The annual Time 100 list, which honors the most influential people of the year, featured six prominent athletes whose contributions far exceed their star status on the playing surfaces.
On Thursday, Time magazine published its list for 2023 and included Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, World Tennis Association No. 1 women’s player Iga Świątek, French soccer star Kylian Mbappé, Argentinian soccer icon Lionel Messi, women’s alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin and NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes. To introduce the selections, celebrity guest contributors wrote the entries for each.
WNBA legend Sue Bird wrote Griner’s entry; Shiffrin wrote Świątek’s; Time correspondent Vivienne Walt wrote Mbappé’s; men’s tennis great Roger Federer wrote Messi’s; Lindsey Vonn wrote Shiffrin’s and Peyton Manning wrote Mahomes’.
Here’s everything you need to know about the sports personalities on the Time 100 list.
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An eight-time WNBA All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury, Griner has become an advocate for Americans wrongly detained across the globe after she spent nearly 10 months in a Russian penal colony. Griner, 32, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17, 2022 after authorities found vape cartridges with hash oil in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty in early July, saying she’d mistakenly packed the drugs and that ‘there was no intent’ to break the law. She was sentenced to nine years in prison but was eventually released after a prisoner exchange in December 2022 for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner represented the U.S. at the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, winning two gold medals. She most recently played in the WNBA in 2021, when she helped lead the Mercury to an appearance in the WNBA Finals. Griner averaged 20.5 points per game in 2021, ranking second-best in the league, as well as leading the league with 1.9 blocks per game and setting a Phoenix franchise record with 9.5 rebounds per game. She has also been an advocate for transgender rights and has been a champion for the LGBTQ+ community.
‘Brittney Griner’s story represents so much. First off, it’s about resilience,’ wrote Bird. ‘But underneath this story of inner strength is so much more. … It speaks to the power of the women who rallied around her – Black women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, our WNBA community – and who made certain her name was never forgotten, that she’d return home. These are the women who get sh-t done.’
Świątek has become the dominant force in women’s tennis, rising to the No. 1 ranking in the Women’s Tennis Association despite being only 21. Świątek won a tour-best eight trophies and also ripped off a 37-match winning streak last year. In fact, heading into the Australian Open in January, Świątek had won two of the previous three majors.
Świątek, whose native Poland has a clear proximity to the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine, also recently spoke out about the response of the tennis community to Russian and Belarusian players on tour. Świątek said in an interview with the BBC that tennis could’ve done better ‘from the beginning’ in banning Russian and Belarusian players to show that the sport and its executives were against the war.
Świątek’s advocacy for mental health and supporting Ukrainians in their fight to protect their home was lauded by Shiffrin.
‘As an athlete, and more importantly as a human, she embodies the kind of confidence that everyone should emulate – the confidence of action over mere talk,’ Shiffrin wrote.
He may be the fastest soccer player in the world and, at 24, Mbappé is only getting better. He has been on the cusp of FIFA and soccer’s most prized individual awards, though he established himself as one of the most dangerous players in the sport after a dominant showing in the 2022 World Cup, in which he scored half of France’s 16 goals.
In fact, in the final – an eventual loss to Argentina – Mbappé scored twice in a 90-second span to keep France in the match, and finished with a hat trick. His eight goals in the 2022 World Cup were the most in a single World Cup since Brazilian star Ronaldo in 2002. Mbappé is tied with Pele with 12 World Cup goals overall, and he needs only four more to match Miroslav Klose’s record. With his age, though, it’s within reason that Mbappé might have up to three more World Cups in his career. And with his dominant final, Mbappé showed that he’s a player who can take over a game, even on the biggest stage.
Walt called Mbappé ‘a living rags-to-riches fairy tale’ and wrote, ‘Despite his incredible celebrity, Mbappé has three home truths from his mom that keep him grounded: ‘Respect, humility, lucidity.”
The one thing that was missing from Messi’s illustrious career he earned in December, when the long-time captain of the Argentinian men’s soccer team won his first career World Cup. He also won the tournament’s Golden Ball, given to the World Cup’s best player. He can add that to seven Ballon d’Or trophies — given to the best player in the world for that calendar year — four Champions League titles and more than 100 goals scored while representing Argentina.
Messi’s sheer wizardry with the ball near his feet ushered in a style of playmaking that those who have come in subsequent waves have tried to emulate, and not only in Argentina. Though, arguably, no sports star has become a bigger draw in their home country than Messi, who was recently serenaded outside a Buenos Aires steakhouse when social media reports circulated that he was dining there. Even at 35, Messi continues to be a draw and might be the most recognizable athlete in the world.
Federer shared his respect for Messi, writing: ‘My career has just come to an end. I now realize how much weight we athletes carry. But in our daily lives, we don’t even realize it.
‘For a football player like Messi, that weight likely feels more massive, as he represents both a world-renowned club and a very passionate country. … Even those who don’t follow football must have realized the true impact of the world’s most popular game.’
In March, Shiffrin became the most decorated skier of all time, winning her 87th World Cup event that broke a record that stood for 34 years. Shiffrin, 28, would actually go on to end the season with an 88th victory. She is a force across every discipline in skiing, not excelling as a specialist in just speed or technical events. The previous record holder, Ingemar Stenmark, needed 15 seasons to get there; Shiffrin did it in 11.
Despite her dominance in the sport, Shiffrin has also become a paradigm for how to navigate shocking defeat and failure. Shiffrin was expected to collect a haul of medals at last year’s Beijing Olympics, but instead she came home empty-handed, recording DNFs in three of her five individual races. Shiffrin has been open about how unmoored she was by her grief after the unexpected passing of her father.
‘With Serena Williams stepping away from tennis, there’s room for another big female global sports superstar,’ wrote Vonn, ‘and Mikaela can fill that opportunity.’
The star quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs is the face of the NFL. And, at the young age of 27, he’s fresh off of a season in which he won his second AP NFL Most Valuable Player award, his second Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP, his second All-Pro nomination and his fifth Pro Bowl selection – one for each year that he has been a starter in the league. His play subverts long-established conventions about what quarterbacking is supposed to look like, he’s a player future generations will try to emulate and he elevates those around him.
He’s also a monumental figure off the field. In 2020, when he was just 24, Mahomes became a minority owner of MLB’s Kansas City Royals. Also in 2020, Mahomes helped foot the bill for making Arrowhead Stadium a polling place so that Missourians could cast their votes in that November’s election. He started his ’15 and the Mahomies’ foundation that has provided 136,000 meals and more than $2.5 million in charitable grants to 101 different organizations.
Manning wrote how Mahomes once served as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, a summer football camp for high school players that Archie Manning founded in 1996.
‘You can learn a lot about a person by the way they treat eighth-graders and ninth-graders during those hot days in Louisiana,’ Manning wrote. ‘Patrick was great with the kids. I remember his arm strength back then. It jumped out at you.
‘Patrick is setting new bars,’ Manning continued. ‘All these young players around the country are trying to imitate his sidearm throws and incredible plays. But I hope they know he’s also an incredibly hard worker. He appreciates the cerebral part of the game. And he understands his platform, as the MVP quarterback of the Super Bowl–winning team.