In 2014, sports fans were treated to quite a few exceptional athletic performances. Championships were captured, records were set, milestones were achieved, and miraculous athletic feats were recorded.
However, you won’t find any of those moments on this specific end-of-year list. That’s because this one is reserved for the most hated athletes of 2014.
Sports fans love to despise athletes, especially those who play for a rival team, school, or nation. In truth, it’s part of what makes sporting events so engrossing and emotional. But there are a few athletes who take this hatred to another level, either due to their particular style of competition or for their revolting activities away from the sporting venues. Also, modern technology has made it easier to abhor athletes. Every shortcoming is recorded on video and splashed across the Internet almost instantly. In other words, more people can “fall in hate” with a member of the sporting community faster than ever before.
In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile athletes who fought for the mantle of “most reviled person of the year (MRPOTY?).” Like baseball betting manager Pete Rose in 1989, alleged wife killer O.J. Simpson in 1994, or coach choker Latrell Sprewell in 1997. More recently, there was Michael Vick (dogfighting) in 2007, Tiger Woods (adultery) in 2009; and Ben Roethlisberger (alleged sexual assaulter), Floyd Mayweather (alleged domestic abuser), and LeBron James (Miami-bolting, publicity-seeking glory hound) in 2010.
But this list compiles only those 15 individuals who pegged the despicableness meter during this past calendar year, whether it be within a particular fan base or on a national or international basis. Here are the most hated athletes for 2014:
15. Shaun White
What? How can anyone hate a guy whose nickname is The Flying Tomato? Evidently, the Olympian snowboard trickster isn’t winning any popularity contests with his fellow competitors. A big reason is because of the sport’s laid-back, we’re-all-dudes vibe that naturally clashes with the medal-seeking nature of the Winter Olympics. It doesn’t help White that he made the 2014 U.S. team as a slopestylist, then pulled out of the event days before it was held so he could focus on succeeding in the halfpipe – in which he finished off of the medal podium.
14. Adrien Broner
Boxing fans are keenly aware of the in-your-face persona of the three-time world champion. The current junior welterweight and part time rapper has an impressive 29-1 pro boxing record, but he rubs people the wrong way with his prominent gold teeth, gaudy apparel choices, and over-the-top antics. Even when he won a unanimous decision over Emmanuel Taylor in September, the crowd in his hometown of Cincinnati produced a decidedly mixed response.
13. Lolo Jones
Much of the disdain toward the dual sport Olympian stems from her popularity off the track. The hurdler/bobsledder boasts some 408,000 Twitter followers, and she receives an inordinate amount of press for someone who has never medaled in the Olympic games. Two bobsledders who were left off this year’s Sochi team implied as much when they expressed their displeasure about not making the cut. It may not help that Jones, a professed Christian, posed nude in ESPN The Magazine; or that she complained about Olympians’ meager paychecks despite her comfortable endorsement deals.
12. Dwight Howard
The NBA power forward is probably well-liked by Rockets fans, but his fellow ballers have a different take on Howard. It may not be surprising that Howard and Kobe Bryant had an on-court skirmish in October after which Kobe called his former teammate “soft.” But even Thunder star Kevin Durant, who isn’t known for talking trash, saw fit to call Howard a “p****” during a game in November. Former NBA standout Gary Payton has stated he thinks Howard “is getting on players’ nerves.”
11. Alex Ovechkin
No, the fans in Washington aren’t the ones who dislike the 13-year Capitals veteran. However his fellow Russians were none too pleased with Ovechkin’s performance in February’s Winter Olympic games in Sochi. With “home ice” advantage in the tournament, Russian hockey fans had high hopes for an ice hockey medal; but Ovechkin could only manage a goal and an assist during his team’s five Olympic matches as Team Russia fell in the quarterfinals to Finland.
10. Brazilian Men’s Soccer Team
Similarly, the soccer-crazed Brazilians had visions of World Cup championship dancing in their heads as the international tournament came to the South American nation this summer. They should have seen the event’s first score – an own goal off the foot of Brazil’s Marcelo – as an omen of things to come. Brazil only won its group on goal differential, and then needed penalty kicks to advance to the quarterfinals. But the world will remember the semifinal match against Germany in Belo Horizonte, where the Germans took a 5-0 lead in the first 30 minutes and proceeded to eliminate (and humiliate) the host nation 7-1 on its way to a World Cup title.
9. Adrian Peterson
Why isn’t the Minnesota Vikings’ running back higher up on this list? Maybe it’s because that, rightly or wrongly, many Americans didn’t see his actions as inappropriate (or at least felt he was punished too severely). When it came to light in August that Peterson had beaten his four-year old son with a switch for misbehaving, a large segment of the public vilified the NFL superstar. He was benched by the Vikings and eventually suspended by the league for the entire season, and pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of injury to a child.
8. Johnny Manziel
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was riding high as 2014’s NFL Draft approached, but saw his bubble burst after he slipped to number 22. Then after some high-profile partying over the summer which threw up red flags in the Browns’ organization, Manziel failed to win the starting job in Cleveland during preseason camp. When he finally did get a chance to play late in the season, he put up subpar numbers. Then he went out partying on the Friday night before Cleveland’s last game and missed the next day’s team meetings. Even Manziel recognized that he needed to stop “looking like a jackass.”
7. Arjen Robben
The typical American sports fan is now saying, “Who?” Footy fans worldwide view Robben as the perpetuator of that shameful soccer stereotype: the shameless flopper. That’s because Robben executed arguably the most pivotal dive in this year’s World Cup, when he “tripped” over the leg of Mexico’s Rafa Marquez in injury time, thereby earning the Netherlands a penalty kick and an eventual victory in the Round of 16. Dutch fans cringed a bit, Mexican fans were outraged, and soccer lost a bit more of its dignity.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s not so much the Dbacks players as it is their bosses – namely manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers. Both have earned a reputation for supporting or encouraging Arizona pitchers to throw at opposing batters (Towers even trotted out the “eye for an eye” mantra). In May, it was Gibson who fist-bumped Evan Marshall after the reliever plunked Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. Then in August, after Dbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt had his hand broken (and season ended) by a pitch from Pittsburgh’s Ernesto Frieri, it probably wasn’t coincidental that reigning league MVP Andrew McCutchen got pegged in the back the following night by Arizona’s Randall Delgado. Many baseball insiders view the Diamondbacks as the dirtiest team in the major leagues.
5. Luis Suarez
Call him the Mike Tyson of international soccer. During the World Cup group stage, the Uruguayan striker inexplicably decided to chomp on the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. Though the referee didn’t see it, soccer officials did – and since Suarez had previously bitten two other opponents, he was banned from the soccer pitch for the next four months. The hatred for Suarez intensified after he inked a 75 million euro deal to play for Barcelona the following month.
4. Jameis Winston
To some college football cynics, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner represents all that is wrong with the world of college football. Back in 2012, he allegedly raped a young woman at his apartment, but the situation was mishandled by college administrators and Winston was never charged or disciplined. This year, he skipped out on an FSU code-of-conduct hearing a month after stealing some crab legs from a supermarket. Finally in September, he was suspended for a game after reportedly jumping up on a table in the student cafeteria and shouting an expletive-laden phrase. Mix in the envy of Florida State haters, and you’ve got a quarterback who is a lightning rod for vitriol.
3. Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod could have made this list in many of the previous years. Rodriguez climbed into the top three in ’14 by virtue of being slapped with a season-long suspension less than two weeks into the calendar year. The Yankee infielder was given the longest non-lifetime ban in baseball history based on what the league called “overwhelming evidence” of Rodriguez’s use of performance-enhancing substances and his attempts to hinder MLB investigations into the matter. A-Rod eventually admitted to using PEDs to federal officials in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
2. Ray Rice
As bad as Rice’s assault on his fiancee (now wife) was, the fact that it was caught on surveillance camera video was equally responsible for the former Raven’s rise to “most-hated-American” status. Four days after being arrested in Atlantic City in February for assault, footage from the Revel Casino’s cameras revealed Rice dragging a limp Janay Palmer out of an elevator by her hair. It didn’t help matters that Rice was originally suspended for only two games by the NFL before commissioner Roger Goodell made the suspension indefinite – a move which came only after elevator video was released showing the 212-pound Rice striking Palmer in the face. It remains to be seen whether Rice will ever play football again.
1. Oscar Pistorius
Even though Ray Rice assaulted his significant other, at least he didn’t kill her like Pistorius did. In 2013 (on Valentine’s Day), the “Blade Runner” shot and killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his South African home. Pistorius claimed he thought he was firing at an intruder, but prosecutors attempted to convict the paraplegic athlete of murder during his trial this year. In October, Pistorius was acquitted on the murder charges but found guilty of culpable homicide (i.e., manslaughter) and sentenced to five years in prison. However, prosecutors won an appeal this month in the acquittal of the murder charges against the Olympian, meaning Pistorius could conceivably be retried for, or convicted of murder, a crime which many trial watchers felt that Pistorius got away with.
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