Magazines and books with favorite sports legends.
Magazines and books with favorite sports legends.
Noah Demo

The Influence of Athletes

Since the days of Ancient Rome, sporting events have always had a considerable impact on society. It’s no surprise that this profound cultural trend would travel to State High. When State High seniors look back on the athletes who inspired them growing up, the impact of pro players and Olympians is clear. 

Allison Peters, a State High senior and member of the field hockey team, had two heroes. First, Peters had a phase when she was obsessed with American olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, to the point of getting her hair cut like Ledecky. 

“I really admired her confidence and her ability to go out there and work hard so she can compete and beat everyone,” Peters stated.  

Although Peters still considers Ledecky a “boss,” she also cited Micheal Jordan’s work ethic as an inspiration. 

Sawyer McLaughlin, a senior in the State High Rugby Club, grew up cheering for the New England Patriots with his family. 

“We loved Tom Brady for a while. He was a quarterback for the NFL Patriots, and he was quarterback for like 20 years–won a lot of championships. So I’d definitely say he impacted me mainly just because he was probably the first really great athlete or even the first name of an athlete I even knew, like just growing up watching him,” McLaughlin said.

One of the things people most often admire about athletes is their perseverance throughout their careers. Ledecky competed in her first Olympics in 2012 and won her 16th gold medal at the World Championships this year, topping Michael Phelps for the most gold won by an American swimmer. Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft but won 7 Super Bowls during his 22-year career.

In addition to epic athletic performances, athletes also inspire cultural changes. Peters, for example, emphasized Simone Biles’s recent impact on conversations about mental health. 

“She proved that putting yourself first isn’t selfish but essential. Because of her speaking out about her health struggles, she sparked a conversation all across the US about looking out for yourself,” Peters said.

McLaughlin pointed to the charities that athletes, teams, and leagues pursue. “I think they have a lot of influence, and they have the power to do good,” McLaughlin stated. 

Although Peters and McLaughlin agree about the broad potential to do good in society, they attributed the wide cultural reach of star athletes to various sources–social media, branding and activism. 

 McLaughlin cited the collaboration between athletes and brands mainstreamed by Michael Jordan, which can extend to pop culture as it did with Jordan’s 1996 film Space Jam and, more recently, Lebron James’ 2021 Space Jam: A New Legacy.  

Now, social media further extends the reach of athletes. Simone Biles, for example, has 6.9 million Instagram followers. Athletes like Biles “have a very public life,” Peters noted.

“People watch what they say and do so their words can spread and reach many people. Because of this, society is influenced,” Peters stated.

Both McLaughlin and Peters considered the rise of activism by athletes as a positive development.

“I think it’s great. Athletes are supposed to inspire other people. If they know what they’re talking about and have credibility on the topic, then their message would be powerful and reach people who need to hear it,” Peters stated. 

McLaughlin’s message wasn’t very different, “I think it’s a really good thing, and I hope it continues to grow. They have so much influence, with so many people looking up to them, and when they’re doing good things, it’s inspiring other people to either do the same or provide attention to these causes and issues. So I really hope it continues to develop, and it can be something that almost every professional athlete partakes in.” 

Beyond the inspiration sports heroes provide, participating in team sports will leave the most lasting impact on McLaughlin and Peters. 

For Peters, playing sports, “helped me become a more confident and focused person, and I have also learned the value of hard work.” 

In addition to the personal growth, McLaughlin is grateful for the friendships made through sports.

“I’ve met a lot of new friends through sports. I think it helps you grow in a lot of ways to learn new concepts and understand things, but it’s also a great way to connect with other people,” he said.

Athletics offers both an excellent way to cause a change in society and an effective way for one to grow as a person–and that’s equally valuable in its own right.

Whether in the past, the present, and likely the future, it’s without question that athletes remain some of the most impactful people in society.

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