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Top 20 Athletes Known in the Pop Culture World

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Pop Culture's 20 Most Well-Known Athletes

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Everywhere you look it seems, the lines between musicians, movie stars and athletes as celebrities have been significantly blurred. After all, athletes want to be actors, and most actors want to be (or used to be) athletes. So it's no surprise that many of pop culture's most known icons have come from the sports world.

But in reality, this isn't necessarily a new trend. Going back to the advent of television, athletes, starting with baseball players and boxers especially, were called upon to endorse products, appear on game shows (quiz shows as they were known then), and many even had their own TV shows to talk about their latest or upcoming game. Athletes have been finding their way into American homes for decades, all that has changed is that in today's climate of immediacy, regular folks have more access to their favorite celebrities and athletic icons than ever before, thanks to social media and the 24/7 cable news/sports cycle.

And while not all athletes (including a couple on this list, as you will see) have become notable completely because of their athletic prowess, all have remained in the public eye, some for many years beyond their athletic careers. Some starred on the Olympic stage, others in various Big 4 sports. The true test of many athletes is their relevance in the pop culture world far beyond the end of their careers. As you will see with the number-one athlete on this list, that pop culture love affair can last 30 years or more.

Here is a list of pop culture's 20 most well-known athletes.

Ed Morgans is an ACC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @writered21.

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20. Nastia Liukin, USA Gymnast

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Nastia Liukin is still active in commercials six years after winning the gold medal in the All-Around at the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.

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19. Hulk Hogan, WWF/WWE Wrestler

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Hulk Hogan, who just appeared on WWE Monday Night Raw Monday night, has been a cultural icon for 30 years.

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18. Alexander Ovechkin, NHL, Washington Capitals

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The leading goal scorer in the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin was a focus of marketing attention at the recent Winter Olympics in his home country of Russia. He is also engaged to tennis player Maria Kirilenko.

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17. Michael Strahan, NFL, New York Giants

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Michael Strahan has transitioned from a fearsome pass rusher to a co-host with Kelly Ripa on morning television, as well as a studio analyst for FOX NFL telecasts.

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16. Michael Sam, NCAA Football, Missouri Tigers

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Michael Sam announced he was gay after the college football season ended. The SEC Player of the Year was much talked about at the recent NFL Scouting Combine and have earned praise from celebrities and athletes all over the world.

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15. Kobe Bryant, NBA, Los Angeles Lakers

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Kobe Bryant has been on both ends of the popularity scale, but he's still a well-known commodity late in his NBA career.

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14. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. was NASCAR's most popular driver and a star of commercials left and right even before winning last Sunday's Daytona 500.

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13. Magic Johnson, NBA, Los Angeles Lakers

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One of the greatest NBA players of all time and a long-term survivor of the HIV virus, Magic Johnson has become known the world over.

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12. Tom Brady, NFL, New England Patriots

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A three-time Super Bowl champion and married to a supermodel, Tom Brady has the life just about every guy would ask for.

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11. Shaquille O'Neal, NBA, Multiple Teams

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Shaquille O'Neal, and whatever his nickname is this week, was a four-time NBA champion, is active in commercials, and is a studio analyst on TNT.

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10. Michael Phelps, USA Swimmer

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An 18-time gold medalist, Michael Phelps is one of the naton's best known athletes and figures to stay in the public eye for years to come given his young age (28).

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9. Lebron James, NBA, Miami Heat

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With a few more NBA titles and the accolades that go with them, Lebron James figures to move up this list if it's done again in 10 years.

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8. Mike Tyson, Boxer, Former World Heavyweight Champion

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From serving jail time to appearing in The Hangover, Iron Mike Tyson has been a lot of things to a lot of people. Rightly or wrongly, there's no chance of him fading away any time soon.

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7. Deion Sanders, MLB and NFL, Multiple Teams

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Deion Sanders played in two major professional sports, does commercials, and is a studio analyst on NFL Network. Everyone knows "Primetime."

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6. Alex Rodriguez, MLB, New York Yankees

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It could be all different for Alex Rodriguez, he could have been a true American icon. But steroid issues have dogged him for years, and he's more known for that now than his lofty career statistics.

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5. Peyton Manning, NFL, Denver Broncos

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A Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Peyton Manning has been in every commercial ever. OK, not really, but it sure seems that way, doesn't it?

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4. Bo Jackson, NFL & MLB, Multiple Teams

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Anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s knew that Bo Jackson knew everything. The multi-sport star left the stage early due to injury, but is still revered as one of the great athletes of his generation.

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3. Michael Jordan, NBA, Multiple Teams

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Michael Jordan set a modern standard with six NBA titles in eight years in Chicago, and his legacy is clearly seen in the continued success of Air Jordans and "Space Jam."

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2. Tiger Woods, PGA Golfer

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Much like Jordan in the 1990s, Tiger Woods combined with Nike in the 2000s to create a global brand. Personal problems sent Woods' career south for a while, but a major win would bring the brand storming back.

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1. Muhammad Ali, Boxing, Former World Heavyweight Champion

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The original greatest of all time was Muhammad Ali, who thrilled boxing fans throughout the 1960s and 1970s and even now in his elder age, is an international icon even to those who never saw him fight.