Over the last century, society and sports have entangled themselves in one another gradually and irreversibly.
At the center of this mayhem are the athletes, whose names are sung louder than those of the gladiators of ancient Rome.
To many, their presence goes beyond stardom and fame and borders the realm of divine worship.
Their every move and word is documented and dissected by the fans and media alike.
Just look at Tiger Woods' life for perspective. For a few months, he was the most discussed and criticized human being on the planet, and before that he was one of the most followed and revered.
I give you now the 12 most worshipped active athletes in the world. My criteria include size of fanbase, diversity of fanbase, and quality of fanbase.
While compiling my list, I was constantly trying to include the most recognizable face in the American South.
However, because he entertains the smallest audience of the athletes I included, I couldn't squeeze him into the top 12.
Having said that, there is no denying the following Dale Earnhardt Jr. has amassed among NASCAR fans. From his family history to his deep Southern roots, Dale Jr. embodies NASCAR and in many ways carries the sport.
If he were to mirror the success his father had, the sky the would be the limit for Dale Jr.'s popularity.
It doesn't take long to realize how big Tim Tebow really is here in America. All you had to do was tune in to ESPN and you would know everything that is wrong with Tebow on the field and everything that is right about him off it.
I live in Gainesville, FL. He is nothing short of a god here. His accomplishments and countless memories he has given the University of Florida have immortalized him in the South, and the entire nation.
"The White Pele," as he is called by Manchester United supporters, Rooney's fame has been so large that it often has overshadowed his accomplishments, which has led to him being coined "overrated" in the past.
All that has changed with his 34 goals this season.
With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa looming, the hopes and dreams of his nation will weigh heavily on his shoulders. Succeed, and Rooney could reach unfathomable heights of English lore.
"The Chosen One," as he has been named, is probably the most athletically gifted basketball player of all time. His power and finesse have earned him a nation of devote fans.
He is loved on the other side of the world too, in China, where the sport is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.
If he were to move to a more prestigious franchise than the Cavaliers, there is no telling how big LeBron James could get.
Arguably the most consistent quarterback in NFL history comes up at No. 9 on my countdown.
He has turned the Colts franchise into his own, influencing roster moves and coaching changes. The front office are completely at his mercy.
If you ask anybody in the Colts organization why they have not won more in the playoffs this past decade, none of them will point fingers at Peyton Manning.
While he has many critics, Manning fans come from all over the United States and beyond.
"The Black Mamba"—I still don't understand that nickname, but I don't have to, because I know who it refers to.
Kobe Bryant is one of the most intelligent and creative basketball players of our time, and the fact that he plays with the most popular team in America only adds to Bryant's claim to "greatest of all time."
Kobe has very few critics, as there are very few things to criticize.
His performances in crunch time and championship execution have made him the most popular basketball player since Michael Jordan.
The single, most accomplished, distinguished, and controversial driver in Formula 1 racing history.
In the second most popular sport in the world, no name rings louder than Schumacher's. He has won 91 races and seven drivers' championships, including five straight championships from 2000-2004 with Ferrari.
While his recent winning slump doesn't help his case, there is no denying how very proud the German people are of this national product.
The greatest footballer the world as ever seen? Maybe, but certainly "Messi-dona" has cemented his brilliance in our memories forever.
From his first hat trick in El Clasico as a 19-year-old to his four-goal master performance against Arsenal in the 2010 Champions League quarterfinals, Lionel Messi has been climbing up the football ladder for some time now, and while he has consistently been one of the top five players, he is ready to take his name to new heights.
He is not the most glamorous nor the most marketed footballer in the world, but he is without any doubt the most creative and mesmerizing.
Meet the one man who is stopping Messi from taking over world football.
Cristiano Ronaldo was king before Messi, and his jaw-dropping strikes, along with his devoted "CR9 fanboys," are keeping a large portion of fans from converting to Messi followers.
There is no denying the crowd this man brings. In 2009, when he was sold to Real Madrid, his unveiling attracted 80,000 Madridistas to watch him say a few words and juggle the football.
His marketing with Nike and good looks will keep Ronaldo a fan favorite for years to come.
Eleven Premier League titles, a Treble, and the most appearances ever by a Manchester United player are just a few of Ryan Giggs' accomplishments over his storied career.
A Red Devil since 1990, Giggs has rewritten United and Premier League longevity records. "The Welsh Wizard" has been called a "god" by his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and has no equal in terms of experience in English football.
A candidate for knighthood to the most devoted Manchester United and English football fans, Giggs is the standard for performance on the field and class off it.
There has never been, and will never be, an athlete like Brett Favre—an athlete so polarizing that no matter what you think of him, you keep coming back for more.
I'm not sure whether it is his inspirational toughness, countless NFL passing records, longtime career with the NFL's lovable Packers, or his stereotypical American attitude, but whatever it is, Favre owns it.
His fans love to love him, and every good thing he does only adds to the gunslinger's legacy.
His critics love to hate him, and every mistake he makes brings them a twisted satisfaction.
For a sport that is only played on one side of the world, Favre is about as famous as you could get.
The captain and talisman of AS Roma, "Er Pupone" is the greatest Italian national hero of our generation.
Since 1992 he has played at Roma and represented his country for eight. The leading goal-scorer in Roma history was mentioned in FIFA's list of the 100 greatest living footballers.
His World Cup triumph in 2006 grew his legend to where it stands now.
In fact, in 2006, Francesco Totti was awarded the "Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana," which means he is a fourth class Officer (one level above knight) to the Italian Republic.
"Cricket is religion. Sachin is God."
There is no denying this. It was never even close. The only human being to ever hit the double century in one cricket game is the most worshipped athlete on the planet.
His fame is not restricted to his home country of India. Even rival Pakistani fans concede that he is the greatest to have ever played.
In 2008, Sachin was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, which is the second highest civilian honor given by the Indian government.
That same year British Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested that Sachin should be awarded an honorary knighthood for his contribution to the sport of cricket.
Time magazine has called him "the greatest living exponent of his craft."