Culture / Sporting Life

Ridiculous J.J. Watt Backlash Reaches a New Low with ESPN Top 100 Rankings Snub

The World’s Most Unpopular Twitter Star?

BY // 06.16.17

Does J.J. Watt’s fame end at the Houston city limits? A new uber-publicized ESPN Top 100 rankings list apparently wants to make you think so. For ESPN’s new World Fame 100 puts Watt so far down on its list that even Kevin Garvey — the Australian-scouring hero of The Leftovers — would have trouble finding him.

There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods and LeBron James are all infinitely more well known worldwide than Watt. But Watt is ranked far below NBA afterthought Derrick Rose — and below even golfer Rickie Fowler, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Portland Trailblazers borderline all-star Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard?  Please.

Watt sits way down at No. 74 on ESPN’s 100 most famous athletes rankings, one spot ahead of controversial U.S. Women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo. At least, he’s 20 spots ahead of Bubba Watson.

This World Fame 100 comes across as another example of the ridiculous backlash J.J. Watt faces. People become inexplicably annoyed by Watt seemingly being too good and too perfect — and pretend like he doesn’t really matter that much.

Soccer superstars should have a super presence on any such worldwide rankings. After all, it’s the world’s game. And yes, the NBA carries more global reach than the NFL. But none of that completely explains the depth of Watt’s placement. ESPN has him as only the eighth most popular player in American football.

Coming in behind Tom Brady (No. 21 overall in the Top 100) is one thing. But Watt looking up at Cam Newton (No. 47), Drew Brees (No. 52), Russell Wilson (No. 55), Aaron Rodgers (No. 56 — also much too low),  Eli Manning (No. 60) and Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 64, a full 10 spots ahead of Watt) is absurd.

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ESPN claims it ran nearly 400 athletes through a formula that factors in endorsements, social media following and Google search popularly to help determine its world popularity rankings, but its own analytics often don’t even add up when it comes to Watt.

Derrick Rose, the one-time NBA MVP who wrecked his knees and now toils for a completely uninteresting Knicks team, has 2.5 million Twitter followers and he’s ranked as the 33rd most popular athlete in the world. Watt boasts 3.2 million Twitter followers and 2.5 million more on Instagram (Rose doesn’t even have an Instagram account — that’s how much time’s passed him by) and he’s 74th?

Popularity is not quite what it appears on these rankings. Watt was recognized in Ireland as far back as 2013 and he’s almost supplanted Peyton Manning himself as the Papa John’s king. His standing has been grossly underexaggerated.

James Harden, the likely NBA MVP runner-up this season, is given much more love by ESPN. Harden takes the No. 28 spot in the World Fame 100 (having dated a Kardashian always helps). That’s by far the best ranking of any Texas team sports athlete.

Dak Prescott is the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, but he’s not world famous? OK.

Jordan Spieth, the Dallas native golf star, does take the 17th overall spot. He’s somehow ahead of even Serena Williams (the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, a clear groundbreaking sports changer, is only 19th). No Dallas team sport players make the list at all.

That’s right, the Dallas Cowboys — America’s biggest sports marketing juggernaut — do not land a single player in the World Fame Top 100. No Dez Bryant. No Dak Prescott. No Ezekiel Elliott. And Tony Romo apparently lost all his fame when he went into the broadcast booth.

Even Dirk Nowitzki — the German Dallas Mavericks star who changed the way international players are viewed in the NBA — could not crack ESPN’s World Top 100. Absurd. Maybe the “worldwide leader in sports” just can’t locate Texas.

For J.J. Watt, the backlash is clearly real. This may be the first time Watt’s ever been told how unpopular he is. Even if it’s not exactly true.

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