“I think there’s something innately heroic about sports stars. Movie stars act the part of people who are cool under fire, but there’s the sense that there’s no there there,” says Jake Halpern, the author of Fame Junkies. “[Athletes] display real grit in a way men are expected to.”

Perhaps even more important, in a time when the definition of fame has become more elastic than an offensive lineman’s waistband, encompassing everything from humiliating yourself on TV to just dating as many women as possible (is Wilmer Valderrama really famous, really?), athletes are not only among the few truly worldwide icons, they also have real, tangible skills that go beyond appearing at parties or in Us Weekly and Star. They get up in the morning and go to work. A low threshold to be sure, but this might be as close to a reliable man as a girl can get while still basking in some degree of glamour, power, and money.

“If you’re an actress and want someone at the top of their game who looks fantastic, you go with an athlete,” Halpern says.

On the face of it, the rise of the sports star as the new leading man is alarming, not to mention deeply unfair for the rest of us. It’s one thing to come to terms with rock stars screwing actresses. If the Tom Bradys of the world, who are supposed to get the girls in high school, grow up and just keep on getting the girls . . . well, what’s to keep our nation’s drama geeks and pimply, “Stairway to Heaven”–practicing losers from giving up hope altogether? But maybe there’s another way to look at it. Are the prospects for the rest of us better served by the success of preening, paparazzi-chasing weenies? It can’t be an entirely bad thing when accomplishment—even of the most basic, physical variety—starts to be rewarded again; there has to be some kind of trickle-down effect. After all, there’s only so much Clooney to go around.