a person who drives a stock car better than anybody on the planet should be compared to athletes in other sports.

Or should be considered an athlete at all.

Some say NASCAR isn't even a sport.

This has been debated for a century. The AP vote should put an end to it. It's there in black and white for the world to finally see: A NASCAR driver is the male athlete of the year.

NASCAR drivers work just as hard to hone their skill as athletes in football, baseball, basketball and track. The hand-eye coordination, concentration and strength it takes to maneuver 3,500 pounds of machine around a racetrack is just as special as the hand-eye coordination, concentration and strength it takes to hit a baseball out of the park.

To those who disagree, look at some past winners of this award. Michael Phelps won it last season. Does swimming laps instead of driving laps make him more deserving?

Tiger Woods won it in 1997, '99, '00 and '06. Is he more of an athlete because he drives a golf ball instead of a car?

Lance Armstrong won from 2003 to 2005. Does pedaling a bike make him more of an athlete than a man who mashes a pedal?

Barry Bonds won in 2001. Last I looked, Johnson isn't accused of taking any performance-enhancing drugs.

John McEnroe won it in 1981. If you buy the argument against Johnson that anybody can drive a car, well, can't anybody swing a tennis racquet and yell at the umpire?

A few of you stepped forward and defended Johnson during my Monday afternoon chat, but many more made light of his accomplishments. Many attacked the sport with levels of idiocy that never cease to amaze.

What Johnson has accomplished in becoming the first driver to win four consecutive Sprint Cup titles is to be applauded and appreciated.

It's refreshing to see those who voted for the AP award finally did that.

Yes, NASCAR is a sport, and its drivers are athletes.

It's like the defense in "Miracle on 34th Street." If the U.S. Postal Service recognizes a person to be Santa Claus, he is. And if the AP recognizes Johnson as an athlete, he is.

The debate should be over, even though I know it's not.