XI Social Media Superstars
In the real world, players become superstars due to incredible on-field performances that are often paired with captivating or admirable off-field personalities.
In the thrilling parallel universe that is social media, however, everything changes.
Today we honor some of the biggest social media superstars—and as a tribute to the World Cup, I've chosen XI.
To clarify my selection process for this list, let me provide a brief but comprehensive definition of "social media superstar":
A social media superstar is one who exists as a hero or legend in the world of social media, and oftentimes only in the world of social media.
The list will include some figures who have simply amassed millions and millions of devoted Twitter followers or created singularly unique online personas.
It will include athletes whose spectacular plays or intriguing lifestyles have made them viral sensations.
It will include those players who, for whatever reason, are far more beloved online than they have any right to be in real life.
Indeed, these superstars are sources of comedy, tragedy, romance and everything in between.
Without further ado, let's move along to my starting XI.
Note: For the sake of variety, I have deliberately excluded anyone who was already a part of my All-NBA Social Media Team, which explains the absence of players like Metta World Peace and JaVale McGee, two of the all-time Internet greats.
Famous for: Her viral dance moves
Twenty-year-old hurdler Michelle Jenneke has never done anything on the track that has warranted any international acclaim.
Let me rephrase that—Michelle Jenneke has never done anything on the track during a race that has warranted any international acclaim.
During the 2012 Junior World Championships, however, the aspiring Australian track star put on a little pre-race routine that took the Internet by storm and brought her overwhelming fame overnight.
As shown in the video above, Jenneke has a unique way of preparing for competition. Rather than stretching, the young runner puts her hands on her hips and a smile on her face and does what can be described as nothing other than a dance.
Her hair bobs, her hips sway, her eyes sparkle—it's as bizarre as it is captivating and as unnecessary as it is awe-inspiring.
Jenneke's little dance didn't just gain her Internet fame. Her sudden burst into the spotlight also earned her a spot in the 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Now that's hitting it big time.
Crystal the Texans Cheerleader
Famous for: Making "Big Mike" the happiest kid on earth
Asking a girl to prom can be the most difficult thing a young man has to do before he turns 18.
It takes courage. It takes confidence. It takes creativity.
High school senior Mike Ramirez was not lacking in any of these this past spring, when he decided to go big by asking a Texans cheerleader to be his date via Twitter:
The retweets came piling in, and Crystal enthusiastically said "yes."
Without Twitter, Big Mike might just be Ordinary Mike—a regular guy at a regular dance with a regular date—or, perhaps, no date at all.
But Big Mike today is far from ordinary. Thanks to his bravery, the Internet and the golden heart of a golden cheerleader, Mike is a legend. A role model. An example of the type of greatness we can all achieve.
And as for Crystal?
Well, she has earned her place as a social media superstar, which is the greatest honor of all.
Famous for: Professional trolling
Skip Bayless is the ultimate Internet troll.
He's the source of the most ignorant and unvalidated opinions in sports on a daily basis and the cause of 90 percent of the anger and frustration felt by sports fans at any given time.
In a way, you could say Bayless is the "anti-superstar"—famous because of how much he is hated, legendary because of how little he is respected.
After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Bayless tweeted about LeBron's cramping issues that caused him to miss the last several minutes, sparking outrage among Heat fans and other normal people with knowledge of how cramps actually work (Medical side note: It has nothing to do with mental toughness).
17 other players played last night w/o cramping - many scoffed at how hot it was in arena. But "greatest, fittest" athlete cramped???— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 6, 2014
Bayless rips on LeBron regularly, but praises Tebow. He argues for the sake of arguing. He formulates extreme opinions for the sake of pissing you off.
If the Internet is a land that has been overrun by trolls, Skip Bayless is the king.
Famous for: Winning the affection of everybody on the Internet
The BCS National Championship is a place where stars are born.
Jameis Winston became a hero after leading Florida State to a title this past season.
Tim Tebow cemented his legacy after taking Florida to two championship games and winning one.
Katherine Webb was thrust into the spotlight after being caught on camera being really, really good-looking.
Yes, you read that correctly. Webb, the girlfriend of former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, gained sudden Internet fame after being shown repeatedly on ESPN during Alabama's national championship victory over Notre Dame in 2013.
As reported by Rachel George of USA Today, Webb caught the attention of television commentators Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit. Musburger mused, "You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman. Wow," and Herbstreit added, "If you're a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop."
Because that's what TV commentators are supposed to be talking about, right?
Anyway, Webb gained over 100,000 followers during the game alone, and now has more fame, and probably more potential for a decent NFL career, than her boyfriend.
Famous for: Having enough Twitter followers to populate a country
Though he didn't make much of a splash in Portugal's first World Cup match of 2014—his squad was steamrolled by Germany, 4-0—Cristiano Ronaldo has, over the years, become the most popular man on the Internet.
While Bayless has gained fame via antagonism and Michelle Jenneke reached the spotlight thanks to a hilarious YouTube video, Ronaldo achieved his popularity the old-fashioned way: with stunning good looks and jaw-dropping talent.
Between his Twitter and his Facebook page, Ronaldo has a combined 110 million followers, more than any other athlete in the world.
To put that in perspective, Ronaldo was born in the town of Santo Antonio, Portugal, which has a population of 27,383. That means his current online following is more than 4,000 times the size of his hometown.
It's safe to say Ronaldo is a superstar in every possible sense of the word.
Robin van Persie
Famous for: Defying gravity
Holland striker Robin van Persie doesn't share the same kind of fame as fellow footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has, however, done something that Ronaldo has not yet accomplished in this World Cup: score a goal. And when van Persie scored, he didn't just settle for any ordinary run-of-the-mill shot.
Rather, he soared through the air heroically, defying physics and logic and using a picture-perfect flying header to put the ball into the net.
Basically, fans just lay face down on the ground and photograph themselves, which I guess is supposed to sort of resemble van Persie's angelic flight through the air.
This may not be the coolest fad to ever hit the Internet, but it's definitely one of the most unique, and it has launched the Dutch star into a viral brand of fame that he otherwise may have never reached.
Famous for: Having the funniest Twitter account in Major League Baseball
Brandon McCarthy isn't all that impressive on the pitcher's mound—he's currently 1-9 with an embarrassing 5.19 ERA—but what he lacks in pitching skills, he makes up for in wit.
McCarthy's Twitter account is without a doubt one of the most amusing in all of sports.
He made light of his own brain surgery:
WELL IF BEING DISCHARGED FROM THE HOSPITAL ISNT THE BEST TIME TO ASK ABOUT A THREESOME THEN IM FRESH OUT OF IDEAS— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) September 11, 2012
He warned fans to adjust their fantasy Star Wars teams:
adjust fantasy lineups accordingly RT @TheAVClub: Harrison Ford injured his ankle on Star Wars set— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) June 13, 2014
And he joked about the current state of sports journalism:
It's nice that we now use the word 'longform' to gently let idiots on the internet know to go somewhere else for their slideshows.— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) June 3, 2014
Wait a second... what do you have against slideshows?!
Ugh, this guy is the worst.
Famous for: Being the "Mexican Jesus"
Mere hours ago, Guillermo Ochoa became the star of both the World Cup and the Internet after helping Mexico earn a 0-0 draw with Brazil by making six beautiful saves.
After the game, social media exploded with some truly wondrous memes featuring the face of the Mexican goalkeeper. Perhaps the most creative of these was Ochoa's Wikipedia article, which someone was able to briefly alter so that it referred to him as the "Mexican Jesus."
How far Mexico will be able to ride Ochoa's brilliance in this World Cup is unknown, but his place in Internet glory has already been established.
Famous for: Pushing boundaries
Professional sports teams—or any types of major businesses and corporations, for that matter—rarely show a whole lot of personality on social media. PR specialists usually ensure that everything posted online is fan-friendly, politically correct, positive and not too controversial.
Focus on celebrating your own team and players, and you'll stay out of trouble.
Down in Atlanta, however, folks don't always follow the rules. Though they aren't particularly intimidating on the basketball court, the Hawks' official Twitter account is downright ruthless—albeit impressively creative.
They called out Tony Romo, the poor sap who can't seem to bring the Cowboys a victory when they need him most:
If Tony Romo needs advice in late-game situations, we know a guy he can call... pic.twitter.com/VrfP2NovAm— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 16, 2013
Then they took a shot at the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the right to pick first in the NBA draft for the third time in four years:
We just bought a lotto ticket...wish us luck. pic.twitter.com/2uiCXnGlkH— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) May 21, 2014
If you've got a problem with the Atlanta Hawks, you might want to settle it on the court. When it comes to social media, this group might be impossible to beat.
Superstar For: Creating the most mysterious Twitter account in all of sports
Usually the mark of fame is when you get that little blue check mark next to your name on Twitter—the official verification that you are the real person in question, and not a poser or parody account.
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo—formerly goalie for the Vancouver Canucks—doesn't have that little blue check mark. But it's not because he hasn't yet reached that level of fame. It's because nobody is actually certain that the account @strombone1 is, in fact, actually him.
When the account was created, there were no clues as to who was managing it. The profile picture is bizarre and mysterious, the name is simply Strombone and there is no "About" section to be found.
Over the years, it gradually became clear the man behind the handle was Luongo, and he basically admitted it in the video above.
And yet, he never really, officially announced it was his, so it technically still isn't confirmed that it really, officially is.
And that's what makes the whole ordeal so fascinating.
For a quick taste of the wonderful posts you'll find if you choose to follow Strombone, here's a quip that he made during this year's NBA Finals, comparing LeBron's cramping issues to a time that he missed the beginning of a Stanley Cup game due to some digestion problems:
Explosive diarrhea > cramps— Strombone (@strombone1) June 6, 2014
Superstar For: Writing the record books
You can't have an article about social media superstars without mentioning the first great social media superstar of them all: Tim Tebow.
There is very little Tim Tebow has done since entering the NFL to earn him a great deal of attention, and yet the amount of attention Tebow received during his football career—from ESPN, of course, but especially from social media—is unlike anything we have ever seen before.
Everything Tebow did was a front-page story. Every move he made was mentioned hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter.
Tebow leads Broncos to miraculous comeback victory!
Tebow still unjustly stuck behind Sanchez on depth chart!
Tebow throws some completions in practice!
Tebow eats cereal for breakfast, feels great!
With Tebow, no news was still news. He could literally do nothing for an entire week and still get 10 cover stories and an hour of screen time on Sports Center.
We may never see another athlete who makes such a monumental impact on the media while making so little impact on his sport. And for that reason, Tim Tebow is, in his own somewhat depressing way, a legend.
Who did I leave off the list? Let me know on Twitter