Growing up, many kids dream of becoming the next Michael Jordan or Walter Payton. But how many athletes from Alaska make it all the way to the pros? Does California dominate with all-star athletes? Or is South Carolina producing an arsenal of MVPs?
As fall and winter sports athletes begin to prepare for their seasons, we were curious as to which state or region produces the most professional athletes. We examined the hometowns of more than 2,600 professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, WNBA, and NHL to figure out which states are the most athletic in the nation.
The Most (and Least) Athletic States in America
We determined the top states by looking at the number of professional athletes who call the state home, per capita. That way, states with the biggest populations didn’t automatically top the list.
We found the most athletic state in America is Minnesota! 85 athletes call the Land of 10,000 Lakes home, and 63 of those are in the NHL. Georgia, which ranks third, has a whopping 107 professional athletes born there, with 78 playing in the NFL.
Surprisingly, Alaska ranked sixth overall with 6 professional athletes. It’s especially surprising considering Alaska has one of the smallest populations in the U.S. Out of the 6 athletes, 4 are in the NHL, 1 is in the NBA, and 1 plays in the WNBA.
As for the least athletic states, New Mexico and West Virginia both have zero professional NBA, WNBA, NHL, and first-string NFL athletes. Montana didn’t fare much better with just 1, and Idaho had only 2 athletes.
Regions Producing the Most Pro Athletes
If you’re looking for a professional athlete, you may want to make a bet that they’re from the South. The South produces the most NFL, NBA, and WNBA athletes in comparison to the West, Midwest, and Eastern regions. The only league to vary was the NHL. Probably thanks to those cold winters, the Midwest produces the most NHL players!
Overall, most hockey players come from Minnesota, Alaska, Massachusetts, Michigan and Maine. Louisiana and Maryland are the only two states to rank in the top 5 for two different leagues. Louisiana is producing the most NBA players and NFL players, while Maryland is producing the most NBA and WNBA players.
Indiana ranked fifth for producing the most NBA players, which makes sense for the state which prides itself on its basketball history (remember the movie Hoosiers?).
Athletes from Around the World
Pro athletes don’t only hail from the United States. In our analysis, we discovered athletes that come from at least 53 countries! The country that dominated? Canada. 489 athletes in these leagues call Canada home, and unsurprisingly, the majority of those athletes are hockey players.
The NHL had the biggest variety of athletes across all leagues. 457 pro hockey players are from Canada, 319 are from other countries, and 317 were born in the U.S.
Other countries with the most pro athletes are Sweden with 111 athletes and Finland which has 56. Every single one of those athletes from those countries plays in the NHL, except for Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish athlete plays in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The U.S. wins the Super Bowl for the most athletes in the NFL. 851 first-string players are from the U.S., and only 15 are from other countries.
Sports Salaries Across Leagues
While many athletes may come from the same home state or region, they are definitely not all paid the same. The top paid player across all leagues is NBA player Stephen Curry. The Golden State Warriors point guard makes a cool $45,780,966 annually.
In the NFL, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill brings in $38,600,000. After that, it’s a steep drop. The highest-paid NHL player is Connor McDavid. The Edmonton Oilers center makes almost one-third of Tannehill’s salary, with a paycheck of $12,500,000.
That lower salary is nothing compared to the WNBA players. Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm), and Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) are the highest paid in the league, but they make just $228,090 annually.
Using ESPN data, we gathered the hometown info of 2693 athletes in the NBA (591 players), WNBA (144 players), NHL (1092 players), and the NFL (866). For the NFL, we only pulled data from the first-string roster of each team. We then analyzed the number of athletes per state per capita to determine the states with the most athletes per every 100,000 residents.
Salary data was gathered using both ESPN data and Statista.
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