June 01, 2006

Better define your terms right off the top everett -- significant to what (or whom)? The six most significant to me would not be the same as six most significant to their respective sports, which wouldn't be the same as the six most culturally significant.

posted by BullpenPro at 02:32 PM on June 01, 2006

Define your own terms, and justify your choices. That will make this thread the most fun I think.

posted by everett at 02:37 PM on June 01, 2006

So... I obviously have formed my ideas based on an American context, but here it is. 1.Jackie Robinson... his dominance after he got signed absolutley MADE GMs and owners look at the game, and as a result all other games, differently. 2. Babe Ruth. Sorry to have two baseball guys at the top, but the Babe is the Babe, this guy is still getting front page talk more than most active players. 3. Pele. Most Americans didn't care about "futbol" before this guy. 4.Babe Didrikson. The other "Babe." She proved that women could be athletes... real athletic athletes. 5. Secretariat... sorry, I know... But the whole country cared. Hes gotta be here. 6. Jesse Owens. What can you say about this guy? He was there on an international level, when it was most important. The others... Muhammad Ali, Jordan, Navritilova, and yes... Jack Nicklaus

posted by everett at 02:38 PM on June 01, 2006

That is a very American POV. Unfortunately, mine's not alltogether different. However - I will suggest that Pele be included for reasons other than the fact that no American watched futbol before he came along. He had other impacts (and few of them watch it now). Ali - International figure. His whole story is so resonant. Pele - Man as moveable art. Jackie Robinson - class and courage. Gretzky - when extraordinary talent meets uncommon hard work. Also - re-wrote the record book like no other person in any team sport. Babe Didrickson - sure it was turn of the century - but she was the best in multiple sports. Jesse Owens - Showed-up Hitler.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 02:58 PM on June 01, 2006

Ali- a bigger name in sports there ain't Gretzky-single most dominant player in his sport and no one will ever come close Chamberlin-see Gretzky Pele-because soccer or futbol is the biggest sport in the world and he is the only player who's name I know J. Robinson-we all know what he did, we all know how huge it is Boris Becker-dominated at the time when so many other great players played and knew when to bow out My list is very North American bias but I can't front like I know anything about international sports.

posted by HATER 187 at 03:10 PM on June 01, 2006

Rube Foster -- the Father of Black Baseball, founded the Negro National League. Without Foster, there is no Jackie. Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias -- she hit five home runs in a baseball game. Babe Ruth never did that. I never saw her, but I would be willing to wager that she was the all-time greatest recognized female athlete. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria -- in addition to being one of the world's greatest hunters -- he is reported to have shot over 5,000 deer in his lifetime -- his assassination, in a quite roundabout way, gave birth to (among others) the legend (and curse) of Babe Ruth and the NHL. Man O' War -- greatest animal athlete ever, launched post-war horse racing, and was head of a lineage that included War Admiral and Seabiscuit. Bud Selig -- history will dictate whether he will be remembered for his failures (1994 cancellation of the World Series, steroid debacle, handling of the Expos) or his successes (interleague play, expansion, realignment and three-tiered playoff format). Either way, he has had more of an effect on the course of the sport than just about any person on any sport ever. Lew Fonseca -- pioneer in using film as a scouting/training tool, his highlight reels spawned, to some degree, sports newsreels, and eventually sports television broadcasts.

posted by BullpenPro at 04:09 PM on June 01, 2006

Fuck yeah Manowar

posted by HATER 187 at 04:20 PM on June 01, 2006

The selections thus far are pretty good. How about Arthur Ashe instead of Becker for a Tennis name? Some others worthy of consideration: Curt Flood - Free Agency and all that Joe Dimaggio - He married Marilyn Monroe for goodness sake.. and there's that whole 56 game hitting streak. Talk about captivating the nation's attention. Jim Thorpe - The original all-arounder. Gold medals. Pro football.

posted by trox at 04:22 PM on June 01, 2006

I agree with Ashe over Becker, but I would say Borg over even those guys. Curt Flood and Joe Dimaggio?

posted by everett at 04:31 PM on June 01, 2006

From a local perspective: Maurice Richard From a personal perspective: Enzo Ferrari

posted by qbert72 at 04:34 PM on June 01, 2006

AHHHH, I'm such a tool I meant Bjorn stupid confusing B's (plus I know next to nothing about tennis except the fact that BORG won mad titles in a short time and his resting heart rate was a 35) I like Manowar I can't be that bright.

posted by HATER 187 at 04:36 PM on June 01, 2006

Although hockey isn't that popular, it would be silly to leave Bobby Orr off of this list. He redefined the role of the NHL defenseman. As far as significant goes, this picture is the second-best sports picture ever taken (second to this one).

posted by Samsonov14 at 04:52 PM on June 01, 2006

Man, "Showed up Hitler" would be the best epitaph ever.

posted by Ufez Jones at 05:49 PM on June 01, 2006

How 'bout Rocky Marciano? I say that only because i'm white and every time you bring up boxing... Well, you know. I like the staple answers like Jesse Owens, MJ, Orr and Gretzky, both Babes, Asche, Thorpe, Robinson, and Ali. But i find Bullpen's Lew Fonseca the most original. Good stuff.

posted by SummersEve at 07:06 PM on June 01, 2006

I travel a bit, and I'm not North American. So based on an entirely empirical and non-random survey of t-shirts, posters, TV shows and other elements of popular culture, the top four in the whole world over the last 20 years would probably be: 1. Pele 2. Ali 3. Bob Marley 4. Maradona Bob's in there because he was a big soccer fan. Tiger Woods is huge in Asia, with high recognition, but not in the countries I work in, where golf is a rich man's game. And I use 'man' deliberately. After that the whole thing gets massively diffused, with local, national and sports-specific views coming in.

posted by owlhouse at 09:51 PM on June 01, 2006

Oh, alright then. Ali, Jackie Robinson and Pele, far as I'm concerned, are beyond cavil and can't be off this list. For the next three? Keeping to only one from each sport, any of Owens, King, Thorpe, Gretzky, Nicklaus or Secretariat are fine with me. (Get Selig's name out of here. If you want to put a commissioner with greater personal vision and initiative, as well as a way bigger positive effect on his sport and a vastly better hit-miss ratio on the list, it's gotta be Pete Rozelle.) What about Bill Russell or Juan Manuel Fangio? They put their sports on the map, they won (a lot), and they've been gracious worldwide ambassadors for their sports after retirement. I think they at least belong in the discussion.

posted by chicobangs at 11:10 PM on June 01, 2006

I buy Ali, Babe (both), and Pele, all from the standpoint that they are internationally recognizable. If you talk about shaping the ways that their respective games are played (and more pointedly, by whom they are played) Jackie Robinson, Tiger Woods, and five guys from Texas Western (Bobby Joe Hill, Willie Worsley, David Lattin, Orsten Artis, and Harry Flournoy). If you want to consider those that were significant because of WHAT they accomplished, I would have to go with multi-sport athletes: Thorpe, Didrikson. Or, if you want to go with doing things that will likely not be done again: Ripken, Jr., Jerry Rice, Cy Young, John Wooden, Gretzky, Chamberlain. The last part is more for single accomplishments either in a game or a season or a career, and puts me well over 6...perhaps another thread to grow out of this one.....

posted by elovrich at 01:26 AM on June 02, 2006

Jackie Robinson? Who he? Seriously, I had to google the name to find out he was a baseball player. Pele, Ali, Nicklaus yep heard of all of them. I'd also include Georgie Best and Bobby Moore.

posted by squealy at 07:05 AM on June 02, 2006

Let's balance all of this North Americanism with some Britishism. Pelé - the biggest name in the world's most popular team sport. Ayrton Senna - The best driver I've seen in my lifetime and an inspiration to countless more, Senna set records in an age crammed with quality drivers that are only just being beaten by a man with an entire team at his beck and call. Following a serious accident for Rubens Barachello and the death of Roland Ratzenberger, Senna spent the morning of May 1 1994 trying to reform the Drivers Safety Group, then died in that afternoon's race. The safety changes to that ensued ensure that Senna still touches the sports today. Ali, for obvious reasons. After Pelé, let's go for a player of mundane ability, who may go down in history as one of the most important in European football - Jean-Marc Bosman, whose legal battle with RFC Liège led to the Bosman ruling. Jesse Owens - For this. Finally, I'll see your Babe and raise you The Don. Bradman was so dominant as a batsman that the English created the Bodyline tactic, specifically to counter him - a tactic that even caused political fallout, leaving diplomatic relations between the UK and Australia in poor condition until the outbreak of World War II. So, two Americans, two Brazilians, a Belgian and a convict - very Britishish.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 07:55 AM on June 02, 2006

... very Australian, I thought. I thought about Bradman, and I figured Fangio over Senna, just on longevity and his many innovations, but he was before my time, and Senna was sublime. I can't argue too hard against those choices.

posted by chicobangs at 08:18 AM on June 02, 2006

I would like to nominate, in no particular order: 1. Michael Jordan, not just for the way he dominated on the court, but for how he (along with Nike and NBA) have revolutionized and globalized the business of sport and sports marketing. 2. Roone Arledge, for his impact on sports television, creating the beast of professional sports as we have it today. 3. Terry Fox. His "career" was only a few months long, but he has inspired other runners to raise millions of dollars even 25 years later. 4. Muhammad Ali 5. Pele 6. Jackie Robinson

posted by smithers at 12:06 PM on June 02, 2006

"The safety changes to that ensued ensure that" More gin please! :dancing banana:

posted by Mr Bismarck at 12:26 PM on June 02, 2006

Significant individual achievements is the category. Specifically because someone will see these names 100 years from now on Sportsfilter lists... Sir Roger Bannister Babe Ruth - Baseball of the early 20th Century was and is Ruth. Ali - For a too-brief period Ali was the face of America to so much of the world. Pelé - Futbol always has a "star." No one will ever hold the world's attention like Pelé did. Sadaharu Oh - For helping change the Japanese attitude toward those of mixed heritage. Jackie Robinson - For helping kick Americans into the real world. (Sorry, but Jesse Owens' feats couldn't even change his own country's attitudes, let alone the Germans)

posted by ?! at 01:23 PM on June 02, 2006

I think that not only shoud Robinson be on the list, but that he is number one. No one revolutionized sports like he did. For some reason I find myself looking ahead to the 21st century and while there is obviously many, many years ahead; I feel that Barry Bonds could be one of the most significent figures of this century. I think that will really depend on how the rest of his career pans out, and if he breaks Aaron's record.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 02:11 PM on June 02, 2006

Specifically because someone will see these names 100 years from now on Sportsfilter lists... Which begs the question; What will Spofi look like in 100 years? On preview: I completely disagree on Bonds, steroid scandal or not he's not going to aproach the importance of the other athletes mentioned here.

posted by tron7 at 02:17 PM on June 02, 2006

I feel that Barry Bonds could be one of the most significent figures of this century. I would be interested to hear why you think that. As for me, I really feel like Bonds is a character that people will be so happy to forget. Its just like Hammerin Hank, in thatr people were PISSED that he was breaking Babe's record, and even today no one puts him on top six inluential athletes lists. The athletes that have come up on this list were almost without exception (selig, of course being the biggie exception I saw) players that were overwhelmingly loved and praised for their achievements when they were around the game. Barry is too hated I think to make this sort of list down the road. Just a bit of an aside about Ty Cobb ( I though it may be relevant): Best hitter of his era, if not of all time. Has a career batting average of .367. Won 12 batting titles, including 9 in a row from 1907 thru 1915. Third all time in stolen bases with 892. Second in runs scored with 2,245. Second in career hits with 4,191. Led the American League in slugging eight times. Scored 100 runs 11 times in his career. Drove in over 100 runs 7 times in his career. Led the American League in runs 5 times. Led the American League in hits 8 times. Played for 24 years; 22 years with Detroit, 2 with Philadelphia. Youngest AL player to reach 1,000 hit level (24 years old). Batted under .320 only once in his career. Batted over .400 3 times.

posted by everett at 02:30 PM on June 02, 2006

Ooooo... Good call smithers. I'm changing one of my picks. Terry Fox - in for Jesse Owens. Showing up Hitler is cool - but Terry Fox may have been the most driven athlete in history. He ran something like 147 marathons in a row. On one leg. With a prothesis not meant to run on. His name has raised hundreds of millions for cancer research. Because of him - someone you know is getting better treatment, or may in fact have had their life saved. He, himself - unlike most of the other examples - never earned a penny for his troubles. He didn't wow people with his sheer athleticism, he wasn't the best player - he just had the heart of a lion and the will of the mightiest of men. Could you imagine the pain? The constant driving pain? Anyway - I get all teary-eyed when I think of Terry. I think he's bravery personified. Plus, he's a tragic figure because he didn't make it - it was up to the rest of us to keep running the race. And we do - every year. I can't think of a better person to put on this list.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 02:38 PM on June 02, 2006

Yep, Terry Fox gets my vote too. So I have three essentials: * Pelé * Fox * Ali Still undecided about the other 3. If you want a race car driver in there, I'd go with Fangio over Senna, even if I have only know the former.

posted by qbert72 at 03:22 PM on June 02, 2006

So...is the question "top sporting figures" or "most significant sporting figures"? In the case of the former, I might tend to go with the biggest names, those who had the biggest influence on the broader culture. In the case of the latter, I would go with those who were the most influential in matters athletic: they may have had little popular recognition, but they changed things within the athletic world, or perhaps within a single sport. Granted there's some overlap -- I think for obvious reasons Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King could qualify in either case, and perhaps Muhammad Ali, although for different reasons each way. But there are also athletes who had enormous impact on sports but little outside it.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 04:06 PM on June 03, 2006

Just for kicks, here is my list of "Most Significant Canadian Sporting Figures of the 20th Century". 1. Wayne Gretzky - so obvious, it pains me to even bother listing him. 2. Northern Dancer - Canada's greatest racehorse and his powerhouse lineage still goes on to this date. 3. Terry Fox - probably influencing more people around the world than any other Canadian 4. Lionel Conacher - a champion in 5 sports: hockey, football, lacrosse, rugby and baseball 5. Jackie Robinson - we can claim this because he started the road to desegregation in baseball with the Montreal Royals (and is in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame). In ten years, I might have to consider adding Steve Nash and Jason Bay to the list.

posted by grum@work at 06:29 PM on June 03, 2006

grum: No Maurice Richard?

posted by ?! at 01:04 PM on June 04, 2006

grum: No Maurice Richard? Oh, I'm gonna get blasted by qbert72 for leaving him off my list. Yes, put Richard in the #5 spot and bump Robinson. He's the most significant Quebecois sporting figure of the 20th century, and should definitely be on the Canadian list.

posted by grum@work at 03:48 PM on June 04, 2006

/blasts grum@work The Rocket is an automatic for a Canadian list, but his impact is very local, so I wouldn't have him on the all-time, all-world list. I'm not even sure about folks like Gretzky or Robinson for such a list.

posted by qbert72 at 04:18 PM on June 04, 2006

Have to disagree about Bradman, even though I'm a cricket nut. His reknown is limited to a few former British colonies. Unfortunately for all of us, the most globally recognised sportsman of this era is... David Beckham In remote villages in half way up the mountains of Aceh, which for the last 30 years has been the scene of separatist fighting, on small Pacific islands slowly going under due to global warming, in remote dusty trails in the Indian Himalaya, you will come across children - and adults - wearing David Beckham t-shirts and asking after news on his metatarsal (in 2002).

posted by owlhouse at 09:07 PM on June 04, 2006

I looked down the thread and I'm pretty sure I didn't see an athlete who should be on any list of most significant sporting figures in the 20th century (my apologies if someone did bring her up). Billie Jean King I have a six-year-old daughter and the only reason she has the opportunity in a few years to play any kind of sport competitively is because of King's influence on gender equality in sports in the early 70s. I interviewed a lady one time for a newspaper article on Title IX and her quote when I asked what it was like for girls before the legislation was passed was, "we basically played for punch and cookies, that's it." I can't see any other definition of a significant athlete. She's up there with Robinson and Ali in terms of social change in my opinion.

posted by donnnnychris at 01:54 AM on June 05, 2006

donnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnny, she got mentioned, in fact. It isn't accurate to say that your daughter's opportunities are only because of BJ King; I don't believe, for example, that King had any involvement in the original Title IX legislation or court battles. Her own battles were contemporaneous and were waged in the arena of a professional sport, where she did accomplish some truly groundbreaking things that have had a tremendous long-term effect for women's professional sports opportunities. Less tangibly, she was the visible champion of the "hearts and minds" battle over attitudes towards women and girls and sports, and doubtless provided many women and girls with the courage to try breaking their own barriers and bringing suit to force equal sports opportunity under Title IX. Today she is very active in the efforts to keep Title IX strong, along with other projects to promote and improve access to tennis.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 09:15 AM on June 05, 2006

Billie Jean King is in for me. Only two spots left on my list, and so many candidates. I'm considering Michael Jordan very seriously now. Seems to me he ushered in a new era of corporate sponsorship, and helped turn basketball into a more international sport, on top of being awesome on the field.

posted by qbert72 at 10:15 AM on June 05, 2006

Ok, lil_brown_bat, I was tired and obviously didn't see Billie Jean King's name up on the post. Good thoughts on her contributions. I know she wasn't completely instrumental in the whole Title IX process (I meant to say "one" of the reasons, but alas, once again, I was tired; good catch on that point) but like in so many areas of life, it was her high-profile presence that provided many of the pushes you talked about. As for the rest of my list, here it is: Ali - I pick him because of the way his stand against the government was one of many things that forced social change in America. Whether you think it was a good or bad thing (the social change, that is), Ali was at the forefront of the country's resistance to the war in particular and the government in general. This is on top of what he has done since then. Truly an amazing person. Jackie Robinson - His spot on this list is unquestioned I would imagine. He broke down so many racial doors with the way he dealt with the racism as the first black ballplayer in what was then America's game (football probably holds that top spot now). Wayne Gretzky - His influence on the game of hockey can be seen in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. There is no way the league would've expanded into those markets if his foray into Los Angeles wasn't as successful as it was (from a money standpoint, not for him, but for the league itself). While expansion might ultimately prove to be too much for the NHL to deal with in the long run, it was Gretzky who made the sport popular in the hotter places in this country. Michael Jordan - I put his Airness on my list mostly for the reasons qbert72 stated in his post. Jordan took a game that was gaining momentum in the mid-80s and shot its popularity and marketability through the roof. His excellence on the court was unquestioned but his profitability off the court (for himself and for every team and player in the NBA because of the increased product and TV revenue) might have been even more unquestioned. All you have to do is look at his feasibility now several years past his playing days. He's still one of the highest paid athlete endorsers. Tiger Woods - Basically, just read what I wrote about Jordan. The same applies for Tiger but on a grander scale, because he took a game that had a niche following (in terms of TV and marketing) and made it into one of the top sports in the country in these areas. Tournament purses increased dramatically in his wake and golf became one of TV's darlings. For proof of this all you have to do is realize that most PGA tournaments weren't even televised until the weekend before he arrived on the scene. Now, every single round of every PGA tournament is on TV somewhere. And as I've said in previous posts, Tiger made golf cool for the younger players out there. It wasn't that long ago that playing golf in high school was strictly a geek activity. Now, teams have to actually cut players because the turnout is so high.

posted by donnnnychris at 02:34 AM on June 06, 2006

The suggestions of King, Ali and Robinson got me thinking about the intersection between influence on a sport and influence for social change, and how it's impossible to separate the two when the athlete in question is a member of a marginalized group or a holder of a minority view. In a color-blind world, Jackie Robinson would still have a successful career, but in the world that was, he never had the option of being just a ballplayer; his presence and his color were always significant. Conversely, in a gender-blind world, Billie Jean King would almost certainly not be remembered the way she is: despite her ownership of the Grand Slam in the early '70s, in many ways she wasn't a great tennis player, not one whose technique would revolutionize the sport. She was perhaps one of the most doggedly determined and courageous competitors in her chosen arena, one who saw the broader implications of what she was doing more clearly than most at the time, and who brought the same determination to off-court battles. Ali changed heavyweight boxing; he also changed what it meant to be a black athlete in America, and broke a lot of stereotypes about what it meant to resist the Vietnam War.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 07:30 AM on June 06, 2006

That's definitely true for athletes that see their potential to impact society and are willing to accept the controversy involved. Controversy, however, can change the athletes attractiveness to companies wanting an athlete for endorsement deals. As a result, some athletes these days are pretty adamant about focusing only on the sports and don't like taking positions on issues with a larger societal impact (see Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods).

posted by bperk at 07:57 AM on June 06, 2006

Some others worthy of a mention: Pierre de Coubertin Mark Spitz Lance Armstrong Steve Redgrave Samuel Ryder Michael Johnson History doesn't record his name, but whoever produced the football in France on Christmas Eve 1914 for the unofficial Germany vs England 50-a-side match. History doesn't record the result either, but I suspect it would be fair to assume that the Germans won on penalties.

posted by JJ at 11:13 AM on June 06, 2006

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.