Is Cristiano Ronaldo The Most Famous Athlete Of All Time?
Sorry in advance if I'm about to blow your mind with this fact, but there have never been more people alive on the earth than there are right now.
That of course means that that there have never been more people on the internet or watching TV. The planet is now at a human population of over 7 billion that have the ability to connect in milliseconds, and social media allows the kind of access into the lives of celebrities that we couldn't have dreamed of in decades past. So the type of pervasive fame that can be achieved these days is unprecedented,
Cristiano Ronaldo, according to ESPN's World Fame 100 Rankings (and a hefty dose of common sense) is the most famous athlete in the world right now. By some measures, it's not even close. His 121.1 million Facebook followers and 102 million Instagram followers eclipse everyone below him on the list, including LeBron James at number 2. James boasts a comparatively meager 23.1 million Facebook followers and 30.5 Instagram followers. There are Twitter numbers in there too, but you get the trend here.
Those numbers combined almost surely make him the most followed celebrity on the planet, even over musical artists with huge Facebook followings like Shakira, Eminem and Beyonce - all of whom benefit from Facebook's practice of automatically following the artists that are listed in your music interests on your bio.
In terms of international interest in his career and the pure number of people from every inhabited continent who watch him play, he's nearly unrivaled. Because soccer (football) is the most popular sport in the world, the most famous athlete in the world is usually, by default, a soccer player. Even in the United States, where most children didn't grow up watching soccer on TV or going to professional games, we all somehow knew of Pele. His legend was inescapable.
Sure, there are billions who also watch cricket, because India has a larger population than the entire continents of North and South America combined - but as far as geographically diverse interest, nothing matches soccer. That's all not to mention that Ronaldo is one of the greatest soccer players of all time, and second only to Lionel Messi in terms of pure talent in his generation.
So in Ronaldo we have the most followed person on the internet, playing the most popular game in the world at the highest level in the world during a time when the most humans ever have never been more connected. Is it even possible to rival that?
Here in the U.S., we might try to make an argument for Michael Jordan. American basketball stars are notoriously popular internationally because the game is now played professionally all over the world - hence LeBron James' ubiquity. Jordan's name is attached to a brand for Nike that's worth billions, he's widely considered the GOAT, and his face and name have transcended sports and even time.
Still, he's not Ronaldo. Even had he hit his peak in the second decade of the new millennium, there'd likely have been the same cap to his reach that LeBron faces now. Basketball still can't compete with soccer on a long term basis, and if we're really going to take a deep dive into that hypothetical, Jordan seemed incapable of curating the kind of public persona that Ronaldo has managed (in spite of those little tax fraud charges).
Even back in the 90's before the boom of the internet, people knew Jordan was a degenerate gambler and philanderer. Ronaldo went the Derek Jeter route and has never married - deftly limiting the scope of scrutiny he receives for any transgressions of a particular nature.
And we can rule out anyone who plays baseball or ice hockey, as no one who plays either sport even cracked the top 100 this year. That could be due in part to the 2017 list including the stars of the Rio Olympics, like Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Ryan Lochte and Lin Dan. With the exception of maybe Biles, those athletes won't make the cut next year.
Regardless of any of those variables, Ronaldo has not only retained his crown but he's become more omnipresent as time goes by. No other athlete in history that has ever been more internationally recognizable than he is right now. Inevitably someone will surpass him, because at the rate technology's going, we'll be able to beam ourselves across the continents Star Trek-style by 2040.
For now though, it's pretty clear: Cristiano Ronaldo is the most famous athlete of all time.
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