NEW YORK (SI/WFAN) – After a voting campaign that engaged influencers with an audience of more than 78 million Facebook users and Twitter followers, the fans have spoken.
The return of Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand — one year after he was paralyzed from the neck down in a game vs. Army at Giants Stadium — is Sports Illustrated's 2011 Moment of the Year.
LeGrand will appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's year-end issue — the first time in the 57-year history of the magazine that the choice for the cover of the magazine has been made by fans.
For one week, from Dec. 9–16, fans could visit a custom tab on Sports Illustrated's Facebook page to rank the top five choices. The project produced votes from 178 countries and led more than 6,000 users to post comments on Facebook.
In the end, LeGrand beat out two of the world's most well-known soccer stars (Lionel Messi and Abby Wambach), a record-breaking surfer (Kelly Slater) and a milestone for the captain of the Yankees (Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit), among 15 iconic moments that fans could choose from.
During the final two days of voting, a surge of support—highlighted by tweets from two of New Jersey's most prominent politicians, Governor Chris Christie and Newark mayor Cory Booker — nudged LeGrand over the top. Since his injury the upbeat LeGrand has used the same digital tools that helped galvanize voters to put his story on the cover to not only survive his injury but also thrive.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Alexander Wolff writes: "Voice recognition software helps him text and tweet. His wheelchair is Bluetoothed. He takes classes via Skype and updates his Facebook page regularly. Indeed, the very digital technology that helped put LeGrand's story on this week's cover has normalized his life as much as that's possible. 'He can control his Twitter, he can control his Facebook,' says LeGrand's mother, Karen. 'It helps him have a sense of independence. It's something that he can do himself without anybody's help.' "
Wolff concludes: "When Eric LeGrand walks again — not if he does, as he'll hasten to tell you — he knows exactly what he'll do. 'I'll go to Giants Stadium and find the exact spot on the field where I went down,' he told SI's Jon Wertheim in October. 'I'll lie there for a second. And then I'll get up on my own power and walk away.' It would be quite a moment. A moment made for a reelection campaign."
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