Thoughts on a very influential list

As part of their 25th anniversary celebrations, the people at USA Today have been compiling a series of lists that try to capture all the prominent people and events of the past quarter century.

I love lists.

Put together a list of the best movies ever, or greatest baseball players to grace the diamond or “Top 50 Ways to Extract a Walnut From Your Nose” — if it’s a list, I’m buying. There’s just something so American about rating things and people. I suppose it’s Darwinian of me, but I’m a big believer in the idea that if you excel in something, you should be slotted a higher position than the next guy. Don’t even get me started on junior sports leagues where everybody’s “equal” and there’s no need to keep score. That’s a great lesson to learn in life — it doesn’t matter if you have an aptitude for something or not, we all rise or sink to the same level.


Regardless, I was instantly hooked when thumbing through USA Today on Tuesday. They did a ranking of the 25 most influential people over the last 25 years. In all fairness, it was a good list. I was half-hoping to start scanning through it and think to myself, “Man, these guys are as clueless as their parent company.” But, no, I was impressed on the whole.

Their top selection was software businessman Bill Gates. It would be hard to argue that the use of computers and software over the past 25 years hasn’t been the biggest change in the way we live our lives, and Gates has certainly been a leading figure in the technological wave. I just take a look around this office and can see that. Reporters surfing the Internet for information, the art department using a multitude of sophisticated programs to design ads and pages, and our accounting and payroll being conducted on other software. Yeah, Gates has had an influence.

Politics is represented on the list, but maybe not to the extent I was assuming. Ronald Reagan came in second for his conservative leadership and efforts to end the Cold War; former Sovier leader Mikhail Gorbachev rode glasnost to an 11th-place finish; our current president took 14th, behind a string of controversial circumstances; former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping came in 16th for his efforts to join the global market and crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square; and the Clintons came in 21st and 22nd for ... well, being the Clintons.

Left out: As a journalist, there was no better politician for the business of newspapers than Ross Perot. Doesn’t he deserve a little love here?

Besides Gates, other noteable businessmen were also on the list. Sergey Brin and Larry Page invented Google, and ranked 12th and 13th for their efforts; Sam Walton built Wal-Mart into a megapower of its own; and Howard Schultz infiltrated enough Americans with his Starbucks coffee to rank 18th.

Left out: Susan Lyons, Coastal Point. ’Nuff said.

In a nation so enamored with its sports stars, I was surprised to see that only Lance Armstrong (sixth place) and Michael Jordan (17th place) were on the list. Not that I can find fault with any of their other selections, I was just a little shocked.

Left out: One could argue that Barry Bonds has been influential with his new home run record and attention that he’s brought to the problems of steroids in sport. But, I’d go with Tiger Woods. Somehow, Woods has made golf cool for young people — that’s having some influence. Also, could Michael Vick’s offenses turn up the heat on dog-fighting? Stay tuned.

Science was represented with the inclusion of Francis Collins and J. Craig Venter (fourth and fifth, respectively), who are credited with mapping the human genome; Stephen Hawking, who has tackled the existence of the universe while trapped under the effects of Lou Gehrig’s Disease; and Ryan White, the 13-year-old from Indiana who put a face on the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s.

Left out: Ahem. Bill Nye. He is the science guy, after all.

Osama bin Laden made sixth on the list. That’s all I’m saying.

Oprah Winfrey was ranked third for her domination of an entire generation; Bono was rated 10th for his combined musical and humanitarian efforts; J.K. Rowling earned a 20th ranking for her Harry Potter books; Russell Simmons was rated 23rd for his work in getting rap and hip-hop imbedded into the American culture and Homer Simpson came in 25th.

Left Out: I am so glad Paris Hilton didn’t make this list. I mean, I am ecstatic that Little Miss Pampered didn’t ride a wave of public promiscuity and blatant ignorance ...

But I digress.

The late Pope John Paul II was rated ninth in the list because of his leadership for the Catholic Church as it marched into modern times.

Left Out: That’s a pretty good pick. The Catholic Church has a prominent leader that is recognized globally, and this one served for a long time, through some enormous priest molestation controversies and a global climate that has created some major riffs between faiths.

Wild card: One person who I strongly believe deserves to be on this list somewhere is Pablo Escobar, the drug lord who was rated in Forbes magazine as the seventh-richest man in the world in 1989. Escobar was a major player in dealing cocaine to the United States, thus crippling a significant amount of Americans and neighborhoods. I never said he had a positive influence.