Open Mic: Most Influential Sports Figures, Pt. One: The Athletes

Adam AmickSenior Writer IJuly 10, 2008

Who are the most powerful individuals in the U.S. sports industry? 

This isn’t exactly a topic for rocket-scientist types, but I thought I’d put down my slide rule and give it a few minutes of brainpower...with some humor thrown in for good measure. 

It is said that the truth makes the funniest jokes, and I agree. 

I’ll cover some top athletes in part one of this series, and everyone else can follow later. For, without these guys and gals, the other people are irrelevant, right? 

Choices are listed in order of who I think is most marketable of the bunch. 

Tiger Woods: (noun) See “Number One”...Period, paragraph, end of story. 

The guy will go down in history as the greatest player to ever swing a club. He makes more money from endorsements while sleeping than most of us will make in our lifetimes...combined. And he crosses more lines than a class full of sugared-up first graders with a bucket of crayons. 

Tiger’s agent just got a call from Heaven; they want him to be the spokesman for The Second Coming

Shaquille O’Neil: Shaq doesn’t just stand above most of the NBA, he stands above most of the NBA. Aside from the occasional bad entertainment gig—rapping or starring in Kazaam—this guy’s image really exceeds his peers. How many NBA players have had run-ins with the police?

Shaq is the one guy who can truly claim, “I am da law!” 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Dale Junior is the most popular driver in NASCAR. He was even before he joined the most popular team in NASCAR, and now the “Green Machine” has been running to the cash machine to transform their wardrobe from Budweiser Red to Mountain Dew Green. Calvin Klein and Marc Ecko are envious of how quickly Junior was able to effect change in the fashion industry. 

Peyton Manning: Whether he’s wearing a fake ‘stache or kicking his younger brother in the halls of ESPN, Peyton is the All-American boy. He's not only a pretty face, he knows his football. He is a student of the game. College players only wish they could make this much money to study.

Tom Brady: Brady’s only drawback to his marketability is the one flaw all men wish they had. He bags supermodels like a grocery-store checker bags cans of Beanie Weenies. Otherwise, you can’t bet against a winner, because everyone wants to be him, or be with him.

Alex Rodriguez: Okay, Mr. Baseball is about to have more trouble than Tom Selleck did during his stint in Japan in the movie of the same name. When you get paid as much as A-Rod, and are The Man in MLB, you really don’t need endorsements, even if they’re coming from the Queen of Pop. I expect to see his stock start to drop like Britney Spears’ popularity, especially if he wanders the path of Kabala. 

Jeff Gordon: Chevys, cologne, cell phones, computer games, chips, cola, car colors, chemical compounds...What else can Jeff Gordon sell? I hear there are ocean-front views in Antarctica that people are lining up for with Gordon’s name associated with them. 

David Beckham: Really? Does he belong on this list? Perhaps if you live in L.A., but outside the world of soccer, he’s worn out his welcome. He may still have some shelf life in European markets, but at this point his wife, Posh, is just as likely to be hocking products stateside. 

Brett Favre: Brett’s the good-ol’ boy. The Wrangler-wearing cousin that most people outside the New York and Los Angeles bubbles can relate to. I think his next big deal should come from Kellogg’s to sell Eggo Waffles, for obvious reasons. 

LeBron James: King James is on the upswing, and he will go super-critical if he can win a championship, but this won’t happen until he departs the city on the lake. Kids will buy whatever LeBron sells. 

Kobe Bryant: Well...Maybe a few years ago Kobe was a marketable commodity. Then the deal in Colorado happened. Winning the NBA MVP in 2008 will help put the past in the rear-view mirror, but there are up-and-coming names (see James) with less baggage than Kobe. 

Tony Hawk & Shawn White: For those who enjoy the skating world and extreme sports, these two names cannot be beaten. Travis Pastrana may come close, but Hawk has the skins on the wall (and the scars to show for it), and White is an international superstar on boards of all types.

Michael Jordan: I would be remiss (and almost was) to not mention MJ on this list. Though you don't see his face as often as during his heyday, you can bet your skivvies he's still a major force in marketing!

And let's not neglect the ladies of the sports world... 

Danica Patrick: Now that Ms. Go Daddy has won a race, her appearance in Peak commercials actually carry more weight than she does; “When you Peak, you win!” 

Wow, does that statement transcend anti-freeze or what? I knew she was more than a pretty face, and when she decides to give up racing, she may be in line to be the next Dr. Ruth?

Serena Williams: All you have to do is see the Hewlett Packard laptop commercials to know what all Serena has going on...Know what I’m sayin?

Maria Sharapova: Remember that Anna chick? Maria looks better AND knows how to win big tournaments. I would buy a camera she endorses, preferably if she will be the subject matter...She’s got good international marketability too.

Gabrielle Reece: Gabby takes her long, tan, beach volleyball-playing self and can cover the fashion and skin-care products world, not to mention young boys' walls. 

Mia Hamm: Have to throw some love to the face of women's soccer in the USA. She was featured in Gatorade and other ads for more than her ability to kick some balls.