Old-School Sports Stars Who Would've Killed on Social Media

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2014

Old-School Sports Stars Who Would've Killed on Social Media

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    DAVID BOOKSTAVER/Associated Press

    What kinds of athletes are just crushing it on social media right now? What are they doing to make themselves so captivating?

    For starters, they’re not shy. They engage with their fans a lot, and they let fans into their personal lives by sharing photos and details of their lives.  

    The really good ones are also funny, witty or just generally share things worth reading.

    Some even use social media to interact with each other—to offer congratulations, encouragement and, sometimes, best of all, trash talk.

    And some are just figures who incite a lot of public interest; they are loved, hated or both, and either way, people want to keep tabs on them.

    It’s a shame social media wasn’t around in Muhammad Ali’s heyday; he would’ve killed.

    Here’s a look at a few other old-school sports stars who would’ve dominated social media.

Honorable Mention: Jim Thorpe

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    Associated Press

    Jim Thorpe is an honorable mention because not much is known about his personality; it’s hard to tell if he would’ve been into social media or not.

    But it is difficult to imagine an athlete of his caliber and versatility not having a whole heck of a lot of followers.

    His list of many talents includes baseball, basketball, boxing, football, hockey and track and field. He was an Olympian and a professional athlete, and many believe him to be the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

John McEnroe

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    John McEnroe was a great tennis player. He won seven Grand Slams during his illustrious career during the late 1970s and '80s.

    He is still involved in tennis years later as a commentator for ESPN.

    But back in his playing days, his temper often got the best of him on the court.

    Today, his outbursts would blow up social media, and something tells me his strong opinions would find their way into cyberspace as well.

Joe Namath

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    Ray Howard/Associated Press

    New York sports stars always have the spotlight shined upon them a bit more brightly. Joe Namath, or “Broadway Joe,” was no exception.

    The Hall of Fame quarterback played for the New York Jets from 1965-76.

    Namath was handsome, charismatic and a great QB to boot. As the saying goes, women loved him and men wanted to be him.

    Just look at this ad for pantyhose that Namath once did. Try not to like him, I dare you.  

Jim Brown

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    Associated Press

    Jim Brown is known as one of the greatest NFL players ever. His playing career spanned from 1957-65, but after retirement, he continued on in another career—acting.  

    Brown has appeared in dozens of films, including The Running Man and Any Given Sunday.

    As an individual with a bold personality and an acting career to promote, methinks he would’ve been all over social media back then—if not for the forum for opinion-sharing, then for the self-promotion.

Gabriela Sabatini

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    RON FREHM/Associated Press

    Gabriela Sabatini is often regarded as one of the most charismatic tennis stars ever.

    She was shy with the media but loved her fans, according to a piece by Gustavo Goitia on ESPNW.com.

    Sabatini won the U.S. Open in 1990 and retired just six years later, still in her prime.

    Goitia reports that Sabatini’s fans would give her gifts at matches and some even cried when she announced her retirement.

    Someone who was beloved by fans during her playing days would have a lot of social media followers.

Lawrence Taylor

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    MIKE DERER/Associated Press

    Lawrence Taylor is one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, if not the greatest.

    He played for the New York Giants throughout the 1980s and early '90s. During his football career and retirement, L.T. struggled with substance abuse and was arrested several times for various legal issues.

    People love controversy, and they would’ve followed Taylor’s life both because of his football prowess and his off-field drama.

    But there is a happy ending. In a 2013 Showtime documentary on his life, Taylor said (via USA Today), “I’m letting everybody know that it has a good ending, because I’m at a place in my life right now where I’m truly happy.”

Dennis Rodman

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    JOHN ZICH/Associated Press

    Dennis Rodman was and still is a captivating person. He’s on Twitter now, but just imagine if social media had been around in the 1980s and '90s when he was still playing basketball.

    From his ferocious rebounding on the court to his neon hair and crazy outfits, there was always something to pay attention to, even back then.

    He also married Carmen Electra in a Vegas chapel; people love it when athletes and celebrities get together.

    That only scratches the surface of Rodman’s crazy life story, and the public interest in him continues to this day.

Babe Ruth

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    Associated Press

    Babe Ruth was perhaps the greatest baseball player who ever lived, and he enjoyed most of his substantial success with the New York Yankees in the 1920s.

    Back then he received a lot of attention not just for his baseball but also for his off-field partying.

    Ruth had a reputation for being a big drinker, spender and womanizer. Even during his time, the public was interested in the exploits of the great ballplayer. Imagine the attention he’d get today.

    Imagine if the “called shot” had hit the Twittersphere.

Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

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    PAUL KIZZLE/Associated Press

    Think about athletes we might describe as “polarizing”: LeBron James, Danica Patrick, Johnny Manziel. These are people with a lot of Twitter followers.

    Well, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was like that.

    Jeff Burton once said of Earnhardt, via Reid Spencer of Sporting News, “Dale had this image...he was just the Intimidator, and he didn't care what you thought. He was going to run over you, wreck you, do whatever to win the race. Some people hated that. Some people loved it.”

Reggie Miller

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    Reggie Miller is not so much “old school,” but social media still wasn’t a thing in his playing days (1987-2005), so I’m going to say he counts.

    The man could shoot, and he could talk. His trash talking was legendary—just ask Spike Lee.

    Miller’s feuds definitely would’ve gone digital in the 21st century.

Yogi Berra

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    Associated Press

    Yogi Berra was a fan favorite. He played for the New York Yankees from 1946-63 and won 10 World Series championships as a player.

    His success and personality made him likeable, but his hilarious quotes would’ve fit nicely into 140-character tweets.  

    A few of his gems, via Baseball Almanac, include:

    "Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical."

    "He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious."

    "So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face."

Reggie Jackson

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    Reggie Jackson certainly made his feelings known, and he was no stranger to controversy in his playing days.

    During his time with the New York Yankees in the late 1970s, Jackson had public feuds with both manager Billy Martin and catcher Thurman Munson.

    In a 1977 piece for Sport magazine (via Bronx Banter), Robert Ward famously said of Jackson, “He thinks he can be the straw that stirs the drink, but he can only stir it bad.”

    Quotes like that, and ones reflecting Jackson’s own confidence as a major sports star, would have blown up social media today.

Muhammad Ali

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    Associated Press

    Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest boxers of all time, and he’s certainly never been called shy.

    During his boxing days in the 1960s and '70s, Ali was outspoken, publicly trash-talking opponents and confidently singing his own praises.

    Ali was also an activist for religious freedom, and he publicly opposed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War; he was arrested for draft evasion and missed several years in the ring as his case ran its course.

    Ali regularly displayed confidence and charisma. He wanted to talk about boxing, religion, politics and morality to anyone who would listen at any time.

    I think Muhammad Ali might have broken social media back then.