An athlete can have many reasons for wanting to leave their current team. Typically, one would weigh all the factors before making a decision that will be the best for his or her future. However, in many cases, players have left their current clubs to play for a bitter rival. These moves can alienate players from fans of their former clubs. Switching sides in a rivalry is a surefire way to lose fans that are loyal to teams rather than individual players. In our current age of instant reaction on social media, the potential response in these situations can be overwhelming.
Loyalty is a quality that is fading in the modern sports environment, and as time goes on, changing teams is becoming less controversial. These moves usually only cause a scandal when players betray the goodwill they have earned at a team by leaving for their bitter enemy. Athletes can be motivated by a better chance at winning a championship, increased playing time, or a raise in salary. The motivation for these moves are rarely considered by fans that feel let down by players they once respected.
LeBron James learned his lesson after moving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers for the sunny shores of South Beach. Although, he likely could have handled the decision in a better manner, so too could the fans of Cleveland, who burned his jersey in effigy. LeBron can no longer be considered a traitor because Cleveland will soon be celebrating his return. Here are 20 players that still hold the mark of a traitor and have turned their backs on fan bases that once showed them love.
20 Chris Chelios – Hockey
Chris Chelios was the heart and soul of the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1990s. He earned two James Norris Memorial Trophies as the league’s best defenseman during his tenure with the club. Chelios’ fiercest opponents on the ice were the Detroit Red Wings, and Detroit enjoyed a period of dominance during his tenure in Chicago. In 1999, he was shockingly traded to the Red Wings and spent the next nine seasons with the Red Wings. When he was eventually honored by the Blackhawks during his heritage night, he pleaded with Hawks fans to bury the hatchet.
19 Brian Kelly – Football
Brian Kelly repeatedly promised that he would remain the coach of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. However, he jumped ship when offered the head coaching position at Notre Dame. After a regular season during which the Bearcats finished with a perfect 12-0 record and a Big East title, Kelly left them in a stunning move. He became instantly ridiculed by fans of the team and was required to pay $1 million to the University of Cincinnati for breaching his contract with the institution.
18 Wade Boggs – Baseball
Despite playing eleven of the eighteen seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Red Sox, Wade Boggs’ number 26 will likely never be retired by the club. That is because in 1992, following a season where Boggs’ batting average slumped to well below .300, he made the decision to join the New York Yankees. He was lured to New York by a multi-million dollar contract offer, which included a third year, which he had not been offered by any other club. Boggs went on to win the World Series in 1996 with the Yankees and is recognized as one of the most controversial players in the history of the rivalry.
17 Johnny Damon – Baseball
Johnny Damon was a central figure in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse when the team broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the club’s first World Series since 1918. 2004 was a magical year that saw the Red Sox overcome a 3-0 lead built up by the Yankees in the American League Championship series. Damon hit two home runs in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, but two seasons later broke the hearts of Red Sox fans when he signed with the Yankees. Damon went on to win the 2009 World Series with New York, but will always be remembered as a member of “The Idiots.”
16 Deion Sanders – Football
Deion Sanders has played on both sides of two heated NFL rivalries. The two sport star first crossed rivalry lines when he left the Atlanta Falcons to play for the division rival San Francisco 49ers. Following his stint with the Niners, he joined the Dallas Cowboys where he won the second Super Bowl of his career. Approaching the twilight of his career, Neon Deion seized an opportunity to play for the Cowboys’ division rivals in Washington, but did not find similar success.
15 Brett Favre – Football
Brett Favre’s retirement saga was an epic narrative that spanned several NFL seasons. After playing almost the entirety of his career with the Green Bay Packers, he was ousted in 2007 for the much younger Aaron Rodgers. Favre played one season with the New York Jets before he turned on the Green Bay faithful by joining the division rival Minnesota Vikings. The final moments of Favre’s storied NFL career took place behind the porous Vikings offensive line and during those two seasons Packers fans celebrated another Super Bowl victory.
14 Karl Malone – Basketball
Karl Malone played 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz, where he had a historic career that included a finals appearance where the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. In his 19th and final season, he left Utah to chase a title with the superstar filled Los Angeles Lakers. Despite a bevy of stars including Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers were defeated by the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Malone retired after the season without an NBA Championship ring, and is possibly the greatest basketball player to never win a Championship.
13 Nick Saban – Football
College football in the Southeast Conference is one of the most intense and passionate aspects of American sport. Nick Saban left LSU after the 2004 season to pursue an opportunity with the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. Following two uneventful seasons with the Dolphins, Saban jumped at an opportunity to coach LSU’s conference rivals Alabama, despite flatly denying rumors that he would not take the job. Saban went on to build Alabama into the powerhouse they currently are and has won 3 National Championships with the Crimson Tide.
12 Adam Vinatieri – Football
Adam Vinatieri endeared himself to New England Patriots fans forever when he nailed a field goal in the snow that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl. He was a crucial, and often decisive, factor in games during his time with the Patriots and helped the team win three Super Bowls. After the 2005 season, the New England decided not to place the franchise tag on Vinatieri, so he left when offered a contract with the Indianapolis Colts, without allowing New England to match or better the offer. That season, Vinatieri helped the Colts and Peyton Manning win a Super Bowl, the fourth of his NFL career.
11 Bill Belichick – Football
When Bill Parcells stepped down as the head coach of the New England Patriots, many expected that he would become the new head coach of the New York Jets. An injunction by Patriots owner Robert Kraft temporarily blocked Parcells from becoming their coach, so the Jets named his assistant, Bill Belichick as their head coach. Four days later, Parcells was hired by the Jets and Belichick was demoted. Then, when Parcells moved to upper management, he hand-picked Belichick as the Jets' new head coach. At the press conference to announce the move, Belichick resigned as the Jets head coach only to join the Patriots in 2000, where he has helped build a football dynasty that lasts to this day. This is a pretty confusing story, but he did cross the line twice...
10 Harry Redknapp – Soccer
Harry Redknapp has thoroughly exercised his ability to jump from club to club during his career as a football manager. He joined Southampton from their coastal rivals Portsmouth, only to rejoin Portsmouth after leading Southampton to relegation. He betrayed West Ham United, a team he played for and managed, when he joined their London rivals Tottenham. He then turned his back on Spurs fans by joining Queens Park Rangers, who he promptly led to relegation and then back to the Premier League.
9 Roger Clemens – Baseball
Roger Clemens was practically Mr. Red Sox during the first thirteen seasons of his legendary Major League career. The Rocket won 3 Cy Young Awards with the Sox, and it came as quite a shock to Boston fans when he decided to join their most hated rival, the New York Yankees following a two year stint with the Toronto Blue Jays (another rival). He was a major contributor to the World Series winning Yankees teams of 1999 and 2000. Despite this betrayal, the Red Sox continue to honor Clemens by not reissuing his #21.
8 Marian Hossa – Hockey
Marian Hossa was a trade deadline acquisition by the Pittsburgh Penguins and he helped them make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were beaten by the Detroit Red Wings. Hossa was a free agent in the offseason and made the shameful decision to switch sides to the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. He was unsuccessful in finding a Cup with Detroit (as they lost to Pittsburgh in the Finals - go figure), so he switched once again to their Original 6 rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. In Chicago, Hossa finally hoisted the Stanley Cup above his head, at the expense of alienating two fan bases that once supported him.
7 Sol Campbell – Soccer
Sol Campbell became one of the most hated figures in the history of football when he left Tottenham after nearly ten years with the club, for their bitter London rivals, Arsenal. He was labeled as a Judas by the White Hart Lane faithful for leaving the club on a free transfer to their biggest rival after repeatedly assuring fans that he was staying with Tottenham. He stated the reason for the move was to play in the Champions League. He won two Premier League titles with Arsenal and was a member of their team of Invincibles that would go undefeated during the 2003-04 campaign. He was never able to shake the label of a traitor.
6 Carlos Tevez – Soccer
Carlos Tevez has been the subject of several controversial transfers. The circumstances surrounding his arrival in England were dubious enough, but he created another uproar when he left Manchester United for their nearby rivals Manchester City. He had won two Premier League titles and a Champions League title with United, but was lured away by the temptation of a big money contract. Tevez was eventually able to find success with City and helped them win the 2011-12 league title.
5 Robert Irsay – Football
Robert Irsay is the culprit of one of the most dastardly moves in NFL history. He famously moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. The dispute with Baltimore began when the city would not finance improvements to Memorial Stadium. When the Maryland State Legislature voted to seize the team from Irsay, he moved them suddenly. Baltimore did not have a professional football team for 12 years, before they were able to steal away the Cleveland Browns, in a move remarkably similar to the one Irsay orchestrated.
4 Kenny Miller – Soccer
There are few rivalries in sports that have had the length, intensity, and controversy of the Old Firm Derby between Celtic and Rangers of the Scottish Premiership. Miller is one of few players to have ever played on both sides of the rivalry. He started with Rangers, and after scoring 8 goals for the club, joined Celtic, but Kenny was not done and would return to Rangers for two additional terms. He is only one of five post-war footballers to play on both sides of the derby.
3 Art Modell – Football
Art Modell instigated one of the most treacherous betrayals in the history of sports by moving the Cleveland Browns from the Forest City to Baltimore. Modell engaged in secret negotiations to relocate the team when it became apparent the city of Cleveland would not build his organization a new stadium. The City of Cleveland then sued the Cleveland Browns, and it was agreed that the franchise would be deactivated until their reinstatement in 1999. The Baltimore Ravens went on to win Super Bowl XXXV. Cleveland still waits for their first.
2 Terrell Owens – Football
Terrell Owens was a football player that never strayed far from the spotlight or controversy. During his early years in San Francisco, he scored a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys and ran to the 50-yard line of Texas Stadium, where he spiked the ball on the star. He then joined Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles, where they fell just short of winning the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. The following season, in the midst of a contract dispute, T.O. did sit-ups in his driveway during a holdout. When T.O. and the Eagles parted ways, he quickly joined their fiercest rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, where he racked up 3 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and became the most hated sports figure in Philadelphia.
1 Luis Figo – Soccer
El Clasico is the biggest rivalry in the world’s most popular sport. Real Madrid and Barcelona are bitter rivals that meet several times each season and almost every match is a dramatic, exciting affair. That drama grew when Figo left Barcelona to join Real Madrid for a then-record £37.5 million. When Figo returned to the Camp Nou, he was showered with projectiles from the fans that once chanted his name. The following season, he won the La Liga title with Madrid and earned the Ballon D’Or award. The hatred of Figo rose to a fever pitch when Barca fans littered the pitch with debris that included a severed pig’s head, while he attempted to take a corner kick.