Adrian Peterson (Mark Rebilas/USA Today)
Forbes’ financial lists usually seem to be pretty accurate. However, the magazine’s list on the top-10 most influential athletes leaves a lot to be desired, especially when the MVP of the nation’s most popular sport is left off.
What makes an athlete influential?
Think about that one for a second.
From the perspective of a sports fan, it would seem it would be an athlete that casts such an imposing presence that an opposing coach loses a little bladder control at the thought of facing him. Adrian Peterson is a prime example of that definition of “influential.”
Forbes magazine is renowned for its financial forays into sports. If you want the straight-skinny on what a sports franchise is worth, Forbes is your go-to source.
But when it comes to “influential” athletes, it would stand to reason that marketing of the athletes is the primary focus. In a top 10 list of the most influential athletes of 2013, the magazine didn’t include A.P. on its list, but those who made it were equally astonishing.
The basic premise of the list was to determine athletes with name recognition to the average consumer – money, money, money. Do they know who you are? That pretty much encompasses being in commercials and advertisements. A.P. does a lot of “print work” – still images of him endorsing a specific product. But you don’t see him that often in a media campaign. Peyton Manning, on their other hand, will pimp out anything from cars typically driven by geriatrics to on-the-cheap take-out pizza. He never met a paycheck he didn’t like cashing, even if it means selling out for an extra couple of zeroes on the check. Him making the list was a given.
To let the “influential” aspect of it sink in, you have to know the full top 10 list. Many may stop in astonishment thinking it may be an obscure Siete De Mayo prank when they see the first name, but here it is. Honest.
1. Tim Tebow; 2. Michael Phelps; 3. Usain Bolt; 4. Derek Jeter; 5. Peyton Manning; 6. Drew Brees; 7. Gabby Douglas; 8. Aaron Rodgers; 9. LeBron James; 10. David Beckham.
Therein is the problem with the veracity of the list. Tebow at No. 1? It begs the question what makes an athlete influential? I can’t remember a thing Tebow has been associated with in the advertising realm. Can you? It would have been understandable a year earlier when he was fresh off his improbable run in Denver and infuriating G.M. John Elway by looking so ugly, but leaving with a “W” so often. People were doing “The Tebow.” When you have a signature move, it’s impressive. He’s since become a pariah and, much like his namesake, Baby Jesus has his followers and detractors – both of whom are in fervently set-in-stone camps.
To be cut by the Jets is humiliating enough. They need quarterback talent like Denny Green needs roomy slacks. But, the immediate reaction to his release has been that Tebow should be banished to Canada to spread his football gospel. There’s no room at the inn (or the NFL). If money is the bottom line on influence, he doesn’t fit. If talent factors in, fuggedabowdit. Maybe he’s making a ton of cake with inspirational spoken-word CDs, but I haven’t come across anything that I’ve seen Tebow endorse. To be honest, if he was endorsing Coke, I’d be more likely to grab a Pepsi. Clearly I wasn’t part of the survey sample.
The list loses its “influential legitimacy” for me with the inclusion of not one but three Summer Olympians from 2012. Olympics are like parole hearings for Charles Manson – they come every four years and the result is the same. While I’m a big Bolt fan – any guy who can ease up at the end of dash-races is good by me – I’ve actually seen him in ad campaigns. Good for him. The only thing I’ve seen Phelps in since that impacted me were the internet photos of him taking a bump off of a restaurant-quality bong – and thinking a swimmer’s lungs can take an impressive pull off of that. Seeing as I’m not into man-thongs or swim goggles (or Subway … I’m a Jimmy John’s man), his time has passed – Ryan Lochte (and Floyd Landis) have reality shows. As for Gabby Douglas? Nice story. Next! Like so many Disney Channel teen stars, the Olympic gravy train runs on biscuit wheels that crumble pretty quick.
The fact three quarterbacks (four if you count Tebow) made the top 10 speaks to the power of the NFL. As for Jeter, he’s riding out the string of a Hall of Fame career. His best days were when the Yankees were winning World Series titles. Now, he’s an aging pretty boy past his prime. Influential? Definitely. Currently consequential? Not so much.
Beckham rounds out the top 10. As Derek Zoolander or Hansel McDonald would say, “He’s ridiculously good looking.” He’s everywhere. You would think that, considering how much his former Spice Girl wife Vicky is worth, she could force a smile every now and then. Like Jeter, he’s a star whose brilliance can still be seen by the naked eye, but has long since exploded and what fans are seeing is residual shine.
Influential by definition of Forbes is much different that that of sports fans, and, if Tebow is your benchmark, it’s different than just about anyone who is remotely interested in sports. Unless “influential” is expected to mean that two years from now, they will disappear like fads often do, maybe it’s better Peterson didn’t make the list. He is influential. Just ask any defensive coordinator wearing an extra-long sideline hoodie and tan pants – a required combination when A.P. might make you “a-pee” a little bit.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.