The Harris Poll recently released results of its poll regarding Americans' favorite athletes. Two separate questions were given to adults 18 and up. One question was for the respondent's favorite athlete (for all purposes here, I'll say men's athlete because the Top 10 was all men anyway) and one was for the respondent's favorite female athlete. Let's get to the men first:
THE TOP 10 FAVORITE (MEN'S) ATHLETES IN THE US
1st - Derek Jeter
2nd - Peyton Manning
5th - Tiger Woods
6th - Tom Brady
9th - Derrick Rose
10th - Aaron Rodgers
Last year from 1st to 10th, they were Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant (tied for 1st), Derek Jeter, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
I'm not surprised that I didn't see a single DC area athlete in the National Top 10, given that none of the teams in this area are doing well aside from the Washington Capitals, but seeing Alex Ovechkin in the Top 10 isn't realistically going to happen when the NHL still is the 4th most popular pro sports league among the "Big Four" sports leagues and there isn't much support for the league in the southern part of the country (look at Atlanta's reaction to the sale of the Thrashers).
Here are some of the trends I've noticed on the list, based on the overall play and situations around the athletes after reading the link:
1. Among age groups, I guess certain sports tend to resonate more with certain folks than others.
Older people traditionally like golf more, and I'm not terribly surprised that Tiger Woods was the favorite athlete, even considering his troubles the last couple years. Among the Echo Boomers, I'm not surprised that 18-34 year olds viewed Michael Jordan as their favorite athlete, as this generation enjoyed much of their childhood or youth during the Bulls' glory days.
2. Quarterbacks who win Super Bowls are highly rated for the year the championship was won.
Aaron Rodgers was in the Top 10 this year winning the Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers. Drew Brees was on the list last year after winning the Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints and fell off this year.
3. America loves football and embraces the Quarterback as the leader and cornerstone of the team.
Of the Top 10 athletes listed, four of them are NFL players. Three of them are quarterbacks. I know I'll get a "no crap" reference for the quarterback as leader point, but this is another way to show that.
4. It is possible that athletes playing on organized team sports get more love in these rankings.
Tiger Woods is the only athlete who doesn't play an organized team sport. Then again, Americans aren't doing particularly well on men's individual sports like tennis and gymnastics.
5. This ties in with point #4, but athletes in organized team sports tend to be the favorite athlete of their respective regions.
Kobe Bryant was the favorite athlete in the west and he is a Laker; Peyton Manning was the favorite athlete in the South, and though the Colts aren't in the South, he did go to Tennessee; Derek Jeter is the favorite athlete in the East, and he's a Yankee; Derrick Rose is the favorite athlete in the Midwest, and he's a Bull. This shows that athletes not only can be favorites among their respective fanbases, but they can be iconic figures for their regions.
6. Michael Jordan is still among our favorites, having been a Top 10 favorite male athlete since 1993.
LeBron's defection to Miami may explain why he jumped up from 7th to 3rd.
7. "Rings mean Respect."
All of these athletes, except for Rose have won a league championship or an individual championship of some sort. Even Rose has won an MVP this year. Either way, it is clear that accolades have gotta be earned if an athlete is going to be a favorite one. I know there is a perception that women may pick a favorite athlete because of how he looks, but even then, guys like Derek Jeter and Tom Brady still are franchise cornerstones because of what they do on the field first.
8. Good Boys get Props
There is something to be said for great athletes who conduct themselves the right way either on the field/court or off of it. Guys like Derek Jeter and Hines Ward certainly have become favorite athletes because they are the undisputed cornerstones of their teams, but they also keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. I know Ward got a DUI recently, but generally speaking he still has conducted himself the right way, given his biracial background as a Korean American and also the football circumstances with Ben Roethlisberger's off the field conduct issues. Jeter has been a consistent player for over 15 years, yet hasn't been involved in this PED mess with Major League Baseball.
Athletes who either conduct themselves in the wrong way on or off the field/court lose respect. LeBron James fell off the list this year, and it is likely because of "The Decision." Tiger was the most favorite American athlete after Michael's reign from 1993-2005, but he dropped to 5th now. Sure, his not so stellar play since the 2008 US Open is partly to blame. However, the divorce with Elin and the tabloid stories about the women he picked up had to play into that as well. Kobe also dropped out of the Top 10 list from 2004 to 2005, because it was perceived that he was the force that blew up the Lakers team, and he also went through the Eagle, Colorado incident.
9. People tend to identify people of their race as their favorite athlete.
White people as a group said Peyton Manning, a White man, as their favorite athlete, while Black people viewed Kobe Bryant, a Black man, as their favorite athlete. I get that there are plenty of Black people whose favorite athlete is Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, and plenty of White people whose favorite athlete is Kobe or Mike. But this was something that was worth pointing out.
10. What do the kids think?
One demographic was left out and that was kids. As you all probably know, the movie preview for Bad Teacher showed a MJ-LeBron debate between a teenage boy who thought LeBron was a better player, and the young teacher who thought MJ was better. Do the kids identify with Tiger or Derek Jeter like adults did in this poll? Do they think more highly of LeBron than adults do? It would be interesting to see how an age 13-17 demographic would have thought about it.
THE TOP 10 FAVORITE WOMEN'S ATHLETES IN THE US
Here is the Top 10 list for women's athletes and a brief summary of what they have done (if you don't know their sports accomplishments already):
1st - Serena Williams, WTA Tennis Player, 13x Grand Slam wins as a singles player, 12x Grand Slam wins as a doubles player.
2nd - Venus Williams, WTA Tennis Player, 7x Grand Slam wins as a singles player; 12x Grand Slam wins as a doubles player.
3rd - Danica Patrick, Race Car Driver; 6 Top 10 Indy 500 finishes; Top 5 finish in the 2009 IndyCar Series Season
4th - Maria Sharapova, WTA Tennis Player, 4x Grand Slam wins as a singles player
5th - Mia Hamm, Retired soccer player, won 1999 World Cup, scored most goals in international competition out of any American player
6th - Anna Kournikova, WTA Tennis Player, 2x Grand Slam wins as a doubles player
Tie for 7th - Sue Bird, Guard for the Seattle Storm, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist, 2x WNBA Champion, and plenty of All Star Appearances to boot.
Tie for 7th - Martina Navratilova, WTA Tennis Player, 18x Grand Slam wins as a singles player; 31x Grand Slam wins as a doubles player; 10x Grand Slam wins as a mixed doubles player (basically retired)
Tie for 9th - Kerri Walsh, Pro Beach Volleyball Player, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist
Tie for 9th - Michelle Wie, LPGA Tour Golf Player, 2 wins on the Tour
Last year from 1st to 10th, the list was Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Mia Hamm, Danica Patrick, Maria Sharapova, Anna Kournikova, Misty May and Shawn Johnson (tied for 7th), Lisa Leslie, and Billie Jean King.
There are some things I see with women's athletes' rankings. A lot of this is compared against the men:
1. Women who are playing individual sports (or at least sports not associated with organized teams) tend to be ranked higher.
Eight of the ten athletes play individual sports, or in the case of tennis, it's not a sport that's associated with teams. I wouldn't call World Team Tennis a franchise for an organized team sport. Speaking about tennis, five of the ten athletes here are tennis players by trade, including three of the top five, and four of the top six. Perhaps this list shows that the mainstream public and men truly respect the game of women's tennis, maybe up to the point where it is equal to men's tennis which I believe it is.
2. Women on organized team sports (soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, etc.) may not be given as much credit for what they do to earn "favorite status".
I think is due in part to most Americans' negative perceptions of the WNBA and also because we don't really see much coverage of women's organized team sports as it is. Sue Bird is the only active player on an organized team sport to make the Top 10, but oddly enough I don't think she is exactly the current face of the league either though this may say otherwise. Note that Mia Hamm also still resonates very positively with most Americans, well after her retirement, not to mention that Mia Hamm is best known as a player for the US Soccer team, not the Washington Freedom, and while I think America likes women's soccer, for now, we like it best as a national team sport moreso than as a pro league when the national team inevitably gets broken up (I know WPS exists).
Unlike the case with Hamm, Bird is best known for playing on the Seattle Storm, a city based pro basketball team, rather the US Basketball Team (and yes, Sue is the starting lead guard on Team USA as well). Unlike women's soccer, in women's basketball, we do follow the teams in certain cities moreso than the national team. Unlike men's basketball however, note that a lot of WNBA fans follow the stars based on which college they went to, and to a bigger degree than NBA fans. This is in particular with players from the University of Connecticut which has easily had the best college basketball program over the past decade.
3. I'm a little surprised that more soccer players weren't in this Top 10 list, like Abby Wambach and Hope Solo.
If we did this poll again today, Alex Morgan would also get a lot more love..
4. I wonder how different the men's top ten list on women's athletes would look as opposed to the women's list (this wasn't specified).
Some of the athletes may be ranked higher than otherwise because of their sex appeal rather than their athletic accomplishments. Kournikova is the poster child of a favorite women's athlete because of looks rather than skills as her accomplishments just aren't up to par with most of the other women on this list and I find it laughable. You can make smaller cases for Danica, Sharapova, Walsh, and Bird. So in essence, the "Rings mean Respect" point doesn't apply as well with women, though I think it's mostly because we're not as aware of what goes on in women's sports generally, as women's organized team sports tend to have niche fanbases rather than widespread ones like men's organized team sports.
5. A number of retired athletes or athletes who haven't been actively in the spotlight in a particular year still tend to be viewed very positively. And no woman has had an athletic impact like Mike.
Examples here are like Hamm and Navratilova (how did she get back in the Top 10?). Last year, Billie Jean King and Lisa Leslie were on the list. Leslie is still arguably the face of the WNBA after her retirement in 2008 and no other player has hit the top 10 until Bird got in this year. And Kournikova.... Really? Are you kidding me?
Last year among active athletes, Shawn Johnson, the Olympic gold medal winning gymnast was a Top 10 favorite, and she didn't have any notable athletic accomplishments that I'm aware of at least.
6. Like the men's athletes, people tended to identify with women of their race as their favorite athlete.
White people viewed Danica Patrick as their #1 favorite; Black people viewed Serena Williams as theirs. Hispanics threw a curveball here, with Danica Patrick and Sue Bird tied as the #1 favorite athlete. I thought Diana Taurasi could be a better fit, and she's Hispanic, but oh well.
7. Again, because only adults were surveyed, it's possible that boys and girls may think a bit differently about their favorite female athlete.
For example, if the top ten female athletes for boys 13-17 and girls 13-17 had considerably more WNBA players, it would show that the kids likely have a more positive perception of women's organized team sports than adults do. Also if this were true, I have to note that the WNBA has been in their lives for pretty much their entire lives, while for adults, we overall see the WNBA as a league that's been thrown on our plate against our will. This is like the LeBron analogy I put out with the men's athletes where children may not agree with adults on these kind of issues.
Coming out of this, I have some questions I leave you with, on how America's Top 10 favorite athletes, at least for the future, affects our city. Who are your favorite athletes for men and women separately right now? Who do you think would be our area's favorite athletes? Yes, you can include retired players. Though it seems bleak right now, are there any athletes that play on our local teams and could be in a National Top 10 favorite athlete in the near future, like the Caps' Alex Ovechkin, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and prospect Bryce Harper? Could Brian Orakpo's sack numbers get a defensive beast in there? And of course is it too early to say that John Wall may find himself as a Top 10 favorite athlete too? Right now, our overall sports landscape looks bleak as a city, but the future certainly looks bright!