The football trading season has just ended, leaving a lot of traded players with paychecks that are grossly obscene, far in excess by several orders of magnitude for what is reasonable for any game. (I'm talking about real football here...the thing with the round ball that you kick...) In England alone they spent 630 million pounds on football players. That comes to something just short of one billion dollars.
So are these guys the richest athletes ever? Actually, no.
The richest athlete of all time is a Roman chariot racer, one Gaius Appuleius Diocles.
Diocles was an illiterate Spanish lad who, it turned out, was really, really good at driving chariots. He joined the White Faction at age 18. Romans devoutly supported one of four teams: the Reds, Whites, Blues and Greens. Fans regularly rioted over which team was best. Diocles didn't care. He raced for the Whites for some years, then moved to the Greens, and ended his career with the Reds. In that time he had 1,462 victories from 4,257 starts. But that doesn't tell the full story, because most of his races were against other top-of-the-line racers. His standard was to race four horse teams, but he was also one of the first to race a seven horse chariot without a yoke (the mind boggles).
Then as now, crazed sports fans loved statistics, all of which they engraved on his memorial. Diocles seems to have worked out what all modern racers know: that the start matters a lot. In 815 of his victories he led from the start. It was clearly his strategy to make sure he led at the first turn. In another 502 he won at the last moment in a neck-and neck race. In only 67 did he come from the back to win. When he didn't win, he came second 861 times and third 576 times.
His total winnings, listed on his monument that was erected by his admiring fans, amounted to 35,863,120 sesterces. Someone once tried to convert that to modern currency by comparing it with army pay Roman vs modern. It comes to about 15 billion dollars, overwhelmingly the richest athlete ever.