Sports are more than just great entertainment. Through sports exceptional individuals have not only excelled in their chosen fields, not only pushing the boundaries of achievement but influencing generations. History is rich with figures whose legacy goes beyond their sporting achievements and leaked into the broader popular culture, causing their names to become synonymous with greatness in the field and beyond.
But how have these sporting greats transcended their roots and become pop culture icons? What is it that makes their influence extend to the point that their jerseys become cherished commodities on Hollywood Collectibles? Let’s have a look through some of the most influential sports stars of all time and see how each, in their own way, has helped to change the world.
Baseball is still the national pastime, and while many players have reached the ranks of superstardom in the diamond, none have reached the iconic status of George Herman Ruth Jr. who is still regarded as the greatest player of all time. Known for his larger than life personality and staggering achievements in the sport his legacy of broken record speaks for itself, including career home runs (714), runs batted in (2,213), slugging percentage (.690) , on-base plus slugging (OPS) (1.164 and bases on balls (2,062). The latter two records have still yet to be bettered.
Soccer is not without its big names but few have reached the legendary status of Pele. As well as coining the phrase “The Beautiful game” by which soccer is known the world over, Pele’s flamboyant style (including his legendary and spectacular bicycle kick) and unbeaten record of career goals raised the profile of the sport all over the world.
Bruce Lee was more than an athlete, more than a martial artist and more than a movie star. He single handedly brought international recognition to the martial arts while demystifying them for agog Western audiences. He fought the stuffy traditionalism of the martial arts in favor of a functional, eclectic approach. Lee’s example not only caused an international boom in popularity for martial arts but injected some much needed cross pollination between styles that like likes of the Gracies picked up and ran with. No Bruce Lee, no MMA.
Serena Williams is not the best female tennis player of all time. She’s simply the best tennis player of all time. In 2013, she became the oldest No. 1 player in WTA history, a record that she still holds 4 years later. She is now unsurpassed in Grand Slam victories having notched up more wins than anyone in tennis’ Open era. She surpassed the legendary Roger Federer with her 308th victory with her 308th win in September 2016.
A few athletes have used their status and influence to engender political awareness but no sports star has been so incendiary in their anti-racism, anti-establishment rhetoric than Ali. Here was an athlete who inspired generations of African Americans to celebrate their heritage and achievements while taking the institutional inequality of the status quo thoroughly to task. With his impressive record in the ring (still the world’s only three-time lineal World heavyweight), who was going to argue with him?