Top 5 Highest-Paid Athletes of All Time

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The problem with comparing athletes’ salaries is the same as arguing sports with your dad: It’s difficult to compare players from different time periods. Previously unimaginable paydays now drench the pockets of the top dogs in every mainstream sport, while two or three generations ago, you could catch your favorite short stop working in a hardware store during the off-season. Inflation and lucrative endorsements cloud the numbers, but some big-time players stand out even among the athletic aristocracy.

5 Danica Patrick

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Comedian George Carlin once said people watch auto racing for the crashes. I say you watch it because you’re secretly in love with Danica Patrick. In a world dominated by macho boys, one beautiful—and very rich—woman stands out. Between her $12 million salary and lucrative endorsements like, most estimates put Danica over the $20 million mark, which would make her among the highest-paid female athletes in history.

4 Floyd Mayweather

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Since at least the 1920s, aficionados of the sport have referred to boxing as the “sweet science.” The science is simple: Two men in an enclosed square beat each other in the head and body with their fists until one of their brains shuts off for 10 seconds. One man, however, stands out as having mastered the science of making money from boxing. In fewer than 10 fights, Floyd Mayweather earned $283 million, with his most recent fight packing a $50 million punch.

3 Joe Sakic

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Of the four big-money sports, only one asks its players to fight each other with razor blades attached to their feet. It’s only fair, then, that the highest-paid athlete in history is a hockey player. But Joe Sakic? Fair or not, the career Quebec Nordiques-Colorado Avalanche center earned $17 million in 1998. While that might not sound like a lot, if you go by a single player’s salary verses the league average, Sakic earned 14.56 percent more than the average player’s $1.17 million. No athlete has ever stood so far ahead of the mean.

2 Tiger Woods

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When you factor in endorsements, one man’s salary dominates history. Between earnings on and off the golf course, Tiger Woods is reported to have earned a combined $78.1 million last year. That’s more than $200,000 dollars a day. No matter how you work the arithmetic, no matter how you try to adjust for inflation, no one who has ever made so much for hitting a ball. It went that way for most of the last decade, no matter how badly he behaved with his putter off the course.

1 Alex Rodriguez

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When it comes to pure salary, there’s A-Rod and there’s everyone else. In 2008, he signed a 10-year contract that awarded him a quarter-billion dollars—plus $25 million. His $275 million deal broke down to $27.5 million a year or about $175,000 per game. Who did A-Rod steal the previous title from? Well, A-Rod, of course. Prior to being snatched up by the investment bank with a stadium that is the New York Yankees, Rodriguez fetched a paltry $252 million for a decade with the Texas Rangers.

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