Being a professional athlete generally brings a decent amount of notoriety to a person, but the amount can depend on exactly how much star power he or she has. Even in the major U.S. sports, like football, basketball, and baseball (and maybe hockey), athletes might only receive mainstream attention if they become world champions, regularly appear in endorsements, or make the news for their off-field lives as well.
This means some sports figures, even ones with long careers and a decent amount of success, will go their whole tenure without becoming a household name. Some even have non-athlete wives and girlfriends (WAGs) who have attained more recognition through their acting, modeling, music or otherwise attention-garnering careers.
It’s important to note that the “athlete partners” in this list all must have active sports careers in order to qualify. They don’t have to be currently competing at the highest level of their respective sports, but they still need to be playing in some sort of career capacity. Thus, couples like Kendra Wilkinson & Hank Baskett, Misty-May Treanor & Matt Treanor, Pink & Carey Hart, and Jessica Simpson & Eric Johnson did not qualify. Couples who have divorced or separated or currently have an unclear relationship (we’re looking at you, Khloe Kardashian & Lamar Odom and/or James Harden) also did not make the cut.
What remains are 15 sports figures who, although accomplished in their own right, don’t quite match the notoriety of their significant others. These are the top 15 WAGs who are more famous than their athlete partners.
15 Paulina Gretzky
If you pay attention to golf, you probably know Dustin Johnson. He has been ranked inside the top five in all five of his years on the PGA Tour, he was third overall in last year’s Official World Golf Ranking, and he finished tied for second in the 2011 Open Championship and 2015 U.S. Open. But if you don’t watch golf, you probably only know Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and maybe Rory McIlroy.
However, you might be familiar with Dustin Johnson’s fiancee and baby mama, Paulina Gretzky, from her Instagram account, modeling gigs, acting roles, or brief music career - or maybe just from being Wayne Gretzky’s hot daughter. In one ironic instance of popping up everywhere, Paulina was featured on the cover of the May 2014 issue of Golf Digest.
14 Hayden Panettiere
Although Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko is well known for being an absolutely dominant force in the ring and the second longest reigning heavyweight champion of all time, he’s probably not be a household name. (Except in sports households.) But his fiancee of over two years, singer and Golden Globe-nominated actress Hayden Panettiere, has been slowly-but-surely taking over Hollywood with regular roles on Heroes and Nashville, a very extensive list of appearances on other shows, over two-dozen films, and even an appearance on the Billboard Music charts. Klitschko may be a legend in the sports world, but Hayden wins this bout.
13 Brooklyn Decker
If this list was written 10 years ago, tennis superstar Andy Roddick would have been one of the most famous figures in all of sports. But despite winning a Grand Slam title, 32 ATP singles titles, five ATP Masters 1000 single titles, and becoming a World No. 1 in 2003, Roddick isn’t currently nearly as famous as his wife, Sports Illustrated model and actress Brooklyn Decker, whom he married in 2009. While Decker is a regular on TV’s Grace and Frankie and has appeared on Ugly Betty, New Girl, and The League, Roddick retired from pro ball in 2012, and most recently played for the Austin Aces in World Team Tennis.
Make no mistake, FC Barcelona centre back Gerard Piqué is an accomplished soccer player who is one of only four players in history to win the UEFA Champions League two years in a row with two different teams. He also won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2012 as part of the Spain national team. Still, this is America, and no one really cares about soccer. Thus, his wife, singer/dancer/musician/model Shakira is a lot more famous to most of this country. Although the two have yet to wed, they have been a couple since 2010 or 2011 - after Piqué appeared in Shakira’s music video for “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” the official song of the 2010 World Cup - and have two kids together.
11 Nicole Scherzinger
Solo artist and former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger might not quite be a household name, but she is a grammy-nominated artist who has sold over 16 million records solo and 54 with the Pussycat Dolls in a 13-year musical career. That would arguably make her more famous than driver Lewis Hamilton, who was a Formula One World Champion, but the couple’s on-again, off-again relationship is currently dormant as of late 2015. Scherzinger is now reportedly dating another athlete, 24-year-old Bulgarian tennis player Grigor Dimitrov, whom she is also more famous than. For the record, Dimitrov is 13 years younger than Scherzinger.
10 Joanna Garcia Swisher
In his prime seasons with the New York Yankees, Nick Swisher was a well-known commodity, especially in the baseball world. Injuries and a declining performance (plus a pair of trades) have marred what appear to be the final years of Swisher’s career, but his wife’s is still continuing to heat up. JoAnna Garcia Swisher’s first regular acting role was on Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? back in the ‘90s, but she has since starred on Reba, Privileged, Better with You, Animal Practice, and The Astronaut Wives Club, along with a multitude of short stints on other shows, and a few film appearances as well.
9 Kate Upton
I was a little bit concerned that 2011 AL MVP, Cy Young, and Triple Crown winner; six-time All Star; and former Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander was more famous than supermodel Kate Upton, until my fiancée (who actually watches a respectable amount of sports) refereed to him as “Jason Verlander,” and I realized my baseball-centric mind was tainting my opinion. Being the ace starter of the Detroit Tigers isn’t as mainstream as one might think, and the Sports Illustrated cover model-turned-actress Upton is too popular now to doubt the power balance between the two, who have been dating for several years now.
8 Elisha Cuthbert
You probably know Elisha Cuthbert as the hot blonde from The Girl Next Door or Old School, or maybe as Jack Bauer’s daughter on 24 or Alex on Happy Endings, or possibly one of her numerous TV and film appearances in a variety of different roles. You probably don’t know her husband, Dion Phaneuf of the Ottawa Senators (and previously the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs), unless of course you’re a hockey fan - which, in fairness, you probably are. Elisha Cuthbert clearly is, as she previously dated former New York Rangers and Dallas Stars left wing Sean Avery for two years.
7 Kim Zolciak
Kim Zolciak found fame in 2008 as an original cast member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, who, after four seasons on the show, left for her own spin-off, Don’t Be Tardy for the Wedding (later shortened to Don’t Be Tardy). The show focused on her upcoming marriage to Atlanta Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann, with whom she now has four children (two were adopted by Biermann from Zolciak’s previous relationships). Although he’s a talented football player, Biermann is still mainly known as the husband of a Real Housewife alum and recent contestant on the 21st season of Dancing with the Stars.
6 Jessie James Decker & Eric Decker
Jets starting wide receiver Eric Decker gets a lot of time in the spotlight playing in New York, but he’s nowhere near as famous as his pop-country singer wife, Jessie James Decker. Although the two have starred in the E! reality show Eric & Jessie: Game On since 2013, Decker had already released a successful debut album back in 2009, and has since followed it up with EPs in 2014 and 2015, as well as numerous hit singles. Coincidentally, the Deckers also welcomed a daughter and son (Vivianne Rose Decker and Eric Thomas Decker II) in those same two years, respectively.
5 Iggy Azalea & Nick Young
Basketballer Nick Young was a two-time first-team all-conference selection in the Pac-10 as a member of the USC Trojans, and was drafted in the first round (16th overall) of the 2007 NBA Draft. He has since played for the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, and recently signed a four-year deal, $21.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he’s still not nearly as famous as his significant other, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, who is better known as the wildly successful rapper Iggy Azalea. The two started dating in November 2013 and announced their engagement in June 2015.
4 Erin Andrews & Jarret Stoll
NHL center Jarret Stoll has played for the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, and Minnesota Wild, and won two Stanley Cups in his 14-year professional hockey career, but his girlfriend, sportscaster and Dancing with the Stars co-host Erin Andrews, regularly appears in games for America’s most popular sport, football, and often covers the Super Bowl. Winning hockey’s biggest series is a very respectable accomplishment, but covering the biggest sports event in the country will undoubtedly get one a lot more exposure, notoriety, and fame (and creepy stalkers). The two have been dating for over three years.
3 Julianne Hough & Brooks Laich
If dancer, singer, and actress Julianne Hough had continued dating Ryan Seacrest, her boyfriend from 2010-2013, she might not be considered more famous (and wouldn’t make this list, since Seacrest isn’t an athlete). However, in 2014, the two-time professional champion of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars began dating Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich, who, outside of the hockey world, is not nearly as well known. The two announced their engagement on August 18, 2015, the same year Hough won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Choreography for DWTS, and less than a year after she was named a permanent judge on the show.
2 Jamie-Lynn Sigler & Cutter Dykstra
Jamie-Lynn Sigler is best known for her breakout role as Meadow Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos, but she has since followed it up with regular roles on Entourage, Ugly Betty, and Guys with Kids, in addition to numerous smaller TV roles, and some film ones as well. Although she previously dated celebrities like Entourage’s Jerry Ferrara and NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez, Sigler is currently married to Cutter Dykstra. Cutter, like his father, former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets center fielder Lenny Dykstra, is also a baseball player, who currently suits up for the triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
1 Carrie Underwood
Ever since winning the fourth season of American Idol, Carrie Underwood has been an unstoppable force in the music world, releasing five record-breaking albums that sold over 65 million copies, while earning seven Grammys and well over $110 million. To illustrate the fame differential between Underwood and her husband, Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher, when Fisher was traded away from the Ottawa Senators in 2011, a local radio station jokingly announced they would stop playing Underwood’s music in protest. In the resulting public relations fiasco, the station had to stress they were only kidding after an outpouring of threats by loyal country listeners.