Forbes: Jimmie Johnson Most Influential Athlete

By Cam Martin 

Well, this is an interesting way to hold a survey about the most influential athletes, not least because the word “influential” can be defined in any numbers of ways. Forbes decided to rank its most influential using these parameters:

E-Poll and Nielsen Media Research surveyed over 1,000 adults as to the athletes they considered influential, while also assessing their likeability and awareness levels. Only those known to at least 20% of the respondents were considered. (That eliminated boxer Manny Pacquiao, who scores the highest influence numbers of anyone but who’s familiar to only 12% of the population. What does it say about boxing that its most exciting champion toils in near anonymity?) Talent is just part of what makes an athlete “influential” to the public. Endorsements and media attention, along with off-the-field image all factor in. In short, has the player raised interest in the sport he plays? The polling shows certain qualities help a player win influence with the public: being intensely competitive without ostentation, and valuing winning above calling attention to yourself. And (mostly) avoiding big controversies off the field.

Winning without ostentation? Geez, why don’t they just come out and say it: Win while looking white. Because that’s what they’re driving at, right? Winning the “right” way? Obviously. Why? Because within these guidelines, three of the top 10 most influential were — ding, ding, ding — NASCAR drivers, including Jimmie Johnson at No. 1.

No doubt Jimmie’s had a tremendous influence on my life, both as a Fox football commentator and a contestant on “Survivor.” What, that’s former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson? Oh.

Well, I guess the 1,000 people they surveyed lived somewhere where NASCAR is huge – like south of Richmond, Virginia, and east of Texas.

I kid (sort of). I know that NASCAR is a hugely popular sport. And while I’ll never understand its attraction, I went to college in Tennessee, so I know people are genuinely attracted to this strange sport predicated on drive fast-turn left. But come on, Jimmie Johnson is the most influential athlete in the world? I wouldn’t know him if I ran him over with my car.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the relevance of this list, Shaquille O’Neal is listed as more influential than LeBron James. Does Shaq hang out at NASCAR tracks? Because that’s the only way this whole list makes sense.