The popularity of professional athletes is at an all-time high. As time goes on, athletes live more and more of their lives under the watchful eye of the media and public. This attention can bring them fortune and fame at levels that were not enjoyed by previous generations of professional athletes. This attention can also be detrimental to an athlete when their actions on the field and in the public eye are found to be unacceptable to the general public.
In the age of social media, 24-hour sports television networks, and the relentless pursuits of the sports media, athletes are essentially public figures. Athletes that live their lives in full view of the public must be on their best behavior almost all the time. For their troubles athletes are compensated with multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals that allow them to accumulate substantial levels of wealth. While hundreds of athletes live by this standard routinely, several have made this list for outlandish behavior that has seen their reputations irreparably damaged.
With daily fantasy games rising in popularity and sports enjoying an increasingly large part of everyday conversation, people are constantly searching for new information on athletes. On any given day the top trending topics on Google and Twitter will invariably involve some type of athletic event. Phenomenal performances on the field of play, entertaining press conferences, stories from athletes’ personal lives, and legal indiscretions all fuel fans desire to find the latest breaking stories. All of these factors have contributed to these men being the most trending athletes in the world for the year of 2014.
10 Richard Sherman – Football
Richard Sherman is undeniably one of the best cornerbacks in the National Football League, but that is only part of the reason that he appears on this list. Sherman shocked the world when he delivered the post-game interview of the century after a playoff victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The dreadlocked Sherman channeled the spirit of "Macho Man" Randy Savage while delivering a fantastic interview with Erin Andrews where he lays into Michael Crabtree.
Sherman followed this up with a dominant performance in a Super Bowl victory. During the 2014 NFL season, he appeared in a press conference with teammate Doug Baldwin, where the duo lambasted the NFL policies and blatant double standards. He has done all of this with the intelligence and insight that one would expect from a Stanford graduate and high school salutatorian. He was one of the NFL’s breakout stars of 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down.
9 Michael Phelps – Swimming
We are still nearly two years away from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, but that has not stopped Michael Phelps from becoming one of the most searched athletes of 2014. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, but has not received attention for the right reasons in 2014. He was arrested in September for driving under the influence and speeding in Baltimore, but should manage to avoid jail time for his second D.U.I. offense. Phelps spent time in rehab and was released in the wake of another shocking story, when it was revealed his girlfriend Taylor Lianne Chandler was originally born intersex. In the wake of these back-to-back scandals, Phelps decided to take some time away from the pool to focus on his personal life.
8 Guillermo Ochoa – Soccer
Guillermo Ochoa has been the first choice Mexican National Team goalkeeper for several years now, but 2014 was the year that he has achieved super stardom. Ochoa had a fantastic 2014 World Cup, where he made many unbelievable saves, including an absolutely heroic performance against Brazil. Ochoa was a free agent after his contract expired and he was certainly an in demand target for clubs before finally signing with La Liga’s Malaga. As we approach the opening of the January transfer window, Ochoa has been linked with a transfer to Liverpool to replace the struggling Simon Mingolet. 2014 has certainly been a fantastic year for Memo.
7 Jules Bianchi – Formula One
After making his debut in Formula One in 2013, Jules Bianchi scored both his first points in a Formula One Race at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. His Formula One season came to an abrupt end during the Japan Grand Prix. The conditions were poor due to rain, which caused the track to become slick and Bianchi did not slow sufficiently as he approached a corner. Bianchi’s speed sent him crashing into a crane that was removing the vehicle of Adrian Sutil, who had crashed one lap prior. Bianchi suffered a severe head injury, including some time spent in a medically induced coma. He has since returned to Nice, France, where he continues to remain unconscious.
6 Mario Gotze – Soccer
Mario Gotze has had a fantastic 2014. After transferring to Bayern Munich in 2013, Gotze earned both Bundesliga and DFB Pokal trophies. During the summer, he helped lead the German National Team to a World Cup triumph in Brazil, where he scored a spectacular volley in the final against Argentina to give his team the win. Gotze also featured on the cover of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 2015. His tremendous play has continued with Bayern Munich this season, where he has scored seven goals in only 16 Bundesliga matches.
5 Neymar – Soccer
While Neymar was unable to lead the Brazilian National Team to a World Cup title in his home country of Brazil, he certainly was able to win the hearts and minds of much of the public. Neymar was Brazil’s talismanic attacking player at this summer’s tournament, where he scored four goals in only five matches. Sadly, his tournament was cut short due to a vicious aerial challenge from Juan Carlos Zuniga, which left Neymar with a fractured vertebrae. Despite falling short of his ultimate goal, Neymar inspired a nation and sealed his status as one of the greatest footballers in the world.
4 Luis Suarez – Soccer
Luis Suarez made headlines in 2014 for all of the wrong reasons. After leading Liverpool to a surprise title challenge, falling just short in the final days of the Premier League season, Suarez began a controversial summer. During the World Cup match between Uruguay and Italy, Suarez decided to bite the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini. For this unconscionable action, he received a nine-match ban, the longest in World Cup history, and missed the remainder of the tournament. Suarez was then the target of a £75 million transfer to FC Barcelona, where he has struggled to find his goalscoring form. Suarez is undeniably skilled, but his penchant for poor behavior makes him one of the sport’s biggest villains.
3 Ray Rice – Football
Ray Rice has been yet another athlete that earned a spot in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. In March, Rice was arrested for third-degree aggravated assault for punching his fiancé Janae in the face during an argument in a casino elevator. For this offense, he originally received a two-game suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. However, when video emerged of the incident in September, Rice was suspended indefinitely due to the uproar caused. As a result of the public backlash, the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract. So far, no team has been willing to take a risk on signing the free agent Rice, and he continues to be unemployed.
2 Michael Schumacher – Formula One
Despite being a retired Formula One driver, Michael Schumacher remains a part of the news headlines and the world’s internet searches. Last December, Schumacher suffered a severe head injury, while skiing in the French Alps. Schumacher suffered the injury as a result of hitting his head on a rock, and doctors claim he would have been killed if he had not been wearing a helmet. Schumacher spent several months in a medically induced coma before being released to his home on Lake Geneva. According to sources, he remains unable to speak and is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He also suffered a financial blow when several of his sponsors revoked their financial support.
1 James Rodriguez – Soccer
No player shined brighter at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil than Colombia’s James Rodriguez. The talented attacking midfielder displayed his skill throughout the tournament, and he scored one of the most sensational goals in the history of the tournament. Rodriguez captured the hearts of fans when he accepted an aerial pass of his chest, played the ball down to his left foot and struck a magnificent volley off the crossbar and into the goal. It was a stunning display of footballing genius and one of the six goals that he would score at the tournament.
He followed up his amazing tournament with an €80 million transfer to Real Madrid, where he now dons the #10 jersey, carrying on the legacy of Zinedine Zidane and Ferenc Puskas. He has had an immediate positive impact on Real Madrid, scoring five goals and helping the team to an incredible start to their La Liga campaign. In a year where many of the most trending athletes earned attention for the wrong reason, James can do no wrong.