In 1993, Charles Barkley did a commercial for Nike declaring, “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Barkley was the perfect embodiment of the bad boy sports hero our culture was enamored with for years. But it seems the tide is turning. In an age where the three gold coins of worth have been wealth, good looks, and athletic ability, a new currency is rising: trust. People are drawn to people they can trust.
Now we have lists of the world’s most trusted companies, the brands with the best reputation, and indexes of corporate social responsibility. And in sports, fans like winners. But it isn’t just wins and losses anymore. Today’s sports heroes have a grip on that elusive commodity: public trust. This is best witnessed by the recent Forbe’s annual list of America’s most influential athletes. It’s not so much who’s on it, but who isn’t.
NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson repeats at the top. Forbes used Nielsen and E-Poll to do the survey that measured, “their likeability and whether they are considered influential to marketers.” In other words, do you trust this guy enough to buy a product from him? Six of the top ten this year are NFL quarterbacks. Here’s the list in order: Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR), Tim Tebow (NFL), Peyton Manning (NFL), Manny Pacquiao (who doesn’t like a boxer who also fights for his people in politics?), Tom Brady (NFL), Aaron Rodgers (NFL), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (NASCAR), Drew Brees (NFL), Eli Manning (NFL), and Jeremy Lin (NBA).
What tells more about how we measure influence is who got dropped from the list this year: Michael Phelps and LeBron James. Scandal or betrayal anyone? Their athletic prowess sure hasn’t diminished, but their public admiration has. How important is reputation to the public? More importantly, how critical is it to be “filling the well” with goodwill and behaving yourself? Just ask Tiger Woods. We take building a reputation for granted, but rebuilding one is arduous. What’s your take on reputation as a commodity?