Top 10 – America’s Athletes

In celebration of America’s birthday I have compiled a list of America’s most well known athletes. These are the most recognizable athletes in the country, and day after day millions of Americans watch them perform. They are ingrained in the public consciousness and are as popular off the field as they are on it. These are the athletes who we see in commercials, on the front covers of magazines, and on billboards all over the country. They are the ones who we most identify with and admire for defining what it means to be an American.

To make the list athletes must be born in the U.S. (sorry Albert Pujols & Rafael Nadal) and currently active in their sport (sorry Michael Jordan & Brett Favre). As an added qualification athletes must have strong reputations, meaning no record of arrest or steroid abuse or crazy ex-girlfriends. These athletes are experts at personal brand management and their tax returns show it. So without further ado here is my list, and as an extra bonus a few athletes who fell short.

Notable omissions:

Hey Tiger, are you smirking because you hooked the shot or because you missed this list?

Tiger Woods – Any other year and he’d be #1 on this list. But cheating on your super model wife and ending up in sex rehab tends to knock your image down a few notches, perhaps irrevocably. He still makes twice as much as anybody on this list, though.

Kobe Bryant – He’s as well known as anybody on this list, but his career isn’t filled with just accolades. There are those rape allegations to consider, plus his feud with Shaq that drove apart one of the greatest teams in pro sports.

Shaquille O’Neal – I wanted to put Shaq on this list, but it’s hard to consider somebody who only contributed 3.1 Win Shares (less than Delonte West – 3.3) last season with Cleveland to be a “great” athlete. He sure had a good run though!

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Do people even watch boxing?

Tom Brady – He was America’s sweetheart for a few years, but with the Patriots fading so is Brady. He also gets docked a few points for marrying Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen. Wait, isn’t that every American’s dream?

Derek Jeter – He is a role model for any future baseball player and brings an unrivaled amount of professionalism and dedication to the game. But he’s not even the most recognizable player on his team anymore. Sorry Jeter.

The NHL – Ryan Miller (aka “the best goalie in the world”) makes a compelling case after his heroic performance in the 2010 Olympics. But he plays a sport that nobody south of Washington D.C. really cares about. Maybe in another four years.


10. Landon Donovan – Hardly anybody knew who this guy was before he netted a game-winning goal against Algeria in the final minutes of America’s pool-clinching World Cup match. Since then the consensus best American soccer player in the world has never been more popular (including an appearance on the Daily Show). He’s near the end of his career but he makes the list for helping make soccer relevant again in the minds of Americans, at least temporarily.

9. Joey Chestnut – The highest ranked competitive eater in the world is now a 4-time champion at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. There are few things more American than hot dogs, and Chestnut once ate 68 of them in 10 minutes (2009 Nathan’s). He gets bonus points for knocking off former record holder Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi and returning the throne of competitive eating to the U.S. where it rightfully belongs.

A hot girl in a bikini driving a fast car. What's more American than that?

8. Danica Patrick – I had to have at least one woman make this list and who better than Patrick? She’s the the first woman to compete in the IndyCar Series as well as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and she’s pretty good too. She is also the spokeswoman for, the web hosting company that’s most well known for its raunchy commercials featuring eye-catching girls ripping their clothes off. Sounds American to me.

7. Dwight Howard – Howard is one of the funniest guys in the NBA and his warm personality has earned him wide acclaim among teammates, coaches, and writers. He is the best player on a very good Orlando Magic team, but he has yet to win anything. Maybe one day he can truly replace his predecessor – the real “Superman”, Shaquille O’neal.

6. Michael Phelps – He holds 14 Olympic gold medals, including a world-record 8 at the Beijing Games that earned him status as Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year. He is the greatest swimmer of all time and might be one of the greatest Olympians of all time too. There was that whole ‘marijuana’ thing, but we’ll give the human fish a pass this time. After all, he’s still an American hero.

5. Dwayne Wade – Not much separates Wade from another NBA superstar further down this list. He is as good as they get and he has a championship ring to boot. Plus, he does those adorable commercials with Charles Barkley. Go Flash!

4. Peyton Manning – He is the NFL’s best quarterback, the sport’s top endorser, and one of football’s most charitable players. His active presence in the South during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cemented his reputation as one of the country’s most popular figures.

You've earned yourself that smug look, Peyton. Lookin' good!

3. Phil Mickelson – With Tiger’s career shrouded in controversy, Lefty is now golf’s greatest star. He won the Masters this year and he is one of the world’s most heavily endorsed athletes with lucrative deals from Exxon, Rolex, Barclay’s, Callaway, and KPMG.

2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – His father was a NASCAR legend and after his death the entire country united in support of Junior, who followed in his father’s legacy by becoming one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and certainly its most popular (voted NASCAR’s most popular driver for the sixth straight year). He even drives a Chevrolet. Driving fast is a staple of American culture and nobody does it better than Earnhardt.

1. LeBron James – It should come as no surprise that the basketball superstar is #1 on this list. The man who this summer will forever alter the basketball universe is also America’s most well known athlete. He led the USA Basketball “Redeem Team” to a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, he is the reigning 2-time NBA MVP, and he is only just now entering his prime. If the United States of America was a monarchy, then LeBron James would undoubtedly be its King.

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6 Responses to Top 10 – America’s Athletes

  1. Knowledgable Sports Fan says:

    There is so much wrong with this list. Where to begin? 1) Danica Patrick has competed in races. So. It is about the results, which have not been great This in not Little League, there are no participation awards. 2) Joey Chestnut eats food. That’s not athletics. Thats natural instinct. 3) Who says Ryan Miller is the greatest goalie in the world? Anyone else other than you? Do you follow the NHL? Because there are many goalies in the league better than Miller. 4) You said nobody south of DC cares about hockey. Does anyone north of it care about auto racing? How about Indycar racing? 5) Americans care about soccer once every 4 years. They do not follow the MLS (see ratings and attendance figures). Landon Donovan cannot be a great athlete, when Americans will not pay attention to him for another 4 years. 6) Derek Jeter is the face of the Yankees, as he has been since around 96. A-Rod may be the better player, but is not the team’s captain, not Yanks fans most beloved player, and not the representative of the team. People absolutely recognize Jeter over A-Rod. I partially credit years of Gatorade commericals outside of NY. 7) Your argument against Mayweather is that people don’t watch boxing. Does anyone watch MLS? Or IndyCar? Or competitive eating beyond July 4th Nathan’s hot dog eating conest? 8) Why would you even consider Shaq? This man has been out of shape for years. 9) Brady is still huge. Do not forget that. 10/Overall) Your criteria for America’s Greatest Athletes are all over the place. Tiger and Kobe have dominated their sports for years, but are left out because of off-the-court/range issues, which have nothing to do with the game itself. You discredit some players because of lack of support for their supports, but include players who have even less-supported sports. In some cases, you seem to go with individuals who are more famous than they are great athletes. Also, you need to cite everything you write, such as that LeBron is America’s most welll known athlete. Next time when you make a list, be more formelaic with your criteria and you will not have these issues.

    • dioselev says:

      Thanks for the comments! As I attempted to make clear at the beginning of the post, its not a list of the greatest athletes in top of talents but instead a list of the 10 athletes who are highest in the public consciousness right now. These are the athletes who everyone knows and who define America. They are the ones in commercials, on the front covers of magazines, on billboards all over the country. Since my blog focuses on how athletes manage their reputation and brand, I chose to disqualify anybody with past issues.

      In regards to your specific comments, I had a very hard time leaving Jeter off this list. I wanted to represent as many sports as I could, but there was no way I could put Jeter ahead of Howard or Wade, especially when an argument could be made that he’s not even the most marketable player on his team (A-Rod, Teixeira, Sabathia all have valid arguments). The World Cup match against Ghana was one of the highest rated sporting events ever so Donovan deserves to be on the list. Finally, NASCAR is the country’s most popular sport and Earnhardt and Patrick are its stars (in terms of endorsements, not performance). I Included Chestnut primarily just because it was an Independence Day post and there’s few things more American than competitive eating and hot dogs.

  2. Knowledgable Sports Fan says:

    I’d like to clear up the fact that I am not trying to instigate or antagonize, just trying to correct. A few things in response. 1) You essentially admitted you Chestnut inclusiong was a bias based off of the day of the post. So its July 5th now. Do you have to change your list? 2) Jeter is more marketable than A-Rod. He always has been, because A-Rod is not very liked throughout the country as well as NY. A-Rod has done roids, violated baseball ethics with his “I got it” yell and walking over the mound and more, to get not NY fans to dislike him, and Yankees fans have never liked his selfish, team-second attitude. I previously noted Gatorade, as they have been the biggest marketer of athletes in the last fifteen years, when it came to MJ, Hamm, Jeter, etc. A-Rod has not and never will be marketed to that extent. 3) The US-Ghana game did not surpass the Super Bowl in viewers, which Tom Brady has won 3. And you are referring to one soccer game. Over the next four years, if Landon Donovan will be playing for the LA Galaxy, who have no viewers at all, as their games are rarely on television. Does a player whose sport is not televised deserve to be on the list? 4) I agree with Dale Earnhardt Jr. being on the list. And I guess that Danica Patrick is one of the 10 American athletes in the public consciousness. So if that is what you’re list is going for, leave her on. But do not call it “America’s Greatest Athletes”. Your title has nothing to do with what your list is, to quote you “its not a list of the greatest athletes in top of talents but instead a list of the 10 athletes who are highest in the public consciousness right now. ‘” If that’s the case, why is “America’s Greatest Athletes” your article title? It should be “Athletes in the Public Consciousness Right Now,” considering you just wrote its NOT a list of greatest athletes in top of talents. Most marketable in no way, shape, or form means greatest. 5) Lastly, if you are going for athletes most in the public consciousness at the moment (a reason why you picked Chestnut), your list should be LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carloss Boozer, Dirk Nowitzki, Amara Stoudemire, etc- because its NBA free agency time, and these guys are more in the “public consciousness” than MLB,NFL,NHL,auto-racing players etc. And even once the NBA free agency madness dies down in a couple of weeks, those guys will be watched by millions on TV every night. Unlike Landon Donovan and his LA Galaxy.

    • dioselev says:

      You made some good points so I tried my best to clear up the discrepancies in the introduction. I’m sticking by my list but it is certainly just one man’s opinion. I tried to include as many sports as I could just to make it well rounded, and while Jeter was my top choice for a baseball representative I just couldn’t fit him in. He’s not the most marketable baseball player (Pujols is), and I’m not even sure he’s the most marketable American baseball player (Ryan Howard & Stephen Strasburg are up there).

      Also, I looked it up and almost 20 million Americans watched the USA – Ghana game (almost entirely thanks to Donovan). That’s the highest rated soccer game in U.S. history. An average Super Bowl gets about twice that and while Brady is certainly still an NFL star, he just hasn’t won much of anything lately. If I were to redo the list in 6 months then Brady and Donovan may very well swap positions. But at the moment I think their positioning is appropriate.

      Thanks again for the comments. I appreciate the criticism because it helps make me into a better writer, so please do keep reading.

  3. Knowledgable Sports Fan says:

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. As an aspiring writer, you need to make sure not to contradict yourself. Your list itself is an opinion, as you noted, and you can very well argue that those ten well belong there. Your problem was contradiction. Your article title contradicted what the list meant, your inclusion of Chestnut and Donovan contradict the list’s meaning because they will be forgotton in the upcoming weeks, with Chesnut in the spotlights once a year and Donovan in the spotlight every four years (Even Ryan Miller, who was in the spotlight during the Olympics and won’t be as big for another 4 years, still has millions following the Na HL. That’s not the case with the MLS). As I noted, stick to specific criteria in your list, and make sure the title fits it. With a title like “America’s Greatest Athletes” (I see you have deleted the “greatest” now), one expects either the most athletic players or the best ones. And if your list is about just hottest athletes at the particular moment (in which it would make sense to include Donovan and I guess Chestnut), you need to be aware of the entire sports world, and include most of the top NBA free agents, Lance Armstrong, and even a Stephen Strasburg. Your opinion is not what I questioned. What you need to improve on is sticking to particular criteria and analyzing the entire sports world thorougly.

    • dioselev says:

      Yeah, the most accurate description of the list would be the most popular athletes at that moment, but I can see where certain details may contradict each other. I owe it to my readers to put my writing through a more stringent editorial process, and I will be sure to do that in the future.

      If you don’t mind me asking, how did you find the link to this?

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