Actively participating in meaningful competitions or achieving great feats while in action are apparently not musts as far as the popularity of American’s favorite female sports stars is concerned.
Four of the athletes in the top-ten of this list are technically retired from playing professionally or at the international level. Three of the top-four spots are taken up by tennis players, and one of those athletes is not from the United States. The woman who is arguably the most popular American soccer player – male or female – on the planet cracks into the list for the first time. Last but not least is a volleyball star who called time on her playing days two years ago.
Here are the 10 most popular female athletes in America for 2014.
Information via Harris Poll
10. Misty May-Treanor — Volleyball
Misty May-Treanor is most known for playing doubles volleyball alongside teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings. As a unit, the two made for what was the greatest duo in the history of women’s beach volleyball. Among the numerous honors notched by Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor, the pair won gold medals in the Summer Olympics on three occasions; in 2004, 2008, and 2012.
May-Treanor makes her return to this list for the first time since 2010. While she retired from actively playing in competitions following the 2012 Summer Games, May-Treanor has not walked away from sports entirely. She has since earned her master’s degree in coaching and athletic administration.
8. (tied). Chris Evert — Tennis
The all-time tennis great and former World No.1 player won 154 WTA Singles Titles during her illustrious career. She netted over $8 million in winnings as an active player, and she won singles titles at each of the four Grand Slam events on multiple occasions. Evert was, when she was the best women’s player on earth, featured on everything from prime-time television specials to cereal boxes.
She retired from the pro tour in 1989, but she continues to be a mainstay at Grand Slam events. Evert features as a TV commentator for ESPN, having joined the Worldwide Leader back in 2011. She remains one of the more respected individuals in the sport.
8. (tied). Alex Morgan — Soccer
Morgan makes the list for the first time. It is a very safe bet that it won’t be her last.
Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are America’s most known male soccer stars, but Morgan may be the country’s most beloved player. Morgan has, as of July 2014, 1.52 million Twitter followers. She scored one of the most historic goals in US Soccer history during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Morgan has also served as a model for Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine.
Expect to see the 25-year-old footballer on this list again. She will, barring unforeseen hiccups, be front and center for the United States Women’s National Team during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
6. (tied). Billie Jean King — Tennis
Like the previously mentioned Evert, Billy Jean King is a former World No. 1 who retired from competitive play many years ago (1990). King’s contributions go far and above what she achieved on the court. She netted multiple Sportsman/Sportswoman Of The Year honors. She helped found the World Team Tennis league. King is enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in the National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
King made news earlier in 2014 when she joined a US delegation that traveled to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. She had, throughout the months leading up to the Sochi Games, publicly spoken out against Russian laws that discriminated against gay individuals. King has called upon the International Olympic Committee to do more to protect the rights of gay athletes.
6. (tied). Lindsey Vonn — Skiing
The last two years have not been kind to Lindsey Vonn. Vonn suffered a serious knee injury while competing in the World Championships in February 2013, tearing her right ACL and MCL. There was, at the time, speculation that Vonn may be forced to retire, but she insisted that she would be ready for the Sochi Olympics.
It was not meant to be.
Vonn reinjured her right knee in November 2013. Despite attempting to get back to form for the February 2014 Winter Games, reality unfortunately eventually set in. She announced to the world in January that she would be forced to sit the 2014 Olympics out.
5. Mia Hamm — Soccer
Despite retiring after the 2004 Summer Olympics, Hamm remains America’s favorite female soccer player. A champion at every level, the living legend won Olympic Gold, a World Cup, and she was also on the Washington Freedom side that won the 2003 WUSA Founder’s Cup.
Despite hanging up her boots a decade ago, Hamm remains very involved in sports. She heads the Mia Hamm Foundation, a national organization with two objectives: “Raising funds and awareness for families in need of a marrow or cord blood transplants and the development of more opportunities for young women in sports.”
4. Maria Sharapova — Tennis
The 27-year-old tennis star and World No. 1 on five occasions has become more than just a great athlete over the years. Her brand extends as far as that of any other female sports star. She was, in 2013, the world’s highest-paid female athlete.
That was the tenth time she had earned that distinction.
Sharapova, who now calls the United States home, could have a career as a television star once she retires as a player. The Russian native who campaigned for and then promoted the 2014 Winter Olympics starred in several segments that aired on NBC during the Winter Games. Don’t look for her to make that switch just yet.
Sharapova won the 2014 French Open, showing she still has plenty left in the tank.
3. Venus Williams — Tennis
At 34 years old, the older of the two famous Williams sisters is in the twilight of her professional career. She continues to battle on in Grand Slam tournaments, and Williams was downright defiant in refusing to be upset in the first round at Wimbledon earlier this year. While she was bounced out of the tournament well before its Final, Williams continues to show heart on the biggest stages of tennis.
Williams was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, a disease that can cause “debilitating fatigue,” in 2011. Rather than retire and be satisfied with all that she accomplished during a historic career, Williams made modifications to aspects of her lifestyle. She and she alone will decide when enough pro tennis is enough.
2. Danica Patrick — Racing
Danica Patrick could be looked at as being a female Dale Earnhardt Jr. Neither win all that much on the track, and the fan bases of neither really care. Patrick is, according to the Harris Poll, the favorite female athlete among men who were sampled.
Those GoDaddy television spots haven’t hurt her cause, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
Critics of Patrick – and there are many – can bash her all they want. The fact of the matter is that she moves the needle, she drives ratings, and she accounts for page views. Nobody is going to confuse Patrick with Richard Petty or with Dale Junior’s father.
Patrick is undeniably a sports superstar, and she will remain one for years to come.
1. Serena Williams — Tennis
The star ranked No. 1 in all of women’s singles tennis sits atop this list for the fifth consecutive year. Williams, probably the greatest women’s player of all time, has earned over $56 million in prize money during her career. Just how impressive is that figure?
It’s nearly double of the prize money earned by Sharapova.
2014 has not been a banner year for the younger Williams. She played through a back injury before being eliminated from the Australian Open. She was bounced out of the French Open in the second round. Williams made her earliest exit from the Wimbledon singles tournament since 2005, and a viral illness forced her out of the doubles competition.
But despite all that Serena remains the undisputed most popular female athlete in America.