Athletes Even Your Mom Knows About

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

Athletes Even Your Mom Knows About

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    These athletes are so big that their fame has gone beyond sport. 

    I have no doubt there are a lot of moms who dig sports, so please, I mean no offense. This is for folks whose mothers show exactly zero interest in sporting events and often ask their sports-fan kids questions like, “Wasn’t that A-Rod guy dating Madonna for a while?” Basically, the word “mom” is code for “non-sports fan.”

    Sometimes athletes become so famous that they are no longer just athletes—they are cultural icons. I’ll include a few blasts from the past, names like Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali, so famous you’d have to be a monk to have never heard of them.

    But mostly these will be present or recently retired athletes—guys like LeBron James and Michael Phelps—who have made themselves famous well beyond the scope of their chosen profession.

    Your mom might not even know the following celebrities are also athletes. But odds are, despite her lack of sports knowledge and preference toward reality TV, she’s heard of them.

Honorable Mentions

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
    • The bro-iest of bros: Rob Gronkowski
    • Overnight post-game interview sensation: Richard Sherman
    • Wrangler spokesman and retirement flip-flopper: Brett Favre
    • World's fastest man: Usain Bolt
    • Kelly Ripa's co-host: Michael Strahan 
    • The athlete everyone knows: Bo Jackson 

Roger Federer

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    Roger Federer is an attractive man from Switzerland who also happens to play tennis.

    In fact, with 17 Grand Slam titles, the Swiss is perhaps the world’s most famous tennis player.

Bruce Jenner

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    Associated Press

    Sports fans out there know that Bruce Jenner is an Olympic gold medalist—he broke the world Olympic decathlon record in 1976.

    Nowadays, however, he’s much more famous for being the stepfather (or is it ex-stepfather now?) to the Kardashian kids.

Kevin Durant

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    Maybe two months ago, no one’s mom knew about Kevin Durant.

    But I would argue that after his MVP acceptance speech, the Oklahoma City forward is a friend to moms all over the world.

Danica Patrick

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Danica Patrick is famous in sports as a female trailblazer on the race track.

    In popular culture, Danica is also the face of She's a model who appears on her fair share of non-sports magazine covers

Wayne Gretzky

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    Associated Press

    If non-sports fans had to name one hockey player with a gun to their heads, my guess is it would be this guy.

    According to the NHL, Wayne Gretzky is the “greatest player of all time.” He holds a slew of NHL records, among them most career points, goals and assists as well as most goals in a season.

Peyton Manning

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    Doug Benc/Associated Press

    Peyton Manning is a Super Bowl champion and member of "football’s first family." But your mom is probably more likely to recognize him from his hilarious commercials.

    Besides throwing perfect spirals, Manning also has a real talent for comedy, exercising his acting chops in ads for DirecTV, MasterCard, Sprint, Papa John’s and Oreos.

Shaun White

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    Paul A. Hebert/Associated Press

    Shaun White’s signature red locks are unmistakable, and the Olympic snowboarder has built himself into much more than an athlete—he’s a brand.

    According to USA Today, White has appeared in cameo roles on the big and small screen, and he’s even in a band, Bad Things.  


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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    The Real Madrid star is recognizable for his good looks alone, but he’s also been seen with celebrities like Paris Hilton, Adrian Grenier and Rihanna.  

    Ronaldo’s endorsements include Emporio Armani Men's Underwear and Armani Jeans, and he was recently named soccer’s most marketable athlete by the Celebrity Davie-Brown Index.

Shaquille O’Neal

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Talk about a cultural icon.

    In addition to four-time NBA champion, Shaquille O’Neal’s resume also includes titles like rapper, actor and video-game character.

    Anyone over the age of 25 will remember Kazaam, the 1996 flick in which Shaq played a modern-day genie in a bottle. He’s also appeared as himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm and in dozens of product advertisements.

    Somehow, Shaq still finds time to keep it in the basketball family, working as an analyst on TNT.

Tom Brady

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    Peter Kramer/Associated Press

    Tom Brady: NFL quarterback, Super Bowl champion and Mr. Gisele Bundchen.

    Brady is married to the Brazilian supermodel, and before her, he dated actress and model Bridget Moynahan.

    Brady also endorses a bunch of non-sports products (like Ugg boots and Movado watches) and has appeared on the covers of GQ and Esquire.  

Mike Tyson

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    Eric Charbonneau/Associated Press

    Mike Tyson is a former heavyweight champion of the world, yes, but he is also probably one of the craziest characters in pop culture history.

    Famous for his epic rants, Tyson has talked about killing other fighters and eating children.  

    Possible cannibalism aside, he has been an inspiration for rap lyrics, appeared on How I Met Your Mother, and competed on Dancing with the Stars. And who could forget his performance in The Hangover? Classic.

    Oh, and there was that one time he bit a man’s ear off. Sports or no sports, people are going to hear about that.

Serena Williams

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    Donald Traill/Associated Press

    Perhaps the world’s most famous female athlete, Serena Williams has won 29 Grand Slam tennis titles.

    In addition to tennis, Williams also has her own fashion line and pals around with Hollywood celebrities like Kelly Rowland and Kim Kardashian.

    Those who know Serena have likely heard of her sister Venus, another tennis star, although perhaps not quite as recognizable as little sis.

David Beckham

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Like Ronaldo, David Beckham is a soccer stud perhaps more famous among non-sports fans than futbol fanatics.

    Beckham has famous friends, a movie named after him and he’s married to one of the Spice Girls.

    Plus he looks like this. Yea, your mom’s heard of him.

Magic Johnson

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Magic Johnson became famous simply by virtue of playing with the Showtime Lakers in the '80s.

    Then in 1991, Johnson announced he was HIV positive and immediately became a household name.

    Since leaving basketball as a player, Johnson has dabbled as a coach and analyst—he even had his own talk show for a (short) time.

    Today, he’s a successful businessman and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Derek Jeter

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Derek Jeter has made a sport out of dating famous women. His long list of celebrity lady friends reportedly includes Mariah Carey, Vanessa Minnillo, Adriana Lima and Minka Kelly.

    Aside from his dating life, Jeter manages to keep things relatively private, despite playing his baseball in New York.

    He has, however, made a few cameos, hosting Saturday Night Live on two occasions and playing himself in The Other Guys and Anger Management.  

Jackie Robinson

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Jackie Robinson is the definition of an athlete whose significance goes beyond sport.

    The first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, Robinson was and is an iconic figure and significant part of American history.

Kobe Bryant

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba, is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He’s his own brand, and he has a huge global presence, particularly in China.

    But what many sports fans have forgotten may be the thing non-sports fans remember most.

    In 2003, Bryant was charged with sexual assault. The charges were eventually dropped, but the drama carried out for months before it was all said and done.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Victor Calvo/Associated Press

    Jeter’s former (or is it current?) teammate Alex Rodriguez has also had his share of celebrity gal pals along with some additional tabloid shenanigans.

    A-Rod's little black book includes blonde bombshells Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Madonna (looks like someone has a type).

    Unlike Jeter, A-Rod’s escapades have been far more broadly publicized, in some part due to the fact that he was married during some of them.   

Muhammad Ali

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    Mario Cabrera/Associated Press

    Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time—he has also been one of the more controversial figures in sports and American history.

    During the '60s and '70s, Ali was an outspoken religious activist. He was also active in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam conflict and refused to serve in the army when drafted.

    Then and since, Ali has also been a great humanitarian. He often staged his fights in underdeveloped nations around the world and has traveled internationally for countless charitable missions.

    In 1999, Sports Illustrated named him the sportsman of the 20th century.

Tiger Woods

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Tiger Woods has won 14 majors and should be largely credited with golf making its way into the national spotlight during the late '90s and 2000s.

    He was also part of a pretty major scandal involving more than a few alleged marital infidelities.

O.J. Simpson

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    O.J. Simpson was once a great football player—but that will not be his legacy.  

    Simpson was the defendant in the “Trial of the Century,” in which he was eventually acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her lover.

    Simpson lost a wrongful death civil suit, however, and was later arrested on unrelated charges. He will remain in jail until at least 2017.

LeBron James

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It is widely agreed that LeBron James is the best active basketball player currently residing on planet Earth.

    In addition to his prowess on the court, King James has a major social media presence, boasting over 13 million Twitter followers.

    He’s also an endorsement machine and a friend to many celebrities.  

Babe Ruth

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    Associated Press

    Similar to Wayne Gretzky, if your mom had to name one baseball player from the past, she would probably name the Babe.

    Ruth was a pitcher and outfielder most famous for his time with the New York Yankees in the 1920s. He held the career home run record for 39 years and was part of the first class ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

    I think the only person who's never heard of Babe Ruth is Scotty Smalls.  

Michael Jordan

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Michael Jordan might be the best basketball player to ever live. Plenty of folks who know what they’re talking about have made that argument.

    He is a six-time NBA champion and five-time NBA MVP. He is the benchmark against which all great NBA players will be measured.

    He’s hosted Saturday Night Live and played himself in the 1996 film Space Jam.

    Even in retirement, Jordan is still one of the world’s most marketable athletes. His partnership with Nike has become iconic: Air Jordans are the best-selling athletic shoes in the history of…ever.

Michael Phelps

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    If there’s one thing everybody can get behind, it’s the Olympics.

    Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals (18 gold). His 2008 performance in Beijing captivated a nation, and maybe even the world.

    His unbelievable run to eight gold medals in one Olympics was breathtaking, spellbinding and one of the greatest individual feats in the history of sports.