Influential The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time  

Ranker Sports
10.8k votes 653 voters 2.8k views 39 items

List Rules Vote up the athletes who changed their sport forever, bringing major contributions each time they performed.

The most influential athletes of all time aren't just the best stars from their respective sports, but some of the most iconic individuals in the sports world. Whether they broke countless records or changed the way we all look at a specific sport, they influenced generations to come and will always be remembered at the top of their class. So, who do you think are the most influential athletes ever?

No matter the sport or discipline, these top athletes are true icons. Whether you're talking the New York Yankees great Babe Ruth or NBA GOAT Michael Jordan, the athletes listed here are far from your average sports stars. Take the legendary Deion Sanders, for example. Not only is he considered an NFL great, he's also an established professional baseball player—proving he's one of the greatest all-around athletes of all time. While he's a rare case in terms of athletes, others on this list of influential sports stars have contributed greatly to their sport. 

Now, check out the list of athletes below and vote up your favorites for the most influential of all time. You can also vote athletes down, as well as add other sports icons to the list. 

list ordered by

1
390 119
Cristiano Ronaldo is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 33 Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, GOIH, known as Cristiano Ronaldo, is a Portuguese professional footballer who plays for Spanish club Real Madrid C.F. and the Portugal national team. He is a ...more

2
258 115
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 77 Pele, is almost universally regarded as the greatest player in the history of football. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, Pele emerged on to the ...more

3
251 116
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 36 Tennis player Roger Federer (IPA pronunciation: [ˈɹɑ.dʒər ˈfɛ.dər.ər]) (born August 8, 1981) is a Swiss tennis professional, currently ranked World No. 1. Many experts and many of his own tennis ...more

4
222 110
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 31 Usain St. Leo Bolt, OJ, CD, is a Jamaican sprinter. Widely regarded as the fastest person ever, he is the first man to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records since fully automatic ...more

5
71 54
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Hormony added age 35 Yelena Gadzhievna Isinbayeva is a Russian pole vaulter. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-time World Champion, the current world record holder in the event, who is widely ...more

6
62 50
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 49 Michael Schumacher is a German retired racing driver. Schumacher is a seven-time Formula One World Champion and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. He was ...more

7
58 52
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 48 Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf is a German former world No. 1 tennis player. Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Her 22 singles titles is second all time behind Margaret Court, and ...more

8
58 54
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 72 Franz Anton Beckenbauer is a German football manager, and former player, nicknamed Der Kaiser because of his elegant style; his leadership; his first name "Franz", and his dominance on ...more

9
107 267
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 76 Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 - June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. Nicknamed "The Greatest", he is widely regarded as one of the most ...more

10
92 224
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 56 Nadia Elena Comăneci is a Romanian former gymnast, winner of three Olympic gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in ...more

11
66 274
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 55 Michael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American former professional basketball player. He is also an entrepreneur, and principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte ...more

12
48 259
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 57 Wayne Douglas Gretzky, CC is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player and former head coach. He played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League for four teams from 1979 to 1999. ...more

13
45 264
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 61 Larry Joe Bird is an American retired professional basketball player who played for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association. Since retiring as a player, he has been a mainstay ...more

14
33 262
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 36 Serena Jameka Williams is an American professional tennis player who is currently ranked No. 1 in women's singles tennis. The Women's Tennis Association has ranked her World No. 1 in singles on ...more

15
33 265
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 32 Michael Fred Phelps II is an American competition swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals, ...more

16
33 266
Jackie Robinson is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 53 (1919-1972) Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was an American baseball player who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball ...more

17
34 278
Tiger Woods is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 42 Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods is an American professional golfer who is among the most successful golfers of all time. He has been one of the highest-paid athletes in the world for ...more

18
32 263
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 30 Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi Cuccittini is an Argentine professional footballer who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team. He is a forward and serves ...more

19
28 267
Kobe Bryant is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 39 Kobe Bean Bryant is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. He entered the NBA directly from high school, and has played for ...more

20
20 256
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 70 Robert Gordon Orr, OC is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player. Orr played in the National Hockey League for ten seasons with the Boston Bruins, joining the Chicago Black Hawks for ...more

21
20 260
Martina Navratilova is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 61 Martina Navratilova is a retired Czech and American tennis player and coach. Billie Jean King, former World No. 1 player, said in 2006 that Navratilova is "the greatest singles, doubles and ...more

22
20 261
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 53 (1895-1948) George Herman "Babe" Ruth, Jr. was an American baseball outfielder and pitcher who played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1914 to 1935. Nicknamed "The Bambino" and ...more

23
19 257
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 58 Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. is a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association for 13 seasons. ...more

24
19 265
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 70 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an American retired professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. During his ...more

25
18 259
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 56 Jacqueline "Jackie" Joyner-Kersee is a retired American athlete, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women's heptathlon as well as in the women's long jump. She won ...more

26
18 267
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 55 Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson is a retired American baseball and football player. He is the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports. He was named the greatest ...more

27
15 259
Carl Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 56 Frederick Carlton "Carl" Lewis is an American former track and field athlete, who won 10 Olympic medals, including nine gold, and 10 World Championships medals, including eight gold. ...more

28
14 262
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 82 James Nathaniel "Jim" Brown is an American former professional football player and actor. He is best known for his exceptional and record-setting nine year career as a running back for ...more

29
13 266
Deion Sanders is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 48 Deion Luwynn Sanders, Sr. is an American former football and baseball player, who works as an analyst for CBS Sports and the NFL Network. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on ...more

30
12 253
Sugar Ray Robinson is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 68 (1921-1989) Sugar Ray Robinson was an American professional boxer. Frequently cited as the greatest boxer of all time, Robinson's performances in the welterweight and middleweight divisions prompted ...more

31
11 258
Cheryl Miller is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 54 Cheryl D. Miller is the women's basketball coach at Cal State LA and a former college basketball player and sportscaster for TNT. She is currently a sideline reporter for NBA games on TNT Sports ...more

32
10 252
Joe Namath is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 72 Joseph William "Joe" Namath, nicknamed "Broadway Joe" or "Joe Willie", is a former American football quarterback and actor. He played college football for the ...more

33
10 252
Hank Aaron is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 84 Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron, nicknamed "Hammer", or "Hammerin' Hank", is a retired American Major League Baseball right fielder. He played 21 seasons for the ...more

34
10 253
Willie Mays is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 86 Willie Howard Mays, Jr., nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid" is a retired American Major League Baseball center fielder who spent almost all of his 22 season career playing for the New York ...more

35
9 257
Dan Gable is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 69 Danny Mack "Dan" Gable is a retired American Olympic wrestler and head coach. He is best known for his tenure as head coach at the University of Iowa where he won 15 NCAA team titles ...more

36
8 250
Derek Jeter is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 43 Derek Sanderson Jeter is an American former professional baseball shortstop who played 20 seasons in Major League Baseball for the New York Yankees. A five-time World Series champion, Jeter is ...more

37
8 252
Jim Thorpe is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Died at 65 (1888-1953) James Francis "Jim" Thorpe was a Sac and Fox athlete of Native American and European ancestry. Considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, he won Olympic gold ...more

38
8 255
Lisa Leslie is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 45 Lisa Deshaun Leslie is an American former professional women's basketball player who played in the WNBA. She is a three-time WNBA MVP and a four-time Olympic gold medal winner. The number seven ...more

39
6 253
Babe Didrikson Zaharias is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 45 (1911-1956) Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias was an American athlete who achieved most success in golf, basketball, and track and field.