Skip to content

MIT ranks most popular people in 20th century. 1,064 soccer players qualify vs. 1 football player (It’s O.J.)

Mar 17, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT

Club Tijuana v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

Alternate headline: “Clint Dempsey‘s more famous than Maya Angelou.”

Fame feels like a pretty arbitrary term, but MIT is trying to make it a bit more concrete. Using an elaborate system, the elite American school has put together a list of the most famous people in the entire world.

Not that it’s foolproof, but it is MIT. And it includes two American soccer players.

MIT ranks nearly everything in a project called Pantheon, and the New York Times can help you place the study in context before we get to the soccer player part.

“It has collected and analyzed data on cultural production from 4,000 B.C. to 2010. With a few clicks on its website, which just went live, you can swing through time and geography, making plain the output of, say, Brazil (largely soccer players) or Belarus (politicians). It also ranks professions from chemists to jurists to porn stars.”

Take your own trip through Pantheon here. Now, on to soccer:

The headline above is a little sensationalized. As far as my limited mind can gather from the article, Pantheon takes history into account and one of its qualifiers is someone’s Wikipedia page is translated into 25 languages or more. In other words, the NFL’s popularity bloomed a tad bit later than soccer, and it’s doubtful that “Bruce Smith” has qualified for a Tamil Wikipedia translation. But here’s the list of the most popular soccer players in the world:

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

2. Pelé

3. Lionel Messi

4. Ronaldo

5. Ronaldinho

6. Diego Maradona

7. Zinedine Zidane

8. David Beckham

Number of Soccer Players on the List: 1,064

Number of American-Football Players: 1 (O.J. Simpson)

Surely there are rational reasons for C-Ron being ahead of Pele aside from the hits generated by “Teen Beat: Portugal,” but it’s still odd to consider. How do those rankings play out in your mind? If sexuality or attractiveness was such a big factor, why wouldn’t Becks be higher on the list?

Doing just a cursory look over the site does find some American players qualify, which means Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey rank while Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are nowhere to be found? For people living in America, this is mystifying. It’s not that anyone thinks American football is anywhere near soccer’s level, but 1,064 to 1 (who’s likely on there for a combo of football, movies and crime)? Wild stuff. Like “Marta is more worldwide famous than Joe Montana” level wild.

And get these totals: 71 basketball players, five baseball players and two hockey players.

The details on the Yank soccer players:

Dempsey: 858th ranked soccer player, 78th ranked 1983 birth, 2,028 ranked American birth (ranked between Betty Ford and Maya Angelou).

Donovan: 660th ranked soccer player, 73rd ranked 1982 birth, 1,816 ranked American birth (ranked between Henry Harrison and Hank Aaron).

For those keeping score of player vs. coach, Jurgen Klinsmann is the 101st most famous soccer player, the 17th most famous 1964 birth and 298th ranked German birth (got some work to do to catch Martin Niemoller).

Latest Posts
  1. EXCLUSIVE: Fresh off his club debut, young Emerson Hyndman takes his USMNT chance in stride

    Sep 2, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    Hyndman2 Getty Images

    At just 18 years old, Emerson Hyndman has come through the Fulham youth ranks and is turning heads at all levels. He speaks to ProSoccerTalk about the chances coming all at once.

  2. Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta signs new five-year deal at Chelsea

    Sep 2, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT

    Chelsea Training Session and Press Conference Getty Images

    Blues sign full back to new long-term deal at Stamford Bridge.

  3. PHOTO: San Antonio reveal stunning stadium expansion plans, aim for MLS entry

    Sep 2, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Source: San Antonio Scorpions Source: San Antonio Scorpions

    Scorpions reveal stunning stadium plans, as the latest lower-league side plans for MLS expansion.

  4. Confirmed: Tom Cleverley signs for Aston Villa on season-long loan

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:29 AM EDT

    Chelsea v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Cleverley arrives at Villa Park after late, late loan move on Deadline Day.

  5. From Prague, with love: Klinsmann previews USA’s friendly vs. Czech Republic

    Sep 2, 2014, 10:23 AM EDT

    Jürgen Klinsmann AP

    Speaking ahead of the USA’s clash in Prague, here’s what Klinsmann had to say.

  6. Captain Bastian: Schweinsteiger named new skipper of Germany

    Sep 2, 2014, 9:47 AM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Germany Argentina AP

    Bayern Munich midfielder to lead Germany after Lahm’s retirement.

  7. Record summer: Breaking the transfer window down, by the numbers

    Sep 2, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT

    Britain Soccer Manchester United Angel Di Maria AP

    Where did the cash go? Who spent the most? Which records tumbled?

  8. Cristiano Ronaldo hits out at Real Madrid’s transfer moves

    Sep 2, 2014, 8:26 AM EDT

    Ancelotti's ability to adjust to Atletico's neutralization of Cristiano Ronaldo is a token of his genius. AP

    Ronaldo’s not happy that Alonso, Di Maria were allowed to leave in the window.

  9. Maradona’s quote after Pope’s inter-religious peace match is priceless

    Sep 1, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT

    201409011528557269254 AP

    “Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope,” Maradona joked. No, really. That’s what he said.

  10. Premier League Team of the Week: Find out who starred on Matchday 3

    Sep 1, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    From a 18-year-old Jamaican-English midfielder to a 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper, this team takes a ride through all types of players.

  11. Premier League player of the week — Round 3

    Sep 1, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT

    diego_costa Getty Images

    In the end, the player had to come from the nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park.

  12. VIDEO: Breaking down the Deadline Day deals with the NBCSN crew

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:48 PM EDT

    stambouli_730

    Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe bring you plenty of analysis on the summer transfer window’s Deadline Day.

  13. Premier League transfer window grades – Which team did the best business?

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Everton v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    Passing or failing? Take a gander at how each Premier League team fared.

  14. Done Deal: Radamel Falcao completes move to Manchester United

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

    Falcao AP

    Falcao signs for United, arrives on loan from Monaco with view to a permanent transfer.

  15. Done Deal: Better late than never, Arsenal seals deal with Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT

    Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck went away to London for international break, and won’t return to the club after sealing a move to Arsenal.

  16. Americans Abroad wrap: Guzan stays unbeaten, Lichaj & Bedoya thrive

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:26 PM EDT

    FC Nantes v Montpellier Herault SC - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    Nantes, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are all surprising early-season teams, and Americans are playing big roles in each club’s success.

  17. Done Deal: Listing all the Deadline Day deals from the Premier League

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT

    Ajax Amsterdam v PEC Zwolle - Johan Cruijff Shield Getty Images

    The biggest confirmed transfers on Deadline Day including Premier League teams.

Featured video

Official: Welbeck signs for Arsenal