Some might think sports are meant for bigger, taller and more powerfully built men. Sounds like a pretty easy concept to understand, right? Wrong. In fact, in the case of some athletes it can be the exact opposite. The following 10 men on this list have proven time and time again that even if you’re 5’7” and under, you can still shoot, run and play ball with the best of ‘em – and if you’re good enough, even end up standing head and shoulders above your fellow athletes.
This list contains vertically-challenged athletes who are currently active in a variety of sports such as soccer, hockey, football and speed skating. What these 10 men lack in height, they more than make up for in their natural ability and sporting accomplishments. In fact, a couple have already gone down in history as being among the greatest to ever play their respective sport. Some are only hitting the peak of their career, some are more or less bit players for their respective teams, and others are perhaps better known for being embroiled in controversy than they are for their sporting achievements.
With heights as small as 5’5”, the athletes on this list have racked up paychecks and net worths that prove that their height is not an impediment to their ability as athletes – in fact, it’s a testament to how little height really matters in sports. On many occasions, they have proven that just because your peers may sometimes dwarf you, doesn’t mean that you’re any less capable of competing among them.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the athletes who proved that smaller men can still be among the greatest athletes ever, and earned very tall paychecks in the process.
10 Nathan Gerbe [Height: 5’5”] (Annual Income: $1.25 Million)
With only 82 points thus far in 211 career NHL games, Nathan Gerbe is arguably the least decorated player in this Top 10. But at 5’5”, Gerbe also holds the distinction of being the shortest athlete on the list. The Carolina Hurricanes left winger and Oxford, Michigan native has been referred to as “The Tasmanian Devil” for his tenacity on the ice despite his small stature. Before being placed on waivers by the Buffalo Sabres, Gerbe scored the fastest two goals in franchise history in 2011 against the New York Islanders, scoring two within a span of five seconds.
9 Apolo Ohno [Height: 5’8”] (Annual Income: $1.5 Million)
Already quite possibly one of the greatest speed skaters of all time, Apolo Anton Ohno’s career speaks for itself. With eight World Championship gold medals and more Olympic medals (eight) than any of his peers, Ohno stands at the top of his American Winter Olympic team despite his height of 5’8”. While his victory in Salt Lake City in 2002 may be better known for the incident in which a Korean speed skater was disqualified for blocking him mid-race, Ohno is arguably to American winter sports what Michael Phelps is to summer sports. Ohno’s endorsements over the years have included Vick’s, Coca-Cola, and even the Washington State Potato Commission.
8 Darren Sproles [Height: 5’6”] (Annual Income: $3.5 Million)
To be 5’6” and be named among the 50 greatest players in a league that is synonymous with rough physical play is no small feat. But for Darren Sproles, that’s exactly what has happened. Currently of the New Orleans Saints, the former San Diego Chargers running back was named as kick returner of the Chargers’ 50th anniversary team, even though Sproles has not really collected many honours since his days playing college football at Kansas State University. The former 2005 fourth round draft pick does have the bragging rights of being the first ever NFL player with over 2,200 all-purpose yards over the course of four seasons.
7 Maurice Jones-Drew [Height: 5’7”] (Annual Income: $4.45 Million)
A 40-yard dash time of 4.4 seconds is pretty fast. But for someone with Maurice Jones-Drew’s height – or lack thereof – it's downright incredible. His speed has been a big part of why Jones-Drew has had such an impact in the NFL thus far in his career. The Jacksonville Jaguars running back has played at the Pro Bowl on three occasions and won an All-Pro on three occasions as well. The Pocket Hercules has also set numerous franchise records since joining the Jaguars in 2006, such as having the most career rushing touchdowns, most rushing yards in a single season and most career kickoff return yards.
6 Brian Gionta [Height: 5’7”] (Salary: $5 Million)
Montreal Canadiens right winger and team captain Brian Gionta has a boatload of energy and tenacity for someone who is the second-shortest player in the NHL. The 2003 Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils has the distinction of being the only American-born captain in Canadiens history. Until two seasons ago, Gionta had six consecutive seasons with 20 goals or more – his 2005-06 campaign with the Devils saw him fall just short of hitting the 50 goal mark. Gionta – known by some as “The Rochester Rocket” – has without a doubt proven that even in a rough-and-tumble league like the NHL, sometimes less can be more.
5 David Silva [Height: 5’7”] (Annual Income: $6.76 Million)
His passing ability, his penchant for somehow being able to hang on to the ball in tight spaces and his positive influence on his teammates all make David Silva a force to be reckoned with on the pitch. With a World Cup and two Euro trophies under his belt with the Spanish national team, not to mention one Premier League title with Manchester City, it’s not hard to see why David Silva has earned his place among the most talented attacking midfielders in the game today. A sponsorship and boot deal with Adidas has helped the 5’7” Spaniard earn his net worth of $16.5 million, too.
4 Franck Ribery [Height: 5’7”] (Annual Income: $13.6 Million)
He’s been referred to as the “jewel of French football,” and for good reason. What Franck Ribery lacks in relative size, he compensates for in speed, precision and natural ability. The Bayern Munich and French national team winger has won three Bundesliga titles and one Champions League title with his club, and has represented Les Bleus in the last two World Cups – even if his last appearance may have been overshadowed by France’s pitiful performance and disharmony within the team, leading to players boycotting their own practice. Regardless, Ribery is among the top footballers in the game today, and his net worth of $40 million has been helped through endorsements with Nike and EA Sports.
3 Eden Hazard [Height: 5’7”] (Salary: $15 Million)
One of the major faces of Belgium’s current golden generation of footballers, Chelsea winger Eden Hazard’s playing style combines a lethal mix of pace, creativity and dribbling ability. Still quite young at 22, Hazard’s rapid ascent to the elite ranks of active footballers has been remarkable, and he’s only getting started. So far, the 5’7” winger only has a Europa League title with Chelsea and a Ligue 1 title with previous club Lille under his belt, but there is surely still plenty more to come from him. Hazard's salary clocks in at about $15 million per season, helped in part by a sponsorship deal with Nike.
2 Lionel Messi [Height: 5’7”] (Annual Income: $21.7 Million)
The only thing that he's missing is a World Cup. Everything else about Leo Messi’s track record as a footballer speaks for itself. Six La Liga titles and three Champions League titles with Barcelona; four Ballon d’Ors; 364 goals for club and country and counting. Even if he doesn’t end up bringing Argentina all the way to the Jules Rimet trophy by the time his international career is done, Messi will still go down in footballing folklore as one of the greatest to every play the game. His net worth also matches his career accomplishments, through sponsorships with Adidas, Turkish Airlines (for which he was featured in an ad with Kobe Bryant), Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble.
1 Manny Pacquiao [Height: 5’6”] (Annual Income: $57.3 Million)
According to Forbes, he’s the second highest paid athlete in the world. With the sheer volume of his boxing accomplishments, Manny Pacquiao has certainly earned his pay. The Filipino boxer has become the only eight-division world champion, and has won 10 world titles and 55 of his 62 career fights. The fact that he is the first athlete from the Philippines to appear on a postage stamp – not to mention that he was once rated among Time Magazine’s most influential people – isn’t too shabby either. Pacquiao’s net worth is rated at $85 million, with the help of sponsorships from Nike, Hennessy, Monster Energy Drink and Filipino beer company San Miguel.