People are mad that Serena Williams beat a horse for Sportsperson of the Year

Don’t mess with horse people.

The fury of racing fans is all over the Internet today after Sports Illustrated announced that it crowned tennis icon Serena Williams its 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.

American Pharoah, a Breeder’s Cup Classic and Triple Crown winner who retired this year after taking becoming the first horse ever to win a ‘Grand Slam’ and take all four 2015 American racing titles, won the Sports Illustrated readers’ poll by a landslide. On Sunday, the magazine announced that American Pharoah had received a whopping 47 percent of the vote for Sportsperson of the Year, beating out second-place scorers Kansas City Royals, third-place soccer champ Lionel Messi, and a list of other athletes. 

Williams had come in low on the reader’s poll at number 12, just behind UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. And yet today, the magazine revealed that it had awarded the title to Williams with a cover story and eye-catching cover. That’s when the outrage of horse racing fans hit social media. 

American Pharoah’s outspoken owner Ahmed Zayat tweeted that his famous horse had been “robbed.” Fans and racing reporters joined in, questioning why the Sports Illustrated readers’ poll exists at all if the votes don’t impact the choice of winner. Many threatened to cancel their subscriptions to the magazine in protest.

As American Pharoah fans expressed their anger at the snub, they were roundly dragged on Twitter for supporting a horse over a human. Others responded by pointing out that Sports Illustrated itself had included the horse in its Sportsperson of the Year poll, not to mention this year’s epic Grand Slam win. 

But Williams also had a tremendous year, overcoming illness and injury to win the 2015 Wimbledon Championships for the sixth time in her career. She was also ranked number one overall in singles, despite failing to grab the 2015 Grand Slam in what has been called one of the biggest upsets in tennis history.

Williams fans reacted to the controversy with disbelief, suggesting that complaints about her win were driven by racism and misogyny. 

Those who sat neither on Team Serena nor Team Horse mostly used the trending platform to joke about American Pharoah’s reaction, illustrate memes, or suggest that the public redirect its attention to other, perhaps more important topics such as the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings.

Williams herself hasn’t addressed the controversy over her Sportsperson of the Year title, but she did post a heartfelt message of gratitude on Instagram Monday morning.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.