Believe it or not, it’s got to be hard to be a professional football player in modern society. Oh sure, there’s the fame, the money, and the admiration, but what nobody tells you about being a professional athlete is that you’re usually one bad day away from being labeled a jerk. Sometimes, all it takes is that one overreaction or bad quote and suddenly you’re the scourge of the nation. That’s unfortunate because there are some football players that are genuinely great people. Not just great people in comparison to other athletes, but great people in comparison to the best among us.
On the other hand, yes there are players that are simply jerks. While it’s impossible to say why every single football player who is a jerk is a jerk for a specific reason, the general thread that binds them is an inability to deal with their fame. They place themselves above the rest. And so, we get the great divide between the sweethearts and the jerks. The problem is that sometimes the two get lumped together. In an effort to set the record straight, here are the top 10 NFL players who are jerks in real life and 10 who are sweethearts.
20 Jerk – Geno Smith
Geno Smith, the player, is a conundrum. There are times when Smith exhibits the same big play abilities that allowed him to put up ridiculous stat lines at West Virginia, and there are other times when you wonder just how this guy got drafted in the first place.
19 Sweetheart – Jason Witten
18 Jerk – Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh has been called a throwback player. He’s the kind of old-school defensive presence that gives offensive players nightmares. While most of those bad dreams are triggered by Suh’s play, even more of them are caused by his intimidating demeanor and fondness for playing dirty. Sadly, Suh does not leave that attitude on the field. Among fellow players, Suh has been named the biggest jerk in the NFL on previous occasions. Among fans and friends, it seems that there is always a fresh story about Suh’s legendary bad attitude.
17 Sweetheart – Khalil Mack
Khalil Mack is going to be something special for a long time to come. There’s nothing about the guy’s play thus far which suggests he isn’t going to become the cornerstone of the Raiders' defense for years to come. It doesn’t hurt that Mack is also one of the nicest NFL players you will ever run across. Starting from his college days at the University of Buffalo, nearly everyone who has met the intimidating Mack walk away talking about what a great person he is.
16 Jerk – Adam Jones
To be perfectly fair, Adam Jones has supposedly calmed down quite a bit over the years and put his most notorious antics behind him. Even still, it’s going to take an MVP-caliber season on the field before anyone forgets about some of the most fabled “Pac-Man” stories. In the past, Adam Jones has proven to be the kind of public relations nightmare whose personal life calls into question the value of his professional accomplishments.
15 Sweetheart - DeMarcus Ware
Is there anything DeMarcus Ware can’t do? After being released by the Cowboys, some speculated that the legendary defender’s best years might be behind him. Instead, he proved to be a crucial part of the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl efforts. No matter where he has played, the one thing that nobody has ever questioned about Ware is the kind of person he is. Ware is another one of those defensive monsters who is an absolute model of integrity off the field. Teammates and opponents alike respect the heck out of him.
14 Jerk - Ben Roethlisberger
So far as the man’s play goes, there has never been any controversy regarding whether or not Ben Roethlisberger should be QB of the Steelers. Since his debut season, he has played at a level that few others could ever hope to match. Because of his personal life, however, some have questioned if Roethlisberger should continue to be a starting quarterback at all. Big Ben has been at the center of some high-profile cases, including a sexual assault charge. These charges are said to represent his overall personality which is best described as “frat boy turned up to 11.” Roethlisberger’s early career success may have given fueled his ego as Ben is known for flaunting his accomplishments through his personality.
13 Sweetheart - Larry Fitzgerald
12 Jerk - Johnny Manziel
11 Sweetheart - Tony Romo
10 Jerk - Steve Smith Sr.
Many people wonder just why it is that the Carolina Panthers let Steve Smith go even though he was arguably the face of that franchise. While only the Panthers would be able to accurately answer that question, the popular theory is that it has something to do with his attitude. Smith is a very intense, very competitive guy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it apparently doesn’t make him the kind of person that loves to interact with fans.
9 Sweetheart - London Fletcher
8 Jerk - LeSean McCoy
Fans and analysts alike have always lamented the way that LeSean McCoy was utilized during his time on the Philadelphia Eagles. People said that a guy as talented as LeSean McCoy should have been treated like the centerpiece of any team’s offense. Instead, McCoy was always something of an afterthought on the Eagles even when he was having incredible seasons. Then again, maybe the Eagles just wanted to be careful with how they fed McCoy’s ego given some of his most unfortunate actions.
7 Sweetheart - Connor Barwin
6 Jerk - Warren Sapp
Sapp may be another retired player, but you have to mention him when talking about recent NFL jerks. You would need to search far and wide in order to find anyone that has a nice word to share about Warren Sapp. During his active career, Sapp had a bit of a reputation for being a dirty player, but the really awful stuff didn’t start happening until he stepped away from the field.
5 Sweetheart - Drew Brees
4 Jerk - Richard Sherman
3 Sweetheart - Thomas Davis
2 Jerk - Richie Incognito
Richie Incognito once had to issue a formal statement designed to clarify once and for all that he is not a racist jerk. Typically, the only people who have to do such a thing usually have done something pretty stupid. In Incognito’s case, it was referring to a fellow teammate as a…well, a word that many decent people in his position would never think to use. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as it concerns Incognito who is regularly cited as perhaps the biggest bully the NFL has seen for some time. He’s taunted fans, insulted teammates, taken part in numerous off the field incidents, and has seemingly gone out of his way to ensure that no good person could ever sympathize with him. What a jerk.
1 Anquan Boldin
With Boldin winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award this past February, it seems fitting to put him in the no.1 spot here. Boldin has always carried himself with class, even through multiple trades in his career. After a breakout season in Arizona, he was traded to Baltimore and after helping the Ravens to a Super Bowl, he was sent to San Francisco and now finds himself in Detroit.
Boldin established the Anquan Boldin Foundation in 2004, which supports educational and life opportunities for underprivileged children.
In March a few years ago, Boldin traveled with Larry Fitzgerald to Ethiopia to move rocks to create arable land. While many NFL players spend their offseasons getting suspended, or arrested, Boldin is trying to make the world a better place.
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