Jimmie Johnson is a nominee for ESPN's Male Athlete of the Year, called the ESPYs. His competition is Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Phelps. I doubt if Jimmie wins because his isn't a household name like NBA players and Olympics gold medal winners. But if the voters are looking, not just for someone outstanding in their sport, but outstanding as a role model for fans of those sports, especially young ones, Jimmie should get it hands down.
Consider Michael Phelps. Despite his spectacular achievements in the Olympics, Michael was photographed engaging in criminal activity, namely, puffing on a bong, at a college no less. And it's not that I'm even especially judgmental about smoking marijuana. I personally believe pot should be legalized. But the fact is, it's not. So Michael knowingly broke the law, in front of students who see him as someone to look up to and emulate. What he did has gotten other people thrown in jail and resulted in a criminal record. For me, that knocks him out of the competition.
Then we have Kobe Bryant, once accused of sexual assault. He did admit to adultery, although he claimed the sex was consensual. In the end, the alleged victim refused to testify so the prosecutor dropped the charges. I worked for a prosecutor's office. In my experience, most prosecutors don't bring charges unless they have some fairly convincing evidence (although admittedly, there are exceptions). Still, I believe it is more likely than not that Kobe coerced the girl to some extent. She ended up suing him civilly and an agreement was reached. Even if we only accept the adultery, it tilts Kobe off his pedestal, despite his extraordinary accomplishments on the court.
And lastly, LeBron James. I don't watch basketball and I don't know much about LeBron except that he has fantastic stats along with a rather poor attitude toward sportsmanship, refusing, for instance, to congratulate his opponents when he loses. Sportsmanship, however, is an important part of being an admirable athlete.
To me, their actions preclude these three from being named Male Athlete of the Year despite their indisputable talent in their individual sports. Some behavior excepts you from certain honors, despite your achievements in your field.
Presidents, for instance. We impeached a president for having oral sex. Bill Clinton might very well go down in the history books as an excellent president. In fact, I expect he will. But I doubt he'll be having many schools or airports named after him any time soon because of his extracurricular failings.
Same with Kobe, Michael and LeBron.
Meanwhile, we have Jimmie, a sportsman both on and off the track. He's humble in victory and gracious in defeat. His reputation is that he's a clean driver. He pushes hard to win but he won't dump another driver to do it. There has never been a breath of scandal about his personal life. Much of his spare time is spent raising funds for his own charitable organization, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, as well as others.
If by "Athlete of the Year", we only go by statistics, then these four athletes are probably pretty evenly matched but if we include personal integrity as part of being a superior athlete, then it's no contest. Winner - Jimmie.