The ESPY’s have just been awarded and Sports Illustrated magazine have also released their 50 most influential figures in sports.
For the ESPY’s, the ceremony awarding the best athletes over the last 12 months, the biggest names in the sports world naturally won their awards. Superbowl winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the award for ‘Best Male Athlete’, overtaking football superstar Lionel Messi, NBA Finals winner Nikola Jokic and baseball icon Aaron Judge for the award. On the flip side, Mikaela Shiffrin won the ‘Best Female Athlete’ Award, skiing past Sophia Smith, Iga Świątek and A’ja Wilson for the crown.
It was a big year for the girls, with many top female athletes taking home awards. In boxing, undisputed middleweight champion Claressa Shields overtook top male lightweight fighters Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis and Shakur Stevenson to be awarded the ‘Best Boxer’ title.
Despite falling short of being named the best female athlete, A’ja Wilson did walk away listed as the west Women’s NBA player of the last year. For ‘Best Breakthrough Athlete’, Louisiana State University women’s basketball player Angel Reese overtook her fellow basketball rival Caitlin Clark and male stars Brock Purdy and Julio Rodriquez to the trophy. And a couple’s effort of Lauren Holiday and her husband Jrue Holiday won the prestigious ‘Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award’ for their community efforts thanks to their foundation JLH Social Impact Fund.
In terms of male athletes, Lionel Messi won ‘Best Football (Soccer) Player’ and ‘Best Championship Performance’ having led Argentina to World Cup glory in December, winning the Player of the Tournament in the process. LeBron James won ‘Best Record-Breaking Performance’ after becoming the highest scoring NBA player in history earlier on this year, Patrick Mahomes also taking ‘Best NFL Player’ home with him, and the likes of Jon Jones, Novak Djokovic, Justin Jefferson and Jamal Murray also walking away with awards.
But the ESPY’s wasn’t the only thing being issued this week. Sports Illustrated magazine launched their August issue in July, announcing the 50 Most Influential Figures in Sport, with boxer Jake Paul as the cover for this month’s magazine.
The 6-1 boxer and winner of ESPN’s ‘Best Knockout’ in 2021, Paul saw himself alongside some of the biggest and most powerful personages in the sports world. He featured alongside Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Patrick Mahomes, Tiger Woods, Alex Morgan, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike as the most influential athletes in the world.
Paul has been boxing professionally for 3 years, with his August fight against former UFC fighter Nate Diaz being his 5th pay-per-view headlining event. Despite losing to boxer Tommy Fury back in February, Paul hasn’t given up his drive to compete and help change boxing, and was even praised by World Champion Canelo Alvarez who said “I think that he’s good for boxing. He brings more people to the sport of boxing, and he's good, he trains serious so I think it’s good.”
Another rising superstar that made his way on the list is football’s Kylian Mbappe. Heir-apparent to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne, Mbappe has proven himself to be the biggest and best football player on the planet right now- and he’s only 24. Owner of the most lucrative contract in European football, which fired him to be the third highest paid athlete of 2022 behind Messi and Ronaldo, and already a World Cup winner by the age of 19, his eye for goal, marketing pull, global presence and having been awarded France’s highest civilian honour, his name and his ability is only going to grow more and more throughout the next phases of his career.
Not surprising, judging his success at the ESPY’s, Patrick Mahomes made a well-deserved pick on the list. The 2023 Superbowl winner with the Kanas City Chiefs is now a 2-time Superbowl winner in the NFL and already cementing himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league’s history. The 27-year-old currently has a contract with the Chief’s which will see him earn over $500 million by his next birthday. Only Cristiano Ronaldo’s $200 million per season deal with Saudi side Al Nassr and Kylian Mbappe’s current contract with PSG are worth close across the whole sporting world right now. But it’s the player’s ‘be yourself’ personality that’s made fans really attract to him, which has definitely helped build his business portfolio along with his unmatchable talent on the field.
An interesting entry on the list was Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunne. Having started gymnastics at the age of 3, she is now the top NIL earner in NCAA women’s sports. Not only this, she’s the highest earner in American college sports, soon to be second in the new school year when Lebron’s eldest son Bronny joins the University of Southern California.
It’s thanks to Dunne’s voice, that in 2021 the NCAA allowed college athletes to earn money through their names, image and likeness (NIL). Now she’s one of the most popular athletes in the world, amassing 7.6 million followers on TikTok and 4.2 million on Instagram. Thanks to her huge presence on social media, and having signed for WME Sports agency, Dunne has managed to pocket over $1 million through partnerships and is estimated to have a net worth of $2.3 million as of 2023.
Recently, Olivia launched the ‘Livvy Fund’, whose aim is to help secure female athletes from her school at LSU, secure NIL deals. She stated in an interview “As a female student-athlete, I have been fortunate enough to build a strong social media following and establish valuable brand partnerships that have launched my career in ways I couldn’t imagine. I am excited to build on this momentum by leveraging my connections and sharing my knowledge in the NIL space to create more opportunities for LSU female student-athletes, while emphasising the importance of bringing NIL funds to women in college sports.”
The 20-year-old Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Page cover star back in May, has fought hard to allow college athletes to make money from their image and likeness, as well as now helping to bring more gender equality to the new law, claiming “the collectives mostly go to the men’s sports here… and I just want to fight for equal NIL opportunities… it’s very important to help educate other student-athletes here at LSU on how to be a savvy businesswoman and how to partner with brands. Over the past two years, I’ve learned so much from these brands, so I just want to help educate others and give equal opportunities.”
Nowadays, sports overall has seemingly become much more about business and money generating than actual competition. Agencies and athletes alike are doing their best to help boost the careers and earnings of their fellow sports folk, covering all ages and competition levels.
Thanks to athletes like Olivia Dunne and Jake Paul, athletes are able to boost their profiles, close gender equality gaps and make much more of a living from sports than every before in the industry.
Paul has had a drive over the last 2 years to help boost fighter pay, trying to promote the fact that athletes don’t need to be tied and locked into deals with companies like the UFC, and to become their own managers and own business people to boost their pay and take control of their own careers. The American has also played his part in boosting women competing in the sport of boxing. His promotional company Most Valuable Promotions, has undisputed featherweight champion Amanda Serrano and middleweight contender Shadasia Green on its roster, and has used his huge social platform to help boost and promote the queens of his company.
Positive change is being made to the sports world, and thanks to social media and platforms such as Sports Illustrated, that the athletes, higher figures and companies are being praised and recognised for the work they are putting in to help create change.