Five sports stars made the Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2014. They are Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, Jason Collins of the Brooklyn Nets, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, tennis champion Serena Williams and rising golf star Lydia Ko.
Time's list is broken down into seven different categories, including athletes from across the world of sports. Each athlete received a section about him or her as part of the list, several written by other athletes.
For example, Brazilian soccer legend Pele praised Ronaldo. The three-time World Cup champion talked about everything from the Portuguese star's success leading his national team to this summer's World Cup to his ability to inspire youth to play the sport:
Cristiano never ceases to give his best for his national team. ... Back when I played, I would have loved having a teammate like Cristiano to play with up front. I would like to encourage him to keep up the hard work and to continue to fuel the passion for the sport among today’s youth.
While Ronaldo is one of the most dominant athletes on the planet right now, the inclusion of Jason Collins illustrates the decisions weren't based purely on athletic accomplishments. He averaged barely over one point per game in 22 appearances for the Nets during the regular season.
Instead, Collins made the list after becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in any of the major professional sports leagues in North America. But much like Ronaldo, it was his ability to inspire others that Chelsea Clinton pointed out:
Jason’s kindness and fierceness alike derive from that word too often bandied about and too rarely true: integrity. Jason has always maintained he’s first a basketball player. He is. But he’s also a leader and an inspiration. For Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon and others whose names we may never know. And also for those of us lucky enough to be fans—or to call him our friend.
Richard Sherman was one of the best defensive players in football last season. While many fans were aware of his impact as a player, he didn't truly make his way into the mainstream spotlight until his postgame rant directed toward San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree following the NFC Championship Game.
Time senior writer Sean Gregory notes that Sherman's comments and the ensuing reaction, with many labeling Sherman a "thug," started an important national conversation. It helped that the cornerback was willing and able to defend himself in a public forum.
Serena Williams will go down as one of the greatest tennis players in history. She's the owner of 32 Grand Slam titles—17 as a singles competitor, 13 as a doubles competitor and two more as a mixed doubles competitor.
While that resume can match up with anybody's in the sport, it's her ability to stay on top for so long that drew praise from Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and earned her a spot on the list. Wade marveled at her success and opined on how amazing it is for sports fans to watch her journey.
The first four names on the list are likely familiar to a majority of the American public. The same can't be said for Lydia Ko of New Zealand, the 17-year-old golfer who already has five professional victories, including two on the LPGA Tour.
She represents the potential star power the women's game needs to generate more attention on an international level. Annika Sorenstam, who helped grow the sport during her playing days, penned the article about the teenager's immediate impact on the sport.
The common thread between the athletes on this year's list is how they influenced people beyond the court, course or field. It's something younger players like Ko might not fully understand, but it illustrates the impact of sports on society.
Whether it's Collins influencing fellow gay athletes to live their lives openly and freely, which can also range beyond the sports spectrum, to Sherman raising the level of conversation beyond stereotypes, there are lessons learned that can be very positive moving forward.
The impact these five athletes have had globally is clear. However, with so many young, rising stars in various sports across the world, it wouldn't be surprising to see even more athletes make this list in the future. Sports represent a way for people to connect, and the biggest stars serve as role models to fans.
That athletes can have such a profound influence speaks to the ever growing popularity of sports and the growing spotlight on the people who play them.