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Which State Best Commemorates Sporting Stars?

Published on February 1, 2023
Updated on August 23, 2023
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Which State Best Commemorates Sporting Stars?

Five of the top ten highest-paid athletes worldwide are playing in US sporting leagues, earning over $470 million between them in 2022. These superstars total over 225 million Instagram followers, they are instantly recognizable by many sports fans. But how well does the US immortalize its sporting stars in the form of sculptures?

In order to find out, the team here at have analyzed the Smithsonian national archive, which contains information on over 39,000 sculptures from all across the United States. The statues related to sports have been analyzed and compared against factors such as location, gender and sport.   

Taking the top spot for sporting sculptures is baseball, “America’s national pastime”. In recent years the success of the NFL and NBA has overshadowed baseball, but the sports rich history means it has a huge number of sculptures dedicated to it, over double the number dedicated to basketball. 

California Ranks Top State for Sporting Sculptures 

As the most populous US state it is no surprise that they come out on top of the sporting sculptures list. The Golden State has over 10% of the statues on the list. Despite having over 18 major sports teams across the 5 “big leagues” (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS) the largest category for sculptures in the state is Track and Field, with former athletes like 6-time medal winner Jackie Joyner-Kersee providing inspiration for sculptures.

Kansas comes out in second for their overall share of the sculptures but has the highest percentage overall for the number of female sculptures. 

Leading the way for equality is the state of Rhode Island. In the smallest state in the US, 50% of the sporting stars are female, the remaining 50% being animals, objects, or other miscellaneous depictions related to sport.

Equality in sport is a topic that is increasingly debated in the media. With female athletes often paid far less than their male counterparts, for example where a top WNBA player could earn on average salary of $100,000 their male equivalent could expect up to $8,500,00. Sporting sculptures are a display of the historical bias in sport, with four times more sculptures relating to men than women. 

Female sculptures comprise 8.5% of all sporting sculptures in the archive, only a quarter of those that are representing male sporting feats. This serves as a reminder of the need to continue to push for equality between genders in sport. A greater example of the disparity between the genders can be found in the number of animal sculptures documented in the archive.  

The number of sculptures dedicated to animals is double that of those dedicated to women. Alone this may be unsurprising, sculptures of mascots coupled with the popularity of sports like fishing mean animals play a large role in a range of US sports. This analysis highlights the gulf between the representation of genders across sporting sculptures, with bigger strides being made towards inclusivity in sport over the coming years.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe was quoted as saying “When we, as a nation, put our minds to something, when we truly choose to care about something, change always happens.” There is a growing appreciation for women’s sport in the US, and hopefully over the coming years this will be represented in its sporting sculptures.

Methodology analyzed over 650 statues listed in the Smithsonian National Archive listed as “Sport and Play”, this data was scraped and then broken down by state, sport, subject and gender. 

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