Where Bucs quarterback Tom Brady ranks among the world’s highest-paid athletes | Analysis
There are some surprises in the top 100, including many names unfamiliar to most American sports fans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) holds the Lombardi Trophy as he and teammates celebrate the 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 in February.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) holds the Lombardi Trophy as he and teammates celebrate the 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 in February. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 28, 2021

At 44 years old, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is ancient by football standards. His incredible longevity has helped him roll up a record seven Super Bowl titles and several other records. It has also made him rich. Just how rich?

There are lots of ways to measure wealth, but we decided to crunch career earnings, with some help from three decades of annual Forbes lists of the world’s highest-paid athletes. Brady’s career earnings over that time span ranked … drum roll, please … 27th. He brought in $317.5 million. Not too shabby. And his total doesn’t include a penny from his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, who often out-earned her husband’s annual income.

Brady placed just ahead of baseball star Derek Jeter and boxer Mike Tyson. And given that Brady is still playing — and appearing in Subway ads, among others — he’s sure to race past retired NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, who came in at 26th.

So who was No. 1? Golfer Tiger Woods, in a landslide. He earned more than $1.6 billion, nearly $600 million more than basketball star LeBron James, who placed second. You’d need a LeBron James ($1.04 billion), a Tom Brady ($317.5 million) and a Peyton Manning ($280.2 million) to surpass Woods’ total.

Rounding out the top 5 were boxer Floyd Mayweather, soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo and tennis star Roger Federer, all of whom made more than $900 million.

Other notables in the top 100 included the obvious — superstar basketball players Michael Jordan (ranked 8th) and Kobe Bryant (10th). But the list contained a few surprises, at least to many American sports fans — Indian cricket sensation Mahendra Singh Dhoni placed 91st by earning a cool $119 million.

Both Earnhardts — Dale Jr. and Dale Sr. of NASCAR fame — made the list. So did Swedish soccer stud Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who might have the coolest first name among the top 100. Former Rays pitcher David Price, who earned nearly $117 million, placed 94th. Pitcher Cole Hamels, most recently of the Los Angeles Dodgers, filled the last spot in the top 100 by earning $111.5 million. That dollar figure assuredly makes placing last on the list feel a whole lot better.

Endorsements go a long way for some athletes (see: “How we made the list”). For instance, golfer Arnold Palmer, who died in 2016, brought in $234 million since 1990, despite winning his last senior PGA tournament in 1988.

Based on the top 100, push your kids toward basketball, baseball and soccer. Athletes in those three sports made up more than half of the top 100. Thanks to Woods’ oversized earnings, the six golfers on the list had the highest average earnings at more than $500 million.

Nine boxers made the list, but Conor McGregor was the only mixed martial artist. Italian Valentino Rossi was the only motorcycle racer to crack the top 100. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was the sole representative of track and field.

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Americans took 60 of the top 100 spots, followed by the United Kingdom with seven. No other country had more than three. And 98 of the top 100 highest-earners were men. The two women? Tennis players Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Williams pulled in almost $317 million to make the top 30, with Sharapova not far behind with nearly $290 million. Over the next 30 years, how many more women will make the top 100?

Bottom line: Tom Brady has earned a lot of dough. He’s in good company in the top 100. Who knows. Maybe the ageless wonder will play so long that he’ll break into the top 10.

How we made the list

The top 100 comes from crunching Forbes’ annual lists of highest-paid athletes from 1990 to 2021. During that time, more than 530 athletes made one of the annual lists at least once, but the Tampa Bay Times analysis focused only on the 100 athletes who amassed the most income over those years. A few things to keep in mind about the dollar totals:

  • They only included salaries, winnings and endorsements. They don’t include money made from investments. So an athlete who made a fortune by investing early in Google or buying Bitcoin a few years ago might not make the list.
  • They are not adjusted for inflation. That puts athletes who starred — and made most of their money — in the early 1990s at a disadvantage. For instance, hockey great Wayne Gretzky would likely have made the top 100 if his earnings were adjusted for inflation. Instead, he fell just outside the top 100. And golfing legend Jack Nicklaus and boxer Muhammad Ali didn’t make the top 100 because so much of their winnings and money from endorsements were made before 1990.
  • They only include the totals that accompanied the Forbes annual list. Athletes’ earnings made during years when they did not make the Forbes list are not included. For example, in his early years playing pro tennis, Roger Federer made money but not enough to make the Forbes list in those years. So that relatively small amount would not be included in his total. Another way to think about it: Most of the athletes in the top 100 have earned at least a little more money than listed in their total.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.