Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Apparently, Professional Sports Is Not a Meritocracy

Sports Illustrated has released its list of the 50 highest paid American athletes. Not surprisingly, Tiger tops the list. Somewhat surprisingly, Phil Mickelson is second. LeBron, A-Rod, and Shaq round out the top 5.

But the list is peppered with mathletes—mostly basketball and baseball players—who nowhere near the top of the their respective sports. Stephon Marbury, who rode the bench for the Knicks before finishing the season as a bench player for the Celtics, is 17th. Steve Francis, who didn't play a single game last season (and it had nothing to do with injuries), is 22nd. Barry Zito, who went 10-17 last year with an ERA of 5.15, is 26th. All of these players rank higher than Tom Brady (26) and Albert Pujols (34), all-time greats in their respective sports. Dale Jr., despite winning only one race in the last two seasons, ranks 11th, 10 places better than any other driver. (Jeff Gordon is 21st.) Jimmie Johnson, who has won three consecutive Sprint Cup championships, is not on the list. Curiously, Tracy McGrady (15), who has yet to play a second-round playoff game, makes more than endorsements than Tim Duncan (16), who has four championship rings and two MVP trophies. The list includes several athletes who once were among the elite in their respective sports but whose skills dropped off after they scored a ginormous contract. (Francis, Zito, Jermaine O'Neal, and Jason Schmidt to name a few.)

22 of the top 50 play in the NBA; 14 play Major League Baseball. In all, only five sports are represented: NBA, MLB, NFL, PGA, and NASCAR. No hockey, soccer, or tennis players made the list. (It's only a matter of time before Jozy Altidore, who's making millions playing for Villareal in Spain and who will no doubt pick up several endorsements following his performance in the Confederations Cup, breaks through.) I was surprised no women made the top 50. I figured that either Serena Williams or Danica Patrick would have collected enough endorsement money to land in the 30s or 40s. Maria Sharapova is the 17th highest paid international athlete (Becks is number one). Were she an American, she would rank 21st.


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