Patrick Mahomes is only 24 years old and has already nearly conquered the world.
Super Bowl champion? Check.
NFL MVP? Check.
Paradigm-shattering 10-year, roughly half-billion contract unlike anything the NFL has ever seen in the salary-cap era, making him the league's highest-paid player for the foreseeable future? As of Monday afternoon, per ESPN's Adam Schefter and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport: Check.
Alexander the Great didn't complete his conquest of Persia until he was 25. Mahomes is making him look like a slacker by comparison. And like Alexander, Mahomes faces some tricky questions after cramming a career's worth of accomplishments into only three seasons. What now? What's left to do when he has already done so much?
The short answer is simple enough: Mahomes must strap on his helmet and try to lead the Chiefs to another Super Bowl, then another, then another. There are also personal awards to win, statistics to compile, leaderboards to climb, all-time records to chase. There's a Mount Olympus to ascend and a seat among the inner circle of Tom Brady types to earn.
But there's no reason for Mahomes to stop there. He has the chance to go beyond the Brady legend/GOAT status. With his playoff heroics, his Super Bowl victory, his new role as a voice in the social justice movement and his unprecedented new contract, Mahomes is poised to become the Michael Jordan of this generation: not a mere football or sports icon, but a cultural icon; not a mere American celebrity, but a global phenomenon.
From the moment he took over the Chiefs starting job, it was clear that Mahomes was different. He was a little like Brett Favre, a bit like Steve Young, had some John Elway/Dan Marino traits. But no one had ever put them all together the way Mahomes has done before. No one ever threw 50 touchdown passes and won an MVP award in his first full season as a starter. No one ever made 21-point playoff comebacks look routine before. Other players produced highlights like this one now and then, but only a handful—Bo Jackson, Randall Cunningham, Gale Sayers—packed so many of them into such a short period of time.
But the highlights and the championship are just a start. Mahomes demonstrated in early June that his impact reached far beyond the field when he joined more than a dozen other NFL players who produced a video challenging the league to strengthen its support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mahomes, who has not been very politically vocal in the past, was the first player to say the words "Black lives matter" in the video. As Jason Reid of The Undefeated reported, Mahomes' involvement pushed the league to publicly readjust its position on police brutality and social justice issues. And when the NFL adjusts its position on such issues, a chunk of the national conversation adjusts with it. If your normally apolitical in-laws marched down Main Street with a Black Lives Matter sign last month, Mahomes might have had something to do with it.
Power like that can make Mahomes a symbolic figure for his generation. Children of the 1980s and early '90s remember Michael Jordan for more than gravity-defying dunks, NBA titles and Bugs Bunny movies. Jordan told many of us what to wear. He helped define what was cool. He was so famous that grandmas who never watched sports and children too young to stay up for NBA night games recognized his face instantly. He was an aspirational figure, even for those of us who could barely dribble.
Yes, Jordan had faults and human frailties, some of them serious, but they weren't obvious at the time. Jordan also wasn't much of a political voice, but different eras call for different icons. Jordan was not just a champion and a pitchman but a sex symbol, an entrepreneur, a power broker and an individual so famous that even his silhouette is a recognizable global brand 25 years later.
That's the path Mahomes has set himself upon. A 10-year contract brings the kind of security few NFL players have ever had, in particular one who has already dared to speak up politically.
The Chiefs and the NFL are in the Mahomes business for the rest of the 2020s. You better believe that every major sponsor will want to do business with the handsome young champion who transcends demographics as well. If you don't think sponsorship is power, take a look at what the Washington franchise is (finally) going through right now. Mahomes is about to become his own brand, his own industry. He'll be the face of American sports to the world once American sports are ready to face the world again.
Mahomes can become a fashion trend-setter if he wants. Or an influential sociopolitical voice who stands for whatever he chooses. He could make a movie with SpongeBob. Heck, he could do all three at once. But even if he just quietly plays football and makes a few ketchup commercials, he will still have an aura about him. He'll be looked upon as a role model whose opinions and choices will matter because he's already done so much to grab our attention and capture our imagination.
Of course, Mahomes isn't Michael Jordan yet, nor is he Tom Brady, or even Favre or Young (or Alexander the Great). He's just transcendently gifted, stunningly successful beyond his years and (now) fabulously wealthy. He's at the start of a journey that can take him places even Jordan never reached. But it's still the start of the journey, with lots of hard work left to do before we schedule the Mahomes 30 for 30 documentary for the year 2050. Nothing is guaranteed or preordained yet; it's Mahomes' potential to do the unprecedented that made the news of his new contract so exciting.
There are still horizons to explore and lands left to conquer. It all starts with Mahomes signing that historic new contract, then marching onto the field in the next few weeks to defend his championship.