As has been the case in many years, Sports Illustrated's list of the highest paid athletes in the United States is led by a golfer whose winnings at the game are dwarfed by those from endorsements. Tiger Woods earned a bit over $2 million last year hitting a ball and more than $60 million telling you what products to buy.
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus used to run those kinds of numbers, long past their prime as golfers.
Of the Top 16, Woods ranks last in pay for his sport and is doing worse than almost everybody in the NBA and a whole lot of average players in the Major Leagues. It is also obvious that he isn't suffering intensely from his embarrassing moral and emotional meltdown of the past year or so when he lost his family and his reputation. Congressman Anthony Weiner is going to take a much bigger hit for a much less significant infraction of sexual protocol and I suspect you can take from this that life isn't fair.
It isn't fair through much of this list, which has at least two people on it I don't know (and I'm a sports fan and former sports writer) and some others I would not have considered to be in the top earning levels of their own sport, much less all sports.
Consider a couple of young NFL quarterbacks--Matt Ryan of the Falcons and Sam Bradford of the Rams. Both have promising futures, but they haven't delivered significantly yet. Ryan produced a playoff team and Bradford got a lot of headaches last year. Two other NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots--the best two--make $38 million and $30 million respectively.
No. 2 on the entire list is Phil Mickelson at $61 million, a shade behind Woods' total, but double his earnings on the links. Still both of these boys make small change in their sports and monstrous amounts for endorsements. Labron James of the Miami Heat, the biggest name in pro basketball if not necessarily the best player, is third at $30 million, but his basketball pay is less than half that. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankess, on the other hand, makes $4 million from endorsements (he's not considered a marketable guy) and $32 million in a disporportionate Yankee salary (which is the mark of a Yankee salary).
Then I look at guys like golfer Jim Furyk ($16 million total, $9 million on the course--which is more than double what Woods and Mickelson make combined for golf) and football player Darrell Reavis (Jets) at $25 million, almost all of it salary. I've never heard of either of them.
Boxers don't seem to make these lists any longer because we're not having big heavyweight title fights that bring in 30 million for the winner and there's just one NASCAR driver (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and he's not the top guy, but his name strikes emotions up and down the good ole boy system.
Here's the entire list. It tabulates out to nearly $600 million for 16 athletes. By contrast, state legislatures contributed $327 million to the arts in 2006. That's all of the arts. I won't even call either of those numbers "shameful" because it doesn't rise that high.