Time Magazine has released their list of the most influential people of 2021. The list highlights artists, entrepreneurs, authors, lawyers, businessmen and women, actors and more who are all honored by their peers. There are six athletes among the list whose names you’ve heard nonstop this year, and for a few, their achievements have remained in the spotlight for years.
While these public figures display their unbelievable talents for their fans and the sport they love, their influence goes beyond the game or competition when they give us a front row seat to how they arrived to this point.
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels pitcher
The dynamic two-way star for the Angels is a leading candidate for the American League MVP Award. Ohtani Is second in theMLB this season with 44 home runs, and his work on the mound is equally applaudable with a 3.36 ERA in 21 starts.
One guy who knows a thing or two about hitting homers is three-time AL MVP and former New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. He wrote in honor of Ohtani for Time, noting in part:
“He’s the modern-day Bambino—and yet even Babe Ruth wasn’t stealing 20-plus bases, hitting 40-plus homers and throwing 100 m.p.h. in the same season. Only Shohei can. If you were to Frankenstein every unique talent into one player, you’d get Shohei Ohtani. He has the power of Bryce Harper, the pitching of Max Scherzer and the speed of Trea Turner. Not only is he incredible on the field, but off the field he’s a gentleman. His teammates have only good things to say about Shohei, and he is great with the media and fans too.”
Naomi Osaka, tennis
The 23-year-old is already a four-time Grand Slam champion in tennis. While she’s had her fair share of ups-and-downs throughout her young career, her accomplishments off the tennis court are equally notable, shining a light on the mental health of athletes.
Osaka took her first break from tennis after the French Open to focus on her mental health before heading to the Tokyo Olympics. Just weeks ago, the Japanese tennis star stated she had no idea when she’d return to the court or game after losing in the third round of the U.S. Open.
“It’s incredibly meaningful that she has been able to talk honestly about struggling with her mental health and share with us her vulnerability,” Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson wrote in her honor. “She’s been able to say to the world: Hey, listen, I’m going through something. Here’s my truth.
"In doing that, she’s serving others—just as she has before. After the death of George Floyd in May 2020, Naomi participated in protests in Minneapolis; during last year’s U.S. Open—which she ultimately won—Naomi wore masks honoring seven Black Americans killed in recent years, including Trayvon Martin and Breonna Taylor. She shows you can be among the best in the world at what you do, and still fight for justice and be open about the challenges you face.”
Simone Biles, USA gymnast
Like Osaka, Biles is leading the way of raising awareness about mental health. With 32 Olympic and world championship medals, Biles is a once in a lifetime athlete. Aside from her outstanding athletic abilities, she primarily made headlines during the Tokyo Olympics when she pulled out of the Games to prioritize her mental health.
Biles finished in Tokyo with a silver medal in the team event and returned to place bronze in the balance beam. Tennis star Serena Williams wrote on her behalf, noting Biles “truly reflects the endless potential of Black women.”
“She’s a master of precision, grace and dominance, and at the age of just 24, she has cemented herself as one of the most decorated American gymnasts of all time. But when she’s not on the mat or competing in front of the world, Simone strikes the powerful balance between humility and confidence—she’s enthusiastic yet stoic, believing in her strength, trusting her body and embracing her greatness.”
Sunisa Lee, USA gymnast
With Biles out of the individual all-around, Suni Lee rose to the occasion and took home gold. The 18-year-old Lee became the fifth different American female gymnast to win the event in the past five Olympics, not to mention she's grown quite the fan base as a TikTok sensation.
Five-time Olympic medalist Natasha Liukin wrote, in part:
“As the first Hmong American Olympian, Suni has an impact that extends far beyond any border or sport—it signifies representation. This milestone has and will continue to inspire the Hmong community, but it also sends a simple yet powerful message to underrepresented people everywhere: Dream big because anything is possible.”
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback
At 44, Brady has earned the ranks of being one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and he remains at the top entering his 22nd NFL season. Most recently, he's known for the leaving the New England Patriots after 20 years to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While some say it was a gamble, you better believe Brady never thought that for a second. The move paved a way for him to eclipse his sixth Super Bowl title, leading the Bucs to a 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
As a member of the English Football Hall of Fame, David Beckham wrote to Brady's superiority and his persistence to remain at the top of his game.
“Even if you’re not a tennis fan, you want to watch Roger Federer on the court; even if you don’t follow basketball, you know who Michael Jordan is,” Beckham wrote. “Tom Brady is an iconic sportsman whom people know, see and admire. Even if you don’t follow American football, you want to watch Tom Brady play (partly because he’s so goddamn good-looking!).
"Tom has accomplished the unimaginable. His drive to compete and win is unrivaled. Playing in nine Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and winning six of them was an achievement any athlete would be more than satisfied with, but not Tom.”
Allyson Felix, USA track athlete
The 35-year-old track star became the most decorated American track and field athlete in the history of the Olympics at the Tokyo Games. She won gold in the 4x400-meter relay and bronze in the 400 meter.
Her comeback to the sport since the birth of her daughter has been remarkable. Her daughter, Camryn was born premature at 32 weeks and Felix spent most of her early days as mother in the NICU. And while the journey to getting Camryn to full strength was daunting for the sprinter, it was a race she was in for the long haul.
When her daughter did get to full health, there was a balance that Felix had to master of being a full-time mom and full-time Olympic athlete. During her races, she made it look effortless but in reality Felix overcame one obstacle at a time, whether than it was her personal life, endorsements deals gone wrong or training. Now, at the end of Felix's Olympic career five-time world-champion figure skater Michelle Kwan wrote on the inspiration that Felix is:
“I think Allyson sets an extraordinary example as a mother, as a woman and as an athlete. She has already paved the way in so many areas, including fighting for new maternity policies that will help the next generation of mothers and athletes. That will have a ripple effect that goes on forever. … I anticipate and expect that she will continue to follow her heart to do great things, some of which will probably be more meaningful than what she has accomplished in sports, as incredible as those feats and those medals are. This is just the beginning for her.”