UCLA Softball’s Rachel Garcia is a better college athlete than Zion Williamson, but she won’t win the ESPY because it is essentially a popularity contest and does not award individuals based on merit.
ESPN’s annual self-congratulatory award ceremony, the ESPYs, will be taking place on July 10 and UCLA softball’s Rachel Garcia is up for the award for Best College Athlete.
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Looking at her resume, just from this year alone, Garcia has not only had one of the best seasons in UCLA history but also in NCAA Softball history.
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Not only did she post a 29-1 record, had an ERA of 1.14 (3rd best in the country) but she also had a solid season as a batter in which she averaged .343, sixth best on the team. These efforts helped the UCLA softball team to an overall record of 56-6, a Pac-12 title, as well as the 2019 National Championship. This also resulted in her winning multiple awards including the Pac-12 Player and Pitcher of the Year, USA Player of the Year, NFCA Player of the Year, ESPNW Player of the Year and the Honda Cup.
But that doesn’t seem to be enough to earn her the ESPY award for Best College Athlete, at least in the eyes of “voters.”
The ESPYs Twitter account ran a poll which asked fans to vote for who they believe is the best college athlete among four talented players. Garcia made the list with Oklahoma football’s Kyler Murray, Duke men’s basketball’s Zion Williamson, and Oregon women’s basketball’s Sabrina Ionescu.
As of today, the results are as follows: Williamson 60%, Murray 26%, Garcia 7%, and Ionescu 7%.
Clearly, there is a disconnect with “voters” and college athletes. These results show that this is not an award given to the best college athlete, but in fact, an award given to the most popular.
There is no doubt that Williamson (as well as Murray) is a top athlete. He was hands down the best in his sport for this past year, but Williamson does not have the numerous accolades and hardware that Garcia has. Plus, I cannot fathom giving this award to Williamson who only played in 33 out of 38 games due to injury while Garcia powered through and played in 61 of UCLA’s 62. And she was dominant in every single one of those games.
Williamson was undoubtedly the best college men’s basketball player and his AP, Naismith and Wooden Player of the Year awards prove this, but he was not able to help Duke capture an ACC Conference Championship nor a national championship as Duke lost in the Elite Eight.
Garcia not only won a national title but was the driving force behind UCLA’s 12th banner. Additionally, she was the only player in the poll to win a national championship.
This is not meant to be a shot at the former Blue Devil (or the other two candidates), but when you consider what Garcia and Williamson did for their team and their sport, Garcia is a much more important figure.
Until a player in a less popular sport can win this honor, the ESPYs need to change the title of the award to “Most Popular College Athlete.” At least it will be accurate.
And when you compare their accomplishments, there is no question that Garcia was the best college athlete this past year, but because she plays a sport that is not as popular as men’s basketball or football, she is not getting the love that she rightfully deserves.
ESPN is partially to blame for this. Though both Williamson and Garcia made headlines with the sports broadcasting company, Williamson was given far more attention. ESPN’s coverage of men’s basketball and college football far outweighs non-revenue sports, especially women’s sports.
One may say, “it is what it is,” but that narrative has to change. Women’s sports are becoming exponentially popular by the year, and sports outlets need to do a better job of promoting these sports and individual athletes. If the ESPYs can have an award for the WWE (a “sport” that is essentially scripted), then they can focus a little more on sports and athletes that are less popular as these athletes work and play their games unscripted.
Considering everything that Garcia has accomplished (in this year alone), it is a complete farce for her to receive only 7% of the votes. This shows how biased sports fans are and ESPN needs to right this wrong. Until a player in a less popular sport can win this honor, the ESPYs need to change the title of the award to “Most Popular College Athlete.” At least it will be accurate.