Athleticism is a highly desired trait in men. Additionally, it is a heritable trait so it is not difficult to imagine why many women might find male athletes highly desirable (beyond their fame and fortune). Anecdotally, it would seem that many soccer players are quite good-looking (e.g., David Beckham—top left, Cristiano Ronaldo—top right, David Ginola—bottom left, Paolo Maldini—bottom right, and Gad Saad). That said, are better players more attractive than their less talented counterparts? The theoretical link works as follows: Male athleticism is likely correlated with morphological features judged to be attractive in a man (e.g., facial features that are more masculinized due to greater exposure to testosterone). If so, the more athletic a given individual, the more physically attractive he might actually be.
Kevin M. Williams, Justin H. Park, and Martijn B. Wieling recently published a paper in Personality and Individual Differences in which they explored this exact issue using NFL quarterbacks as their data set. Specifically, in each of two studies, thirty Dutch women (who are unlikely to be familiar with the quarterbacks in question) viewed photos of NFL quarterbacks and rated their facial attractiveness on a 1-10 "very unattractive" to "very attractive" scale (30 quarterbacks in the preliminary study and 58 in the larger follow-up). These attractiveness scores were subsequently correlated to the official quarterback ratings (composite metric that captures a quarterback's efficiency). In the first study, the correlation was 0.31 (p < .05) whereas in the second larger study the coefficient for the attractiveness score (via a hierarchical regression) was 0.23 (p < .05). Bottom line: Better performing NFL quarterbacks are indeed judged as better looking.
The current study accords with a finding that I discussed in my recently-released trade book The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature (chapter 10), namely better-looking NFL quarterbacks received higher salaries (see here). It is financially rewarding to be handsome and dashing (an instantiation of the beauty premium)!
Source for Images:
Photo of Gad Saad taken by Anna Gunaratnam