Influential The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time  

Ranker Sports
13.4k votes 958 voters 6k views 40 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
447 267
Cristiano Ronaldo is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 34
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
291 220
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 78
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
287 217
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 37
Tennis player Roger Federer (born August 8, 1981) is a Swiss tennis professional, currently ranked World No. 1. Many experts and many of his own tennis peers believe that Federer may be the ...more

4
264 197
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 32
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
201 338
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 77
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

6
154 259
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 57
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

7
90 143
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 50
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

8
143 339
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 56
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

9
75 131
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 49
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

10
80 153
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
Hormony added age 36
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

11
69 139
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
karloman added age 73
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

12
94 270
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 12 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

13
98 300
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 62
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
84 311
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 58
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

15
70 324
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 31
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

16
65 326
Tiger Woods is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 43
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

17
9 38
Zinedine Zidane is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
AdamAmroun1 added age 46
Zinedine Yazid Zidane, nicknamed "Zizou", is a former French footballer and current coach of Real Madrid Castilla. He played as an attacking midfielder for the French national team, ...more

18
57 305
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 33
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

19
56 304
Jackie Robinson is listed (or ranked) 19 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

20
55 302
Kobe Bryant is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 40
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

21
49 291
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 37
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

22
41 267
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 22 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

23
41 271
Martina Navratilova is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 62
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

24
36 285
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 71
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
33 276
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time
age 59
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