It feels as if it was in a different lifetime when Tiger Woods was considered to be the best golfer on the planet. A former favorite to win whenever he stepped onto the golf course for a major, Woods is now physically a shell of what he was when in his prime. Woods is nevertheless the highest paid athlete of the past decade for all that he achieved during a legendary career. Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes released the list of the highest paid athletes over the past ten years, and Woods has, according to the information that is found in that piece, made over $800 million during that time. That's not too shabby for a guy who currently struggles to make cuts at events.
A wide variety of sports are represented among the highest paid athletes of the past decade. Soccer, commonly seen as the “world's game,” checks in on the list multiple times, but it would be understandable if you find yourself a little surprised with how much – or rather how little – David Beckham earned over the past decade. Beckham is rich beyond rich, of course, but one may have assumed that Beckham would have been closer to the top of the list of the highest paid athletes over the past decade because of his appeal and his brand, both of which go well beyond the sports world.
No sports organization in North America is bigger than the National Football League, and the list of the highest paid athletes over the past decade begins with a man who has, for the better part of his career, been NFL royalty. Peyton Manning is still lining up behind center and notching victories even though some doubters would claim that he no longer has the goods to win on Sundays, and one of the more popular players of his generation has earned hundreds of millions of dollars because of his successes. Manning may soon ride off into the sunset, but he has made it clear that he will do so on his terms if he can help it.
20 Peyton Manning: $243 Million 10-Year Earnings
The greatest regular season quarterback in history is not the same player he was a decade ago. His arm strength has visibly diminished. He is, at times, skittish in the pocket. Peyton Manning nonetheless continues to produce moments that leave even his harshest critics silent. Along with making millions of dollars from NFL salaries, Manning has also been an advertising gem for companies such as Nationwide. Manning is also respected for being a smart businessman, and he has picked up Papa John's Pizza franchises. It is practically a given that Manning will be able to select his dream football once he does retire, and thus he will be making millions of dollars every year for the foreseeable future.
19 Lewis Hamilton: $246 Million 10-Year Earnings
Lewis Hamilton is a successful Formula One driver who has won multiple championships. One of the highest paid athletes in the world for 2015, Hamilton has picked up large amounts of winnings throughout his career, and he also has endorsement relationships with IWC and Bombardier. Hamilton secured his spot among the highest paid athletes of the past decade for the next several years when he put pen to paper on a new contract with Mercedes earlier this year. That deal, according to Forbes, could be worth up to $140 million. Hamilton will, if certain bonuses are met, make around $45 million per year off of that contract.
18 Maria Sharapova: $250 Million 10-Year Earnings
2015 has, in ways, been a frustrating year for Maria Sharapova. Injury woes have plagued her during the tennis season, and those issues have continued up through the fall months. Sharapova is still perceived to be one of the most marketable athletes in the world today, and her marketability combined with the winnings that she has earned have contributed to her being among the highest paid athletes of this past decade. Those who follow the sport and who watch tennis events will likely notice that Sharapova is featured in advertisements even when she is not performing in tournaments.
17 Rafael Nadal: $253 Million 10-Year Earnings
Television viewers who tuned in to watch the 2015 US Open probably caught the Tommy Hilfiger commercial that featured Rafael Nadal nearly baring it all, an ad that played over and over again during the tournament. That, unfortunately for Nadal, may prove to be the professional highlight of his year. 2015 has been a letdown for Nadal, as he has largely looked like a player who is no longer in his prime and who is no longer capable of winning another Grand Slam event. Nadal will, moving forward, look to prove in 2016 that he is still among the best players in the world.
16 Kimi Raikkonen: $261 Million 10-Year Earnings
15 Derek Jeter: $271 Million 10-Year Earnings
Gone are the days of The Captain taking his post at shortstop for the New York Yankees. Derek Jeter, one of the most beloved members of the Yankees over the past several decades, enjoyed his retirement tour during the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Jeter heroically bid farewell to the new Yankee Stadium by notching a game-winning hit in his last ever home at-bat, and he fittingly knocked in a run in his final ever plate appearance, one that occurred at Fenway Park and against hated rivals the Boston Red Sox. Jeter has, since his retirement, had a hand in “The Players' Tribune” website, one that is meant to give athletes a platform of their own.
14 Valentino Rossi: $275 Million 10-Year Earnings
While he may not be a household name among casual American sports fans, Valentino Rossi is respected as one of the all-time great professional motorcycle racers. Rossi has made hundreds of millions of dollars during his historic career, one that has included the 36-year-old winning more MotoGP events than any other driver ever. When you are on the verge of making over $300 million over the span of 11 years, you can afford to take a pay cut every now and again. That, as explained by Forbes, is what Rossi did to return to Yamaha Motor Racing a couple of years ago.
13 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: $277 Million 10-Year Earnings
It is no easy task to follow a legend, particularly one who is your father. That becomes even more true when the father dies a public death at the most famous venue in the sport. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will never have the career had by his dad, but he has, all things considered, handled the pressures and stresses that come with being the son of Dale Earnhardt rather well. He has also proven himself to be a knowledgeable businessman who has repeatedly cashed in on his popularity. The Earnhardt Jr. brand is alive and well regardless of how he performs during weekend NASCAR events.
12 Fernando Alonso: $289 Million 10-Year Earnings
An accomplished Formula One driver who has made hundreds of millions of dollars during his career, Fernando Alonso was in the headlines in September of 2015 when he had some unflattering comments about his vehicle. Alonso, via his team radio, described his car's lack of speed as “very embarrassing” during a race. What was controversial about these words, as explained by the BBC, was the engine for that car was provided by Honda. Honda, according to the BBC, is responsible for about half of Alonso's yearly salary, a salary that is scheduled to earn the driver $40 million in 2015.
11 Alex Rodriguez: $291 Million 10-Year Earnings
Without villains, we would not be able to truly appreciate the heroes out there. Alex Rodriguez has, intentionally or not, embraced the role of the villain during his baseball career, one that was halted for a time because of allegations that Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs. Whatever you may think of him does not eliminate the fact that Rodriguez will, when all is said and done, have made well over $300 million as a pro. When you have made that much money over the years, your legacy can only mean so much to you. A-Rod cannot, however, buy a spot in the hall of fame.
10 Lionel Messi: $350 Million 10-Year Earnings
The first soccer player mentioned in this list is one who will be a spectator during the early stages of the 2015-16 season. Lionel Messi suffered a knee injury in September, one that could leave him sidelined for at least two months of action. Messi will, once he returns to full fitness and form, likely once again be one of the greatest players in the world, and his ability to leave defenders shell-shocked on the pitch has helped Messi make over $300 million over the past decade. It is a matter of when and not if Messi will join the $500 Million Club, even if he is no longer the best footballer on the planet.
9 Cristiano Ronaldo: $407 Million 10-Year Earnings
The competitions showcasing Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi have been both real and imagined over the years. It is Ronaldo who wins out on the list of the highest paid athletes of the past decade. Ronaldo is probably the greatest footballer in the world as of October 2015, and the possibility exists that his biggest paydays could be ahead of him. There continue to be rumors that Major League Soccer may be willing to break the bank to bring Ronaldo to the North American top-flight following the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That would only increase the worth of Ronaldo's successful brand in the United States.
8 Manny Pacquiao: $432 Million 10-Year Earnings
You are likely not alone if you are annoyed or even a bit outraged upon learning that boxer Manny Pacquiao is one of the highest paid athletes of the past decade. Pacquiao was one of the fighters involved in what had been advertised as a potential “fight of the century” earlier this year, a battle and a sports event that underwhelmed just about everybody who paid to watch it live. The man who served as Pacquiao's opponent on that fateful night is also in the top-ten of this list, and it is possible that he and Pacquiao could meet inside of the ring for a rematch. Here is some advice if that were to occur: Just save your money, sports fans.
7 David Beckham: $441 Million 10-Year Earnings
You could not be blamed for assuming that David Beckham made closer to a billion dollars over the past decade. Beckham is arguably the most recognized personality in the sports world and a star far beyond the soccer pitch. He no longer plays for clubs such as Manchester United, LA Galaxy or Paris Saint-Germain, but Beckham is still set to be heavily involved in the industry. Beckham is, as of the posting of this piece, working to secure a MLS team of his own, one that will, if he has his way, be located somewhere in the Miami region.
6 Roger Federer: $455 Million 10-Year Earnings
No tennis player earns more money on a yearly basis these days than Roger Federer, and some out there would say that no player has ever been better on the court. There were some signs earlier in the year that the 34-year-old was showing his age during tournaments, but Federer put at least a brief halt to those comments by making a run to the US Open Final. Federer may no longer be in his prime, but he showed in September that he is still actively pursuing one more Grand Slam crown before he rides off into the sunset.
5 Phil Mickelson: $468 Million 10-Year Earnings
4 LeBron James: $472 Million 10-Year Earnings
When you are far and away the best player in your sport, you are going to be loved and hated by fans. That has been the case for LeBron James over the past decade. James became a hero among fans in northeast Ohio in July of 2014 when he traded South Beach and the Miami Heat for a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. James and his Cleveland teammates did not win the NBA Finals in his first season back with Cleveland, but the Cavs will again be favorites to take the title at the start of the 2015-16 season. Downtown Cleveland will be booming every night that James and the Cavs take the court.
3 Kobe Bryant: $475 Million 10-Year Earnings
No athlete, even those who are elite and at the top of their professions during their primes, can evade time and age, and those two foes are catching up to Kobe Bryant in a hurry. Bryant signed what will likely be the final massive NBA contract of his career in the fall of 2013, one that will reportedly make him an additional $48.5 million. Good for Bryant on landing that deal and getting paid, but all indications are that he is doing more harm than good to the Los Angeles Lakers these days. Bryant is no longer the player of old, and the Lakers would have been better served spending that salary cap space on other athletes.
2 Floyd Mayweather: $660 Million 10-Year Earnings
The “Money May” nickname is not just a gimmick that is used to sell merchandise. It is a reflection on how much Floyd Mayweather has been paid during his career. Second on the list of the highest paid athletes of the past decade, Mayweather frequently uses social media websites such as Twitter to brag about his wealth and about the bets that he has placed on sporting events. Allegations of domestic violence and a flop of a fight against Manny Pacquiao have not negatively affected Mayweather's earnings. People still, for whatever reasons, are willing to spend money to watch Mayweather dominate opponents.
1 Tiger Woods: $845 Million 10-Year Earnings
How will the highest paid athlete of the past decade be remembered ten years from now? Will Tiger Woods be seen as the greatest golfer of his generation? Will Woods be viewed as a once-famous figure who suffered a public downfall because of his activities off of the course and behind closed doors? Will we be saying that Woods refused to see the writing on the wall and hung around for too long? One thing we know is that Woods is the biggest single draw in the history of professional golf, and that is a reason why Woods has made over $800 million over the past decade.