Social media websites such as Facebook do the work of locating interesting stories for you. News pages post updated links every hour, keeping you in the know on a variety of topics, the sports world included. Add in discussions that arise in the comments section of such posts and also in any random thought that you throw out there via your personal Facebook account, and you can follow every top-tier professional and collegiate sports league without needing to turn on a television. There are, of course, those annoying Facebook trolls who often remove the fun from utilizing the website, but that is a different topic for a different piece.
It should not be overly surprising to any casual sports observer that soccer largely dominated Facebook chat this year. The 2014 FIFA World Cup made history when it “drove more conversations” than any other event in Facebook history. Four of the ten most talked-about athletes in the United States in 2014 were footballers, although the World Cup itself was only sixth on the list of most-talked about events among US users. The World Cup broke television ratings in the US in 2014, but the sport of soccer still has a long ways to go before Americans view it as they do the so-called “big four;” football, baseball, basketball and hockey.
US Soccer fans can take pride that an American player did make the cut for this list, due largely to his historic performance on world football’s biggest stage. Outside of soccer, boxing is represented thanks to an athlete who makes as much news with his massive wagers and a fight that still hasn’t happened as he does when he actually steps into the ring. The best basketball player on the planet checked in at No.1 after he made an emotional homecoming that changed the face of the NBA. It is a NASCAR driver who fills in spot No. 10, a man who is the face of his sport despite the fact that he doesn’t win championships.
These are the 10 most talked-about athletes on Facebook in 2014 according to cbsnews.com.
10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
It is now just about a given that Junior is never going to be his father on the racetrack. A long history of failure as it pertains to hoisting trophies has not affected Junior being the most popular driver in all of NASCAR, an honor that no competitor has been able to snatch away from Earnhardt over the past decade. Much like his famous father who tragically passed away while inside of his race car, Earnhardt is more than just an athlete. He has wisely and expertly grown his brand, and Earnhardt is believed to have an estimated net worth of around $300 million.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo
There is no more debate to be had on the topic as far as 2013-14 is concerned. Ronaldo emerged as the best footballer on the planet starting in August 2013, excelling for Real Madrid and for Portugal over that time. He heroically carried his country to a World Cup berth, and Ronaldo did well to play through injuries and feature for Real Madrid in the Champions League Final before participating in the World Cup. Granted, Ronaldo does make news from time to time when he is guilty of taking flops during matches. Those ugly moments do not overshadow the many positive moments Ronaldo creates while on the pitch.
8. Luis Suarez
2014 could and should have been the year when the controversial front man repaired a damaged reputation. Arguably the best striker in the world and the crowned PFA Player of the Year, Suarez entered the summer a man on the cusp of building upon his impressive resume by completing a move to Barcelona. He instead generated worldwide headlines when he bit an opponent during a World Cup match, at least the second time during his professional career that Suarez had committed that heinous action. That he has struggled for the Spanish giants after a lengthy suspension that ran through early October suggests that karma may have finally located Suarez’s home address.
7. Tim Howard
The first-choice United States Men’s National Team goalkeeper became a household name among Americans when he produced 15 saves, a record for a World Cup match, in what was ultimately a loss to Belgium that sent the US home from the competition. Howard and his teammates stood tall following that heartbreaking defeat, and the goalkeeper was featured in interviews and programs that, outside of one month every four years, usually treat soccer as a second-class sport if they even bother to mention it in the first place. Howard will turn 36 years old next March, and it is believed that he has played in the final World Cup match of his career.
6. Carmelo Anthony
Love him or hate him, the basketball star who features for the New York Knicks finds himself in the news even during off-seasons. There were, heading into the summer, rumors that Anthony was eying a move out of New York and to a championship contender. ‘Melo soon learned, however, that no great offers from such teams were coming anytime soon. He eventually re-signed with the Knicks, putting pen to paper on a deal that will earn over $124 million guaranteed. Anthony may not get along with his teammates (according to reports), but he has nothing to complain about this holiday season.
5. Peyton Manning
Manning experienced an up-and-down start to his 2014. He and the Denver Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl, where they were dominated by the Seattle Seahawks to the tune of 43-8. That game was over with about 28 minutes left on the clock, and some speculated that the blowout loss would damage Manning’s legacy. He has since picked himself up and reminded all that he is the greatest regular season quarterback in the history of the NFL, and Manning and the Broncos are once again on the verge of making a postseason run. Could we see one more playoff encounter involving Manning vs. Tom Brady before both call time on their playing days?
4. Lionel Messi
Messi is undeniably a unique talent, one of the top footballers in the world and a player for the ages. It is unfortunate that one of the bigger stories of the year involving the Barcelona and Argentina star brought with it more controversy than praise for the player. Messi was given the Golden Ball – the award for the top overall player of the competition – at the 2014 World Cup, and the belief held by many was that the decision was a FIFA marketing ploy when others, most notably those who featured for World Champions Germany, were more worthy of capturing the prize.
3. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The trend of Mayweather being one of the most fascinating figures in the sports world rolled right along in 2014. He continued to boast of wagers that would leave the majority of us weak in the knees. Rumors involving Mayweather stepping into the ring to take on Manny Pacquiao continued, and yet we are no closer to seeing that encounter actually play out than we were at the start of the year. Mayweather was apparently an unintentional witness to a brutal murder-suicide in December 2014. He is a polarizing figure in the public eye, a man who will not be exiting news headlines anytime soon.
2. Derek Jeter
The living legend and captain of the New York Yankees embarked on a retirement tour throughout Major League Baseball cities in 2014, and every opposing team in the league offered gifts to the New York captain along the way. He closed out his Yankees Stadium career with a game-winning hit, and he drove home a run in his final at-bat in front of a Fenway Park crowd that put differences aside for a small stretch of time to honor arguably the most respected professional baseball player of his era. He did it with class and he did it the right way, and Jeter won’t soon be forgotten by those of us who were privileged to watch him play the game.
1. LeBron James
It was a news report many insiders expected to read, but that didn’t make the afternoon of July 11 any less emotional for sports fans in northeast Ohio when LeBron James used SI.com to announce that he was going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers following a successful stint with the Miami Heat. Just as important as was James helping the Cavs flip from pretenders to contenders in one offseason is the financial boost his return to Cleveland has meant for a city that, while trending upward, needed the assistance. James and the Cavs will be the top story of the NBA up through the spring of 2015, so expect to continue seeing stories about him on Facebook for months and years to come.