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Who Is More Influential -- Jesse Owens or Dwight Eisenhower?

March 16, 2006

Sure, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan may have been presidents of the United States. But they would have been really influential if they had helped to break a racial barrier in professional sports.

That's one way of interpreting a list of the "100 Most Influential Student-Athletes" released Wednesday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as part of its centennial celebration. The top five leans heavily toward leading African-American athletes who became icons of racial integration: Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Jesse Owens are Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, followed by Eisenhower and John Wooden, the former basketball coach at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The list, which was drawn up by a committee of college presidents, sports officials, faculty members and current athletes, is, like any such list, likely to be fodder for debate and discussion (to the extent anybody pays attention to it at all, given that the NCAA is releasing it at a time when most people who care about college sports are obsessing over the association's Division I men's basketball tournament).

That's because in seeking to feature "those who have made a significant impact or major contributions to society," it throws into one big mix people whose primary impact on society has been almost entirely through sports (like Wooden and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the Olympic track star) as well as those best known for civic roles, such as Kofi Annan and Dr. Spock.

That makes for some strange juxtapositions: Althea Gibson, the black female tennis star (No. 6), for instance, followed by Madeleine K. Albright (a swimmer at Wellesley College) at No. 7, and Tiger Woods (No. 13) followed by Gerald R. Ford (a former University of Michigan football player) at 14.

Political scientists might be intrigued by the NCAA committee's ordering of the presidents on the list: Eisenhower at No. 4 is followed by Ronald Reagan at 11, Ford at 14, George H.W. Bush at 16 -- and Richard M. Nixon at 48.

The NCAA's list of athletes and their colleges and sports follows:

   1. Jackie Robinson, University of California at Los Angeles, basketball, baseball, football, track and field
   2. Arthur Ashe, University of California at Los Angeles, tennis
   3. Jesse Owens, Ohio State University, track and field
   4. Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. Military Academy, football
   5. John R. Wooden, Purdue University, basketball
   6. Althea Gibson, Florida A&M University, tennis, basketball, golf
   7. Madeline Albright, Wellesley College, swimming and diving
   8. Jack W. Nicklaus, Ohio State University, golf
   9.  Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Stanford University, swimming, track and field
  10. Edward G. Robinson, Grambling State University, college football coach
  11. Ronald Reagan, Eureka College, swimming, football, track and field
  12. Billie Jean King, Cal State, Los Angeles, tennis
  13. Tiger Woods, Stanford University, golf
  14. Gerald R. Ford, University of Michigan, football
  15. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., North Carolina A&T State University, football
  16. Kofi Annan, Macalester College, track and field, soccer
  17. George H.W. Bush, Yale University, baseball
  18. Donna A. Lopiano, Southern Connecticut State University, softball, basketball, volleyball, field hockey
  19. Alan Page, University of Notre Dame, football
  20. Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee at Martin, basketball
  21. Jim Thorpe, Carlisle Indian School, football
  22. Michael Jordan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, basketball
  23. Paul Robeson, Rutgers University, football, basketball, track and field
  24. Jerome “Brud” Holland, Cornell University, football
  25. Arnold Palmer, Wake Forest University, golf
  26. Joseph V. Paterno, Brown University, football, basketball
  27. Sally Ride, Stanford University, tennis
  28. Leroy T. Walker, Benedict College, football, basketball, track and field
  29. Donna deVarona, University of California, Los Angeles, swimming and diving
  30. Bill Bradley, Princeton University, basketball
  31. Wilma Rudolph, Tennessee State University, track and field
  32. Dr. Denton A. Dooley, M.D., University of Texas at Austin, basketball
  33. Dr. Benjamin Spock, Yale University, crew
  34. Peter Ueberroth, San Jose State University, swimming, water polo
  35. Edwin Moses, Morehouse College, track and field
  36. Robert J. Dole, Washburn University, football, basketball, track and field
  37. Patricia “Patty” Berg, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, golf
  38. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, U.S. Military Academy, football, baseball
  39. William “Bill” H. Cosby, Jr., Temple University, track and field, football
  40. Bill Russell, University of San Francisco, basketball
  41. Byron R. White, University of Colorado at Boulder, football
  42. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, University of California at Los Angeles, track and field, basketball
  43. Dot Richardson, University of California at Los Angeles, softball
  44. Ann Meyers-Drysdale, University of California at Los Angeles, basketball, track and field, volleyball
  45. Howard K. Smith, Tulane University, track and field
  46. Roger T. Staubach, U.S. Naval Academy, football, basketball, baseball
  47. Knute Rockne, University of Notre Dame, football, track and field
  48. Richard Nixon, Whittier College, football
  49. Anita DeFrantz, Connecticut College, rowing
  50. Dean Smith, University of Kansas, basketball
  51. Mia Hamm, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, soccer
  52. Harold “Red” Grange, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, football, track and field, baseball
  53. Joan Benoit Samuelson, Bowdoin College, indoor and outdoor track and field, field hockey
  54. Rafer Johnson, University of California, Los Angeles, basketball, track and field
  55. Dr. Cedric W. Dempsey, Albion College, football, basketball, baseball
  56. Oscar P. Robertson, University of Cincinnati, basketball
  57. Val Ackerman, University of Virginia, basketball
  58. Annika Sorenstam, University of Arizona, golf
  59. A. Lamar Alexander, Jr., Vanderbilt University, track and field
  60. Betsy King, Furman University, golf, basketball, field hockey
  61. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, West Point University, football, wrestling
  62. Walter Jerry Payton, Jackson State University, football
  63. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, University of California, Los Angeles, basketball
  64. Capt. Alan B. Shepard, U.S. Naval Academy, crew
  65. Judith Sweet, University of Wisconsin at Madison, badminton
  66. Mike Krzyzewski, West Point University, basketball
  67. Vince Lombardi, Fordham University, football
  68. Robert B. Mathias, Stanford University, football, track and field
  69. Bill Richardson, Tufts University, baseball
  70. Jack F. Kemp, Occidental College, football
  71. Calvin Hill, Yale University, football
  72. James Brown, Harvard University, basketball
  73. Larry Bird, Indiana State University, basketball
  74. Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Michigan State University, basketball
  75. Herman R. Frazier, Arizona State University, track and field
  76. Dennis Hastert, Wheaton College, wrestling
  77. Otis Chandler, Stanford University, track and field
  78. George P. Schultz, Princeton University, basketball
  79. Jerry West, West Virginia University, basketball
  80. Robert Kraft, Columbia University, football
  81. William “Bill” V. Campbell, Columbia University, football
  82. Dr. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, Yale University, soccer, track and field
  83. William P. Lawrence, U.S. Naval Academy, football
  84. Arnold “Red” Auerbach, George Washington University, basketball, baseball
  85. Phil Knight, University of Oregon, track and field
  86. Edward Temple, Tennessee State University, track and field
  87. Archie Griffin, Ohio State University, football
  88. Thomas J. Hamilton, U.S. Naval Academy, football, basketball, baseball
  89. Dr. James Frank, Lincoln University (Missouri), basketball
  90. Dawn Staley, University of Virginia, basketball
  91. Michael H. Armacost, Carleton College, football, basketball, baseball
  92. Meg Whitman, Princeton University, lacrosse, squash
  93. Cheryl Miller, University of Southern California, basketball
  94. Wyomia Tyus, Tennessee State University, track and field
  95. Theresa Edwards, University of Georgia, basketball
  96. Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, Pennsylvania State University, football, track and field
  97. Julie Foudy, Stanford University, soccer
  98. Robin Roberts, Southeastern Louisiana University, basketball
  99. Alpha A. Alexander, College of Wooster, basketball, volleyball, tennis, lacrosse
 100. Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State University, football

 

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