The Most Influential Sports Figures of the Last 100 Years

Ryan JelleyAnalyst IFebruary 28, 2009

Naturally the players and coaches of each sport are the ones who change the way a sport is played, but what about those who change the game from behind the scenes?

Commissioners, owners, and maybe a player here or there, they are the ones who change the game forever. The most influential sports figures (in no particular order) are:


1. Marvin Miller

Miller was the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982. Miller's biggest impact was arguing professional sport's first-ever collective bargaining argument that increased the minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000.

Then in 1970, Miller was able to get arbitration included in the new bargaining agreement. This allowed contract disputes to be taken to an independent arbitrator instead of the commissioner, who nearly always sided with the owners. 


2. Branch Rickey

Rickey was another man who made a huge impact on baseball. Rickey, while with the St. Louis Cardinals, developed the modern-day farm system. After leaving the Cardinals, he became the GM of the Dodgers and did the unthinkable.

Riley signed the first African-American of the 1900s in Jackie Robinson. Later on in life while with the Pirates, Rickey also drafted the first Hispanic superstar in Roberto Clemente.


3. Pete Rozelle

Rozelle was the NFL commissioner from 1960 to 1989 and is known for his developing of the NFL into one of the premiere sports leagues in the world. Rozelle is most famous for negotiating the merger of the NFL with the rival AFL.

After the merger, Rozelle became a big supporter of the creation of the Super Bowl and Monday Night Football. Rozelle is infamous for his decision not to cancel games after the Kennedy assassination. 


4. George Halas

Halas played for, owned, and coached for the Chicago Bears. Halas made significant impacts on the NFL by first refusing to integrate the league then later signing the first African-American QB.

He also helped perfect the T-formation offense, was the first to analyze game film, and broadcast games by radio.

Halas would also share profits of the Bears televised games with teams from smaller towns, as he thought what's good for the league would eventually benefit him.


5. David Stern

Stern is the fourth NBA commissioner and although he hasn't made many changes in the league, he has helped expand it unlike any other.

Since taking the position the league has expanded from 23 teams to 30, games are broadcast worldwide, and Stern played an intricate role in the creation of the WNBA.


6. Tiger Woods

Although not changing the game at all, Woods has played a key role in reviving the game of golf since coming onto the PGA Tour in 1996.

In his first year on the tour, Woods was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and is now one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.

Woods has helped revive interest in the sport mainly through his fantastic play and rivalry with Phil Mickelson.


7. Bill Rasmussen

This is a name very few people know, but pretty much everyone in America knows his creation. In the fall of 1979 Rasmussen's creation, Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN), broadcast their first game ever, a softball game.

After one year of broadcasting college football and college basketball ESPN started running 24 hours a day. Since then, ESPN has grown into one of the largest television networks in the world.


8. Roone Arledge

Before there was Rasmussen there was Arledge. Arledge was the pioneer of sports broadcasting. A producer at ABC, Arledge took sports broadcasting to a new level.

He understood how sports broadcasting needed to change so the viewers felt like they were there. Arledge was responsible for the production for all of ABC's Olympic broadcasts and the creation of Monday Night Football.


9. Mark McCormack

McCormack was the founder of International Management Group (IMG) a group that handles the the marketing of sports celebrities. In 1960 McCormack recognized the potential sports marketing had in the new TV age.

Other than representing famous athletes, IMG was the largest independent producer of TV sports programming and distributor of sports TV rights.

IMG's clients have included modern day superstar Tiger Woods, legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, and even soccer superstar Pele. In 1990, McCormack was recognized by Sports Illustrated as the most powerful man in sports.

Honorable Mention: Bud Selig, Don Canham, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Avery Brundage


These are the legends that will never die, as their impact on sports will live on forever.