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Bleacher Report Lists 2018's Most Influential People In Sports Culture

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OK, sports icons have always been a central part of our popular culture. Social media has obviously amplified the ways that these athletes can reach out to us, their fans. The world of sports is becoming a part of everyday life, but it is more than just having millions of followers on Instagram. What does their influence look like exactly? Adena Andrews is here to explain that for us. She is the deputy managing editor of the website Bleacher Report, and she, along with a group of reporters, put together a list of the 50 most influential people in sports.

Adena, thanks for being with us.

ADENA ANDREWS: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: All right. Top pick - who is the most influential person in sports right now?

ANDREWS: So just like you said, influence - it varies across the board. So we did - we broke it down into five categories. We've got the Level Up category, which is about on-field performance. That's Cristiano Ronaldo. We have the Speak Up category, which is people speaking in the political climate. Aly Raisman is the No. 1 there. We've got Shake It Up. We've got Meek Mill, who's coming in at No. 1 there. Donovan Mitchell in our Glow Up category - and then last but not least, Jimmy Garoppolo, one of the highest-paid NFL players. He's in our Level Up category also.

MARTIN: Who got left off this list that might be a little bit surprising?

ANDREWS: Oh, man. You know, we're sports fans, so we're always out there debating and arguing. There's a bunch of people that got left off.

MARTIN: Yeah, where do I start?

ANDREWS: I mean, that's what a list is for - right? - to be exclusive.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Was there - did you have any favorites that didn't make the cut?

ANDREWS: So shoutout to two people at work, Jeff and Elliott. They really wanted Kirk Cousins on the list. I'm always a Serena Williams fan.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ANDREWS: And she did not make the list either this year.

MARTIN: How?

ANDREWS: So it just shows you the discerning qualities we use. It was a really tough four-month process for us.

MARTIN: So what I love about this is that these are people who are influential in sports. That does not mean athletes. And in particular, I want to talk a little bit about a young guy named Jerome Jones (ph), who goes by Filayyyy on social media. Let's play a little clip of Filayyyy that he posted on Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

JESSE JONES: (Singing) Skip through that lane, 'tween, reverse, 'layyyy (ph).

MARTIN: (Laughter) I love this so much. So this is him. He, like, does this play-by-play in his own style. He was giving his play-by-play to a highlight video of Houston Rockets guard James Harden. Why did Filayyyy make your list?

ANDREWS: So Filayyyy had multiple reasons to make the list. First of all, he's shaking things up. Filayyyy is out here singing gospel to basketball highlights. Like, who...

MARTIN: Yeah, why not?

ANDREWS: Exactly. Like, who does that, right? And then he's also bossing up because he took his YouTube personality and turned it into a financial gain. He has a Nike commercial with Kyrie Irving and...

MARTIN: Amazing.

ANDREWS: And really, what it is is his authenticity, and we really pride ourselves on people who are authentic because growing up playing basketball - that's the kind of things we did. It wasn't necessarily gospel, but we narrated our own moves. You know, hezzy, 'hind the back, oh, flip it up for the layup. And so Filayyyy took what we were already doing and brought it into the popular lexicon, and it just escalated from there.

MARTIN: Plus, his love - I mean, this man just loves the game, and you can feel it. And it's so good that that's being honored.

ANDREWS: Yeah. And the players really love it also. We had a couple of NBA players come through the office, and when they play on our court, they're always (singing) Filayyyy when they do their moves.

MARTIN: (Laughter) So to a little more sober note, I mean, you talked about activism as something that has become such a part of professional athletics these days, professional sports. Player protests, we've seen in the NFL predominantly over the past few years. How has that role - these athletes becoming these more vocal activists - how has that changed their level of influence?

ANDREWS: Yeah. So in the Speak Up category, that was really important to us - to make sure we highlighted the people that spoke up about our political climate. Lebron James is actually the No. 2 person in that category. We love GOATs who actually have a voice. We also have Eric Reid. He's one of the last men kneeling. We kind of put them all in a group because Kaepernick is not there anymore. There's still a group of men who are continuing his movement, and they're bringing light to a subject that necessarily wouldn't be seen at all times.

MARTIN: All right. I'm going to have you - I'm going to put you on the spot. I'm going to ask you to do your best Filayyyy interpretation to go out on right now.

ANDREWS: All right.

MARTIN: Adena Andrews, go for it.

ANDREWS: (Singing) Hezzy, hezzy, 'tween, behind the back, flip it up, Filayyyy.

MARTIN: So good. Adena Andrews, deputy managing editor of Bleacher Report, talking about the 50 most influential people in sports. Thanks so much, lady. We appreciate it.

ANDREWS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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