It looks like you don’t have to actually play to be an influential athlete. In Forbes’ 2013 list of Most Influential Athletes, Tim Tebow came in with the No. 1 ranking.
A unique set of QB strengths and weaknesses and an affinity for wearing his Christian faith on his sleeve combine to make Tebow a compelling public figure, even as an NFL backup…Tebow, judged to be “influential” by 29% of respondents, certainly felt the wrath of the New York market, where fans and press harped on his acquisition as an ill-fated experiment that helped lead the Jets downhill. – Forbes
Peyton Manning was a few spots below him at No. 5. Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Derek Jeter fell in between the two.
The only other two NFL players on the list were Drew Brees (No. 6) and Aaron Rodgers (No. 8).
“[Nielsen] conducted the surveys over the past several months in partnership with E-Poll, a market research firm in Encino, Calif.”