I recently did a blog post which complained about Brett Favre. Specifically, I was complaining about how the Media treats him as more important than the game itself. But how many athletes have really transcended their sport?
In my opinion, here are the athletes who did:
Babe Ruth: Ruth took baseball and MADE it the American Pastime. After the 1919 "Black Sox Scandal" nearly ruined baseball, Ruth saved the game and changed it forever.
Jesse Owens: Owens is one of the best examples of transcending sport and entering international politics. His four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics showed up the Aryan supremacy message at the heart of Nazi propaganda.
Jackie Robinson: "Breaking the color barrier" is all you need to say about Robinson. Every black person who has ever played a professional sport since Robinson has him to thank for it.
Muhammad Ali: Few athletes from any sport achieve the international fame of Ali. As for transcending sport, no athlete has EVER topped Ali. From his objection to the Vietnam War (for which he ended up in prison), to his blatant braggadocio (which he always seemed to be able to bring to fruition), to his international fights ("The Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire, and "The Thrilla in Manilla" in the Philippines), to his lighting of the torch at the 1996 Olympics (which was one of the most touching sporting moments I have ever seen), Ali was truly "The Greatest".
Vince Lombardi: Whether it is fair to include a coach in a list of athletes is arguable, but what cannot be argued is how Lombardi became the very definition of "head coach". Winning three NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls in a span of seven years is still a significant accomplishment. But where he truly stands out from other great coaches was in the things he said. Although he is frequently, and incorrectly, credited with saying "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing", he had many other quotes which showed how great a motivator he was. Within American culture, Lombardi symbolizes everything in coaches (and leaders) from motivation to authoritarian dictatorship.
Michael Jordan: One of the things that impresses me about Jordan is that he is one of the smartest superstars to ever play any sport. That intelligence undoubtedly helped him to dominate professional basketball, but it also gave him a marketing savvy that few athletes have. As for transcending his sport, consider Jordan's first retirement from basketball, when he went to play baseball. How many athletes would be dragging the Media around to their minor league baseball games?
There are a few others who are borderline cases, like Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias, and Joe Namath, but their fame has faded over time to such an extent that it can be argued they really didn't transcend their sport that much.
Now does anyone honestly think Brett Favre belongs on that list?