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What Impact Have Irish Athletes Had on American Sports?

Sports is undeniably one of the most popular industries in the United States, captivating millions of viewers each week. Major leagues like the NHL, NBA, and NFL draw massive audiences, while globally renowned UFC and boxing events attract viewers from all corners of the world. Sports are so popular that they have influenced many elements of American culture, including sport-themed slot games available at US online casinos. In the rich history of American sports, the Irish have played a significant role in their enduring success. As sports betting with top US online casinos gains popularity worldwide, it’s worth exploring the influential Irish athletes who have transcended their respective sports. Who are the most famous Irish sports stars that have left an indelible mark on American sports? Let’s find out.

Owen Nolan

Despite being raised in Canada and representing the nation at the Olympics and the World Cup, Owen Nolan is one of the most important Irish exports in American sporting history. Nolan was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before being raised in Thorold, Ontario. The star would become one of the most successful NHL players of all time, having been an NHL All-Star on five separate occasions.

The power forward was drafted first overall in the 1990 draft by Quebec Nordiques, before later representing some of the biggest NHL teams throughout his career. That included spells with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, and Minnesota Wild. While he never won the Stanley Cup, he was an important component in the Canadian teams that won the Winter Olympics in 2002, and the World Championships in 1997.

Conor McGregor

There are potentially few more important Irish exports in the history of American sport than Conor McGregor. The Notorious was born in Dublin in 1988 and would become one of the most important figures in UFC history, helping the sport reach a new audience that would never have been achieved without McGregor being a prominent star at the top of the card. It is fair to say that the levels of popularity that the UFC has reached in recent years would never have been achieved without the Dublin-born superstar.

McGregor became the first UFC star to hold two world championships simultaneously,  and he holds the record for five of the highest-selling UFC PPV events in history. That includes his bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, which drew 2.4 million in PPV buys, making it the most successful MMA event in history. McGregor’s popularity also followed over to boxing, with his bout against Floyd Mayweather drawing 4.3 million buys, making it the second-most successful combat event in sports history.

Derek Jeter

Despite being born in the New York region, Derek Jeter holds a place for Ireland in his heart as his mother was born in the nation before moving to the United States. Derek Jeter is one of the most instantly recognizable stars in the history of baseball, after enjoying a career that spun over 20 years in the MLB. He was drafted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first eligible year in 2020, receiving the second-highest vote percentage in MLB history.

Jeter is regarded as one of the finest baseball players in history and was partly responsible for the New York Yankees becoming one of the greatest sports dynasties in history. During his time with the Yankees, he won five World Series and was awarded the World Series MVP in 2000. During his career, he was also a 14-time MLB All-Star. Jeter also ranks as the leader in the franchise’s history for hits, doubles, and games played. He called time on his career in 2014 and later became a part-owner of the Miami Marlins.

George Best

For those that grew up watching soccer throughout the 1970s, there were few more exciting stars on the planet than George Best. The legendary soccer star was born in Belfast in May 1946, and later became one of the best players to ever play for Manchester United. The winger spent eleven years at the Theatre of Dreams, winning the League title on two occasions, and the Champions League.

However, after the 1973-74 campaign, Best began to travel around the world, and he was among the first stars to compete in the newly formed American soccer league. He played for a season with the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1976, before rejoining the team once again in 1977. Best also played for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1978, and the San Jose Earthquakes in 1980.


Irish stars have enjoyed massive success in North America, and have played a key role in the long-term success enjoyed by some of the biggest sports. It’s fair to say that the popularity of some of the biggest sports in the United States would never have reached soaring levels of popularity had it not been for Irish superstars that were able to transcend the sport

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