Joey Cheek nominated for sportsman of the year

Team Darfur President Joey Cheek has been nominated for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award.

Jack McCallum nominated Cheek because:

Cheek last made headlines for something that happened off the ice — the Chinese Embassy revoked his visa shortly before he was set to leave the U.S. for the Beijing Olympics. What prompted China’s action was Cheek’s involvement in Team Darfur, an organization of international athletes he co-founded to bring awareness to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Cheek’s intention — and he made no secret about it — was to talk to athletes, the media and the public in Beijing about China’s financial support of a government that has brutalized Darfur’s people.

The visa revocation was news for a day or two but it died quickly, partly because IOC and USOC officials gave Cheek zero support. Olympic poohbahs have long been nervous about athletes making political statements, of course. Before the Beijing Games began the IOC issued a vague one-page memo outlawing any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in Olympic areas. That ignored the obvious fact that the nationalistic bent of the competition is one big political statement.

‘Cheek’s visa was revoked, plain and simple, because the Chinese government did not want to be embarrassed, and it used its bully pulpit to silence Cheek. ‘I believe that the Olympics is a great forum for discussing human rights,’ Cheek said after he was banned from Beijing. ‘I think you can do that respectfully and within the rules that have been laid out by the IOC.’

If you’d like to show your support for Joey’s nomination, visit SI’s blog: