When pop culture-obsessed artist Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” in 1968, color television had only recently become the household standard and personal computers were practically science fiction.
Warhol wasn’t responding to the culture and technology at the time, but anticipating where it was headed—he was describing the 21st Century concept of “going viral.”
Perhaps no industry benefited more from our ever-expanding ability to send information and images anywhere—almost instantaneously—than the sports industry. The major pro leagues, NCAA, sports media, fans and countless others are more connected, and exposed, than ever.
Today, social media is the latest innovation that’s graduated from an intriguing niche and into a force that’s transforming our economy and way of life. “Going viral” may stink of corporate jargon, but it’s evolved into a legit avenue for mass publicity at almost no cost; and it’s helped launch and re-launch careers in sports.
Viral sports videos—like 2012 NFL draft prospect Justin Bethel’s pool leap—posted on social media sites like YouTube and Reddit, find their way onto blogs, which then get the attention of major sports media organizations...and the rest is history.
And one awesome benefit of this Brave Viral World is that talented women in sports, who may have never gotten their “15 minutes” (outside a very narrow, local audience), are watching their careers take off thanks to our connected, shrinking world.
These are the 20 most viral women in sports.
Samantha Ponder's star has been rising, essentially, since the day she graduated college in 2009. She was immediately hired by FOX Sports as a sideline reporter and made the jump to ESPN's Longhorn Network in 2011.
But Ponder's popularity exploded in 2012, when she was pegged as the successor to the dearly departing Erin Andrews, and joined the College GameDay crew. Her much buzzed-about romance with Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder quickly gave way to an even more buzzed-about marriage.
The couple were married in late 2012, but are apparently planning another wedding in April. I suspect their quickie first wedding was orchestrated as a loophole to having to save themselves until their real wedding.
The last year has been quite a ride for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a freshman charged with the mighty task of replacing Ryan Tannehill, who was chosen by the Dolphins in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
From relative obscurity to Heisman-winning "Johnny Football," who handed mighty Alabama their only loss of the calendar year—all in a matter of months. Along for the ride, every step of the way, has been his girlfriend Sarah Savage, a part-time model.
Savage's online popularity has rivaled Manziel's, and every time these two are spotted in public, it's breaking news all over the web. See. See again? And that's just what they've done in the last 24 hours!
Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke went viral on a global scale after a video of her pre-game warmup at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Athletics was posted on YouTube.
Jenneke's warmup includes a lot of bouncing, dancing, jumping, smiling, ponytail flipping, waving and the authoritative jiggling of various body parts. It is unquestionably the sexiest pre-race warmup ever captured on video—except for, perhaps, Jenneke performing the same dance in the rain in 2010.
The best part about the hypnotic gyrations is that they work! Jenneke easily won the race against her less wriggly competitors. The NY Daily News ranked the video as the No. 1 sports viral videos of 2012. I guess 20 million viewers can't be wrong!
Wayne Gretzky's sultry spawn Paulina has been a sexy thorn in the side of The Great One for the last few years. Paulina's sexy Twitter photos first started attracting attention in late 2011, but they attracted even more attention when her account was mysteriously shut down in November 2011.
It was reported that daddy was behind daughter's sudden disappearance. Within weeks Paulina was back on Twitter and she has since added Instagram to her social networking repertoire. Over the last year, she has become a fixture on sports gossip sites, both in the U.S. and Canada.
In early 2013 Paulina was back in the news; this time for a high-profile romance with golfer Dustin Johnson, an American who joined the PGA Tour in 2007. The couple's recent antics while vacationing in Hawaii have been widely reported on the web.
During a nationally televised Florida State football game, ESPN's resident eagle-eyed FBI (Female Body Inspector) Brent Musberger spotted Jenn Sterger in the stands and famously remarked, "I think 1,500 red-blooded American men just decided to go to FSU next semester." Why does that sound so familiar?
Musberger's shoutout led to a slew of opportunities for Sterger, including appearances in Maxim and Playboy. In 2008 she was hired by the Jets to be their "Gameday Host," which we all know is where she crossed paths with Brett Favre.
Sterger was one of the most talked about women in sports in 2010, after Deadspin published an explosive article detailing Favre's skeevy attempts to lure the busty brunette into his clutches.
An unfortunate way to be immortalized in sports history.
Former University of California pole vaulter Allison Stokke has been one of the most buzzed about female athletes on the web, dating back to her freshman year with the Bears in 2008.
How she was discovered is a bit of a mystery, but from what I've gathered, it seems like some creeper got the ball rolling by publishing her track photos somewhere on the web. Those photos were quite popular with men browsing the web looking for hot broads.
They were less popular with her father, Allan Stokke, a top criminal lawyer in California, who didn't appreciate seeing his little girl plastered all over the web. He eventually sued everyone on the Internet twice and had her photos pulled from the Cal website.
Brittney Palmer has been working as a UFC octagon girl for the last four years. In January 2013, she was named the Ring Girl of the Year at the World MMA Awards in Las Vegas.
Palmer is one of the most well-known female personalities in the male-dominated sport, routinely making guest appearances on shows like The Ultimate Fighter.
Outside of MMA, Palmer is an accomplished performer who has appeared in a number of shows on the Vegas strip, as well as a successful artist. In March 2012, she was featured on the cover of Playboy.
Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice gained international fame after winning three gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Within weeks of the games, Rice became embroiled in a scandal over Facebook photos that were deemed "too raunchy" by Aussie swimming powers that be.
Apparently a 20-year-old swimmer posing in a bathing suit with her friends, and dressing up as a sexy police officer for a party, is considered "raunchy" down under. Rice later made headlines for a brief romance with American swimmer Michael Phelps.
In the months leading up to the 2012 Olympics in London, she celebrated her 24th birthday by tweeting "racy" bikini photos. Rice failed to medal in London, but she did find time to befriend Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. And later she had to find time to deny rumors that they were dating.
Rice just has a knack for keeping herself in the news.
Aspiring actress Ricki Noel Lander and her gentleman lover Bob Kraft, owner of the Patriots and 40 years her senior, became unwitting web stars in July 2012.
Someone without a conscience, but with an eye for hilarity, leaked an audition video that featured a bikini-clad Lander, auditioning for something that will surely be terrible, and a sweater-clad Kraft running lines with her.
Eventually the studio stepped in and tried to get the video removed, but not before millions of people had seen the human train wreck.
Because he's old enough to be her grandfather, Lander and Kraft have maintained a relatively low profile since then, but are routinely spotted canoodling at various locations throughout upstate New York and New England.
Please let there be a wedding. Please!
The Winter Olympics only happen once every four years, but unlike so many snow bunnies, gold-medal winning alpine skier Lindsey Vonn doesn't disappear from the headlines in the interim. Thanks to her success on the slopes, Vonn is one of the most recognizable female athletes in the world.
Although, high-profile appearances in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and ESPN The Magazine's annual Body Issue have definitely contributed to her fame. In recent years Vonn has become a red-carpet regular at award shows, magazine parties and Hollywood premieres.
In 2011 Vonn found herself at the center of "Tebow Mania," after she celebrated a win by 'Tebowing,' sparking rumors that she and a member of the Tebow clan were dating.
More recently, Vonn has made headlines for a rumored romance with an even bigger sports star—Tiger Woods. Details are scarce, but the pair have been spotted together in Europe recently. Something tells me this is gonna be a very big story this year.
Surfer Anastasia Ashley first garnered national attention when she was featured on an episode of MTV's documentary series World of Jenks in 2010. The exposure from which helped Ashley build an impressive following on Twitter.
Later that same year, she won her biggest title to date—the Pipeline Women's Pro short board championship in Hawaii. Ashley has never had trouble finding modeling work and appeared in Playboy in the summer of 2011.
Since then Ashley has been popping up all over the web—in everything from instructional surfing videos on YouTube, to a lengthy profile on ESPNW.
U.S. women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo seemingly came out of nowhere in 2011. After appearing sans-clothes in ESPN The Magazine's annual Body Issue, she landed a spot on Season 13 of ABC's unending plague on humanity, Dancing with the Stars.
Her dance moves were abysmal, but it was her contentious exit from the show that made international news. After being eliminated in Week 9, Solo had a backstage freakout and refused to do any interviews—in her 2012 memoirs she accused the producers of rigging the show and her partner of assaulting her.
Solo took her sour attitude to new heights of wretchedness during the 2012 Olympics in London. Upset by some of the comments made by NBC analyst Brandi Chastain during a game, she lashed out at her former teammate via an unhinged rant on Twitter.
Solo capped off 2012 with a quickie marriage to former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, an accused rapist and her boyfriend of just weeks. Did I mention they got married the day after Solo had Stevens arrested for domestic assault? 'Cause that happened.
Chances are, you don't know much of anything about women's surfing. Or surfing in general. It's just not something that most people have any proximity to, let alone a working knowledge.
But if you're even remotely interested in looking at photos of hot female athletes, and you wouldn't be reading this if you weren't, surely this isn't the first you've heard of the alluring Alana Blanchard. To date, she's got over 60,000 followers on Twitter and 153,000 Likes on Facebook.
Over the last few years, Blanchard has made nearly every list of the hottest female athletes in the world on the web. But she's not just a pretty face. Blanchard is also ranked among the top female surfers in the world.
Arianny Celeste has been a UFC octagon girl since signing with the company in 2006. She has been named the MMA Ring Girl of the Year in three of her first five years with UFC and her popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.
Thanks in no small part to a number of features in men's magazines such as FHM and Maxim, as well as two very fetching features in Playboy. In May 2012 Celeste's nearly 300,000 Twitter followers were sent into a tizzy over reports that she had been arrested for domestic violence in Las Vegas.
But concerns about her future with UFC were quickly put to rest by President Dana White, who referred to Celeste as "our baby" and promised to support her 100 percent. Awww! Way to be adorable and avoid a fanboy riot.
American gymnast McKayla Maroney is probably still not impressed with her second-place finish in the vault at the 2012 Olympics in London, but she must be impressed with the level of fame she achieved in the wake of such a disappointment.
Maroney's hilariously underwhelmed moment on the podium in London became an instant viral sensation, which spawned one of the most popular web memes ever. After the Olympics, Maroney was not impressed by everything on the planet—including President Barack Obama.
But in his defense, he doesn't look very impressed, either.
This is, quite literally, one of the greatest White House photo ops ever.
Busty model Kate Upton has been on the scene for the last few years, but she had a breakout year in 2012. Thanks in large part to landing the coveted cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and the flurry of publicity that comes along with it.
She was rumored to have been dating Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez early in the year, but that was never officially confirmed. In February, Upton landed a spot in an ad for MLB2K12, which is where she met Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who she seems to have been dating ever since.
In June she teamed up with photographer Terry Richardson, who filmed Upton doing her best 'Cat Daddy' demonstration in a barely-there bikini. The video has received over 12 million views to date. Hopefully we're in for an encore performance in 2013.
Paraguayan beauty Leryn Franco became a viral sensation while competing in the javelin throw at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Franco's 51st-place finish wasn't much to write home about, but her stunning good looks have been written about ever since.
The fact that she was a former beauty queen who was plucked from the fashion runways of South America didn't come as a surprise to anyone. Franco appeared in the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and competed at the 2012 Olympics in London, her third consecutive games.
Although there seems to be no end in sight to Hope Solo's reign of terror, her teammate Alex Morgan has definitely replaced her the 'America's sweetheart' department.
She's been growing in popularity for the last two years, but the buzz surrounding her definitely hit a fever pitch after she appeared in the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition wearing nothing but a body paint bikini. Morgan was one of the darlings of the 2012 Olympics in London and brought home gold for her efforts at the games.
Morgan has amassed an incredible amount of fans on social networking sites, including upwards of 750,000 Likes on Facebook and over a million Followers on Twitter. When Alex Morgan speaks…everyone listens.
Two weeks ago, there was nary a soul outside the state of Alabama who aware of the existence of Katherine Webb, a former Miss Alabama and a graduate of Auburn University.
Then she attended the 2013 BCS Championship to support her boyfriend, Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron, and attracted the wandering eye of ESPN's Brent Musberger a number of times during the live broadcast.
Perhaps bored by the blowout on the field, Musberger made a habit of returning the discussion to Webb, shamelessly gushing about her throughout the game. But in his defense—he wasn't the only one impressed by the beauty queen.
Prior to Musberger's musings, Webb had no more than a hundred or so followers on Twitter. By the end of the game, that number had skyrocketed to over 100,000 and has since ballooned to 270,000 and counting.
Among her followers are NBA superstar LeBron James, NFL player Darnell Dockett and bloated, bronzed business blowhard Donald Trump.
Retired tennis goddess Anna Kournikova is the original viral sensation. Her tennis career was relatively brief, but she was the preeminent sports sex symbol of the late '90s.
Kournikova's rise to prominence happened to coincide with massive Internet growth, which is why her popularity continued to grow, well after she retired from the sport.
In 2001 Kournikova's web notoriety was immortalized by a Dutch hacker who authored a computer virus that used the promise of sexy picture of her as bait.
The infected email went global, but instead of delivering a photo, it infected users' computers with malware.
It doesn't get much more viral than that, does it?