ESPN Ranks the World's Most Famous Athletes and There are Zero NFL Players in the Top 20


ESPN put out their second annual World Fame 100, a ranking of the most famous athletes in the world done by their analytics people using “a formula that combines endorsements with social media following and internet search popularity.” As you’d imagine, the top of the list is lousy with international athletes like soccer players, motor sports guys, trackletes, golfers and tennis stars. Which is only logical when you consider that, for instance, the No. 1 ranked guy is Ronaldo, who’s got goddamned 118 million followers on Facebook alone. And close to 100 million on Instagram.

And since the list came out I’ve had a long line of disgruntled Patriots fans, aggrieved Wall Defenders and virulent ESPN haters reach out to me mocking it by virtue of the fact that Tom Brady is only ranked No. 21. And while I kind of see their point, given that Brady has not only been the biggest winner in North America over the last 16 years, he’s spent the last two years at least being the most newsworthy athlete, by far. A bunch of NBA players might have earned their spots in the Top 20, but show me where LeBron ever spent a week leading the network newscasts or Kevin Durant was ever the subject of a yearlong witch hunt that ended up one step away from the Supreme Court. And I imagine that when Earth’s Most Famous Fashion Icon was walking across the stadium at the Rio Olympics by herself with the world watching, there weren’t too many people asking if she’s dating anyone.

But honestly, I don’t really care. This isn’t a Tom Brady Popularity Problem. He’s plenty famous enough. It’s an NFL thing. Brady is the top football player on the list, with a wide margin behind him. The rest are:

47. Cam Newton
52. Drew Brees
55. Russell Wilson
56. Aaron Rodgers
60. Eli Manning
74. J.J. Watt

But all that does is confirm what we already knew: Football is ours and ours alone. Uniquely American, just the way we like it. Roger Goodell can try to force feed it into places like London and Mexico City. He can plant British reporters into his press conferences with phony questions written by his marketing department like “How do you explain your sport being so popular in my country?” He can exile Mike Kensil to China. But ultimately, the rest of the world gives zero fucks about football and we should give -10 fucks that they do.

Call me a xenomorph, call me what you will. But the Football Player is an American Icon. As uniquely a part of who we are as the Cowboy, the Lunar Astronaut, the Redneck, the Pro Wrestler or the Pioneer Who Gives the Indians Blankets Laced with Smallpox Then Takes Their Land Once They’re Dead. And unlike a lot of people, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that the Czechs and the Sri Lankans care more about Usain Bolt than they do Tom Brady. My only fear is that Goodell is going to take this as a challenge to do even more of his “growing the game overseas” bullshit he loves so much instead of just not caring what they think, like we all should.