They never make the highlight reel...
To be a wide receiver in the NFL these days, it takes a great deal of attention-whoring to actually get noticed for anything—not that there's anything wrong with that. However, it greatly detracts acknowledgment from other solid players: case in point, Arizona Cardinals' wideout Larry Fitzgerald. First of all, it's one thing to have to establish yourself at a young age in the NFL; but to have to do it on one of the shittiest and most consistently ridiculed teams is a completely different task. Fitzgerald, in only his sophomore year in the league, certainly merited recognition, finishing 2005/06 first in receptions, fourth in receiving yards, seventh in receiving touchdowns, and earning his first Pro Bowl appearance. Not to mention he's being thrown to by one of the biggest one-year-wonders in recent memory, Kurt Warner. Get an actual quarterback throwing to this guy, combine it with the fact that, at 6'3”, Fitzgerald has the extra height to make grabs over almost any defensive player, and watch his stock soar in the next few years. Yet, despite this, he never seems to come up in conversation with the rest of the league's great players. Maybe when he scores a touchdown he should bust out some of those b-boy moves.
From anyone on this year's World Series-winning Chicago White Sox squad, to every offensive lineman in any football league since the beginning of time, there are just too many athletes that never get their due. That's why my choice doesn't go to the most underrated athlete, but to the most underrated manager of all-time—the Canadian Football League Commissioner Tom Wright.
Despite the fact that he has less power than Paul Martin once had and is tasked with running a league that's as together as Ron Artest's brain, Wright has managed to drag the CFL into some sunny days. He's overseen a growth in TV revenues to all-time highs, lured new fans and ensured that attendance is up across the league. If that wasn't enough, Wright just managed to push through a new, enforceable salary cap over the discontent of a few powerful clubs.
Not a bad resumé for a guy who most fans probably can't name and wouldn't recognize if they bumped into him. Even the owners—who he's made tons of money for—have to be continually reminded of what he's done for them so they can extend his contract and not send him to the scrap heap.
Managing to keep the CFL profitable while your bosses don't know who you are? Now that's truly underrated.
I would have to say that the most underrated athlete would have to be Shaquille O'Neal—but not as a basketball player. No one is worried about this guy under the basket, but what if you're under the influence? That's right; Shaquille O'Neal is easily the world's most underrated athlete/crimefighter.
When was the last time that any of us saw an actual article chronicling Shaq-Fu—a reserve officer in the Miami police force—and his inarguably awesome ability to crush evil-doers? I mean, come on: every day you hear stories of so-called “heroes” “risking their lives” while saving “children,” but what I want to read is a blow-by-blow account of a 7'2” giant chasing down a jaywalker. Maybe when he retires from the hardcourt, he can put his size-22s down on the court of law and come out of the shadows of sports and step into his true calling: a freakishly agile 300-lb full-time cop—or better yet, a bounty hunter.