Everyone is aware how incredibly difficult it is to make it to the highest levels of professional sports. But if we look a little closer, not all states or countries are created equal when it comes to producing professional athletes.
Some states produce more athletes, at least in part, because of their large population. But what if we factor in population sizes? Even then we see that some states are more likely to produce professional athletes in certain sports than others.
Using data collected by Sports-Reference.com, we created maps for each of the four major North American sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA) that show which states and countries currently produce the most professional athletes in North America and which states and countries have produced the most all-time.
If we consider population size, California and Florida still do very well, but so do Wyoming and Mississippi. Utah, Alaska, and Wisconsin have the lowest per capita rates.
California also dominates among all-time players. However, we also see that New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania do well all-time suggesting those are former hot beds.
Once again, it is no surprise that the largest warm-weather states are the birth states for the most active NFL players.
However, if we consider population, a child in Louisiana is more likely to become an NFL player than any other state (note: Washington D.C. actually has a higher rate than Louisiana). Hawaii and South Carolina are second and third, respectively. Vermont, North Dakota, and New Hampshire have the lowest rates.
Like the all-time map for baseball, we again see that the large states in the south have produced a lot of talent, but several large states in the northeast used to be hot beds, including Pennsylvania (no. 3 all-time) and Ohio (no. 4 all-time). No state has produced fewer NFL players than Vermont.
California still dominates the NBA, but now the northern states do well with New York second and Illinois third. There are nine states with no active players.
If we consider population size, once again Louisiana leads the way. They are followed by Maryland, Washington, and Indiana. Once again, Washington DC has a higher rate than any state.
California leads historically among NBA players, but New York is a close second. Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio round out the top five. The NBA has never had a player born in the state of Vermont.
In the NHL, things start to look a lot different, with Minnesota producing the most active players. There are 26 states with no active players in the NHL.
Minnesota dominates all-time, but Massachusetts is a close second. Thirteen states have never produced an NHL player.
If we look at all four leagues combined, California has the most active professional athletes, followed by Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia. Vermont is last with just one professional athlete.
Once population is considered, no state produces professional athletes at a higher rate than Louisiana, followed by Alaska, Wyoming, and Mississippi. The bottom five are Vermont, Utah, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and New Mexico. Also, it should be noted that Washington DC has a higher rate than any state.
There are very few surprises if we consider the number of all-time professional athletes with California, Texas, and Pennsylvania on top. Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming are the bottom three.
Of course the United States is the dominant country in producing baseball players, but we also see that it is still a predominantly western hemisphere sport. Outside of the U.S., the Dominican Republic and Venezuela produce the most big leaguers.
However, if we look at the history of baseball, much of the world has been represented at one point or another, with the entire continent of Africa being a notable exception. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela also top the list of non-U.S. countries all-time. 52 different countries have produced at least one Major Leaguer.
No sport is more American than American football and yet, we can clearly see a world-wide influence among active players. However, no other country currently has more than five players in the NFL, led by Canada, Germany (possibly U.S. military children), and American Samoa.
The all-time map doesn't look much different than the active map, with Canada, Germany, American Samoa as the birth places to the most NFL players not born in the United States. In total, 92 different countries have produced at least one NFL player.
Among active NBA players, France is the leader other than the United States, followed by Brazil, Canada, and Spain.
77 different countries have produced at least one NBA player. Other than the U.S., the biggest producers of NBA talent all-time are Canada, France, and Germany.
Canada and the US still produce the most NHL players, but Sweden, Russia, and players born in either the Czech Republic or Slovakia (or the former Czechoslovakia) show a strong influence from northern Europe and Asia.
The map of active players in the four major sports leagues combined shows us just how global North American sports have become. Among active players, 72% were born in the US, 11% in Canada, followed by the Dominican Republic (4%), Venezuela (3%), Sweden (1%), and the Czech Republic or Slovakia (or the former Czechoslovakia; 1%).
Among players all-time with known birthplaces in the four major sports leagues combined, the US leads with 82%, with Canada (11%) and the Dominican Republic (1%) as the only other countries with at least 1%.
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