Third, an athlete played well in the clutch, especially in championship games. While this is undeniably an important trait in any great athlete, sometimes these feats can overshadow an athlete's otherwise inconsistent career. An example of this is Reggie Jackson, who is overrated by the non-serious baseball fans.
Fourth, the athlete is currently playing. Obviously, because their feats are still fresh in people's minds and they were seen by everyone (i.e., the people currently doing the ratings), young or old.
Fifth, an athlete is physically attractive. No explanation is necessary here unless you are under the age of six, from another planet, or a Paris Hilton fan.
Sixth, the athlete has a charming personality. Almost everyone overrates people they like in life, and that includes athletes.
Seventh, an athlete is smooth, stylish, or just plain exciting to watch when he plays. This one, I think, is more complicated than it appears.
Generally, when an athlete is pleasing to watch, the person watching will like that athlete more and subconsciously rate him or her a little higher than he or she should be rated. However, when an athlete goes beyond stylish and into the realm of fancy, i.e., a " hot dog", now that athlete becomes overrated by the casual fan because that fan thinks, "wow (!), if he can do that he must be great."
This concept becomes more complicated in the case of a very exciting player who is not necessarily fancy, but just very gifted athletically. The serious fan, in an attempt to display his perceived superior intelligence and knowledge, sometimes AUTOMATICALLY thinks of this type of athlete as being overrated because he "knows," more so than the casual fan, that being an exciting player to watch does not make that athlete great.
The truth is actually somewhere in between, depending how fundamentally sound and consistent the athlete in question is when he performs. When an athlete is fundamentally sound and his stylish play does not affect his performance, I think the athlete becomes underrated by some serious fans who are misguided, but well-intentioned.
For example, people who are not Michael Jordan fans think he is overrated because they think the casual fans overrate him because they were influenced by his spectacular dunks and drives to the basket. However, people who follow basketball closely know that Jordan was extremely fundamentally sound and probably the most consistent player in the history of the NBA. Hence, Jordan, ironically, is actually underrated by some people.
However, an athlete who is fancy and not fundamentally sound deserves to be labeled as overrated. I do not know which athlete is the best example of someone who is overrated because they had "flash without substance," so I will just leave that thought up to you.
Eighth, the player excels offensively, and in relevant sports, is not a good defender. Lots of examples of this one—fans and the media love players who score.
I refrained from giving you a definitive overrated athletes list for the reasons stated above, but I will talk about someone else's underrated list, because at least this is a positive list, and more importantly, the athletes on the list provide good examples of why and how athletes become underrated. (With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, all the athletes below that I use as examples were on the list.)
ESPN Classic's "Who's No. 1: Most Underrated" series came out in 2006, and they listed and profiled 20 athletes, with Stan Musial coming in first and Otto Graham second. There were nine baseball players, four football players, three basketball players, two boxers, one tennis player, and one golfer.
Notice that 16 of the athletes came from team sports and only four from individual sports (see above). Also notice that there are nine (!) baseball players on the list. I do not think the only reason for this is because baseball is popular in the US—otherwise there would probably be an equal number of football players (or close to it) on the list.
I think it is because, as I alluded to above, baseball players have very little influence over whether their team wins a World Series. Hence, a baseball player could be truly great and not win any championships (unlikely in basketball). No championships, no publicity, and ultimately, no full appreciation of the player's talents.
Athletes get underrated when one or more specific things occur. (Not surprisingly, most of the reasons are the opposite of the reasons why athletes are overrated.) First, they play most or all of their career in a small market, and as a result they get less publicity and are seen by fewer people. Examples include baseball players Stan Musial and Hank Aaron, and basketball players George Gervin and Bob Pettit.
Second, they did not play on any (or maybe on only one) championship teams for reasons already discussed. The same four players are still good examples, and there are many more.
Third, a player does not perform well in the postseason and/or in the clutch. It is even worse if the athlete plays in New York, for example, Alex Rodriguez. While the player deserves to be criticized for not performing well at these times, sometimes the criticism is so intense that the player's career regular season accomplishments start to become overlooked.
Fourth, the athlete played a long time ago and/or in the sport's infancy. It is hard to know for sure how great someone was if you never saw them play, or in some cases, never even heard of them. Good examples of this are football players Otto Graham and Don Hutson, baseball player Lefty Grove, Musial, and Pettit.
Fifth, a player is physically unattractive. I will leave any examples up to you for this one.
Sixth, the player had a not so charming personality. Again, this one is on you.
Seventh, the player was not so pleasing to watch. Players who are workmanlike and are not particularly stylish almost always get underrated, since they do not draw attention to themselves. Many of the players listed above would fall into this category, although certainly not Gervin or Rodriguez.
Eighth, a player is known more for his defense than his offense. Defense just does not get as much publicity and is not as glamorous. For example, basketball player Joe Dumars.
It is tough to know for sure if an athlete is actually underrated or overrated, and if he is, then why. Perhaps this article will clear things up a little. Or, perhaps not.