This Week’s Sports Illustrated: 2012 Inspiring Performers – R.A. Dickey and Kayla Harrison Shine a Light on the Dark Secret of Child Sexual Abuse; Eli Manning Has ’Em Right Where He Wants ’Em; The Historic Performances of Female U.S. Olympians

SI-22012 Inspiring Performers

Gary Smith highlights R.A. Dickey and Kayla Harrison, two bright spots in the dark history of child sexual abuse; Linsanity may be over but Albert Chen writes the war over Jeremy Lin has just begun; S.L. Price says Giants quarterback Eli Manning has forced us to rethink what we expect in a star; forty years after Title IX, American women proved in London that equal opportunity pays off on the podium

(NEW YORK – Dec.12, 2012) – Some athletes wow us with their sheer physical brilliance, others through displays of courage, poise and passion, or by their willingness to push limits, break barriers and hoist fans’ hopes on their shoulders. This week’s Sports Illustrated celebrates those special stars—the inspiring performers who made 2012 a sports year to remember.

For their refusal to be silent victims of sexual abuse, two of those performers, New York Mets knuckleballer and 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey and 2012 Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison are featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. In a year when the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State rocked the sports world, award-winning SI senior writer Gary Smith asks us to re-imagine, a century from now, looking back on the plague of sexual abuse and celebrating the courage of Dickey and Harrison, who shined a light on a dark history.

Both were abused as children—Dickey by a babysitter and a stranger, Harrison by her judo coach—and the pain of abuse became part of who they were. Smith describes the torture Dickey and Harrison had to endure en route to breaking their silence, and how they support victims who now have the courage to tell their own stories.

“My heart broke for those boys in the Penn State scandal because I knew what they would be up against,”Dickey would say. “And then … I felt for Jerry Sandusky because of what happened to him in his life. The toxicity of it all is so frightening. It energized me, made me see that there’s a real need for activism. The taboo’s been breached. Finally the elephant in the room is out—it’s raising its trunk and bellowing” (page 66).

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Overnight, the winner of Sports Illustrated’s Most Inspiring Performer contest, became many things to many people: the Savior of the Knicks, a basketball hero in a city starved for one; a Harvard Man who glamorized Ivy League hoops; a Man of Faith, a devout Christian and the NBA’s answer to Tim Tebow; an Inspiring Underdog who gave home to against-all-odds ballers everywhere; an Asian-American Trailblazer who shattered math-science nerd stereotypes.

Born and raised in American suburbs, and of Chinese and Taiwanese descent, Lin is aware that China and Taiwan both want to call him their own, but he tries to avoid getting involved. His goal is to make all those who lay claim to him proud. “There will always be a battle over him, but I don’t think it matters what color you are or what country you’re from—I think he’s a role model for all Asians, and for everyone who’s suffered stereotypes,” says Jessica Kung, a reporter for Chinese television station CCTV who has covered Lin since he played at Harvard. “I think he will get to a point where his story is beyond race—where he transcends it” (page 48).

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The Redskins and the Cowboys are surging in the NFC East, and Peyton has come back from oblivion to fashion one of his typically flawless campaigns in Denver, but analysts are mapping ways the Giants could miss the playoffs entirely. In other words, Eli Manning has ’em all right where he wants ’em. Life just feels better when it’s played like an endless two-minute drill.

Call him a handhog hero, a sad-sack Superman, kid brother to a legend—but would you bet against Eli Manning when it’s all on the line in February? The MVP of two Super Bowls, a scion of football’s first family and the ultimate gamer, S.L. Price writes that the Giants’ quarterback, who plays with an air of simplicity and calm, has forced us to rethink what we expect in a star. “Every day the fans call in and ask, ‘What the hell’s the matter with Eli?’” says Boomer Esiason, talk-show host on New York’s WFAN radio station and former Jets QB. “And I say, ‘There’s nothing the matter with Eli. That’s who he is.’ He’s better suited for this than any of us idiots are” (page 37).

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On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, female U.S. Olympians demonstrated in powerful and unmistakable terms how equal access to resources and equal opportunities to compete can pay off on the podium. For the first time women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team, and their 29 gold medals in London accounted for two thirds of those won by the U.S. Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak, Grant Wahl, Melissa Segura, Phil Taylor, Chris Mannix, Kelli Anderson and L. Jon Wertheim look at the distinct characteristics the American women showed us—in performances ranging from the uplifting to the downright dominant—over the course of two historic weeks in London.

Gymnastics Team – FiercenessOozing flair, grace and poise, the Fierce Five led from the first rotation of the team finals and won the first Olympic team title for U.S. gymnasts since 1996.

Kim Rhode, shooting – LongevityRhode became the first American to win an individual medal in five straight Olympic games with her gold in skeet shooting.

Claressa Shields, boxing – Focus After the American men struggled in their London matches, Claressa Shields showed maturity beyond her 17 years, blocking out distractions during the games, winning middleweight gold and staving off the first shutout of U.S. boxing at an Olympics.

Swim Team – Unity – If there was a defining characteristic of the women’s swim team in London, it was a spirit of sororal fun and connection, fostered in part by Teri McKeever, the U.S. women’s first female head coach.

Serena Williams, tennis – Dominance On her way to gold in London, Williams swept aside the three players most recently ranked No.1, perhaps the most impressive showing of her career.

Women’s Soccer Team – ResilienceThe U.S. team proved its mettle in an epic Olympic semifinal win over Canada, in which Megan Rapinoe keyed the comeback by scoring two goals.

Brenda Villa, water polo – Persistence After her three previous trips to the Olympics ended with silver (twice) and bronze, Villa finally stood atop the medal stand in London.

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball – Wisdom The dynamic duo knew everything there was to know about becoming an Olympic champion, and there wasn’t a situation on the sand that they hadn’t seen.

Women’s Basketball Team – ConsistencyThe U.S. women’s hoops team’s winning legacy has been gold or bust for the past 16 years.

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  • Taylor Garcia (Holland, Mich./Holland High) – Swimming
  • Logan Stieber (Monroeville, Ohio/Ohio State) – Wrestling
  • T.J. Logan (Greensboro, N.C./Northern Guilford High) – Football
  • Hannah Oneda (Westminster, Md./Johns Hopkins) – Cross-country
  • Zach Veach (Stockdale, Ohio/K12 online school) – Auto Racing
  • Madeline Kennedy and Katrina Berry (Minneapolis and Salt Lake City/University of Hawaii) – Sailing

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