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.
Geno Smith, the person, is less of a conundrum. He’s pretty much just a jerk. Reports of Geno Smith’s attitude problems surfaced before he was drafted, but it wasn’t until he got punched by a teammate in the locker room that everyone started to realize the guy might really have issues. Smith’s supposed bad attitude apparently carries over off the field as well. Numerous fans have relayed their negative experiences with the Jets QB, and national audiences have seen him yell and curse at the fans following losses.
19 Sweetheart – Jason Witten
In a perfect world, every NFL team’s roster would have at least one Jason Witten on it. When it’s third down and the Cowboys need a few crucial yards, you can bet that it’s going to be Jason Witten that gets the call. That kind of on-field reliability is all the more impressive when you consider that Witten is also apparently just an average guy off the field. Witten has previously received the Walter Payton award for his participation in charity organizations and he’s been the subject of numerous “What a great guy” fan stories. The most impressive part about Jason Witten, however, is how he deals with controversy. You never hear Witten utter a bad word about anyone no matter how he is provoked. That's pretty impressive considering the market he plays in.
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.
His former roommate once called him a danger to the rest of the league, Lions players referred to him as a poisonous, and then there are stories like the fan that claims Suh cursed at them after a car crash. It all starts to add up.
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.
Mack has been called one of the most modest superstars in the NFL. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s built like a tank, you might never know that he’s a professional football player. Clearly he's a lot nicer off the field than he is on it.
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.
Indeed, Jones will likely forever be famous for that strip club incident in which he assaulted a dancer after she picked up some money he was throwing into the air. Jones insists that he has turned his life around and is now trying to warn others of the dangers of his lifestyle, but the jury is still out one of the NFL’s most notorious jerks.
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.
Ware has been an active community participant in both Dallas and Denver and always seems to find himself on the right side of fan encounters. Just to complete his sterling image, Ware is also apparently quite the family man.
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.
He may have matured in recent years, but it's hard to shed that label that followed him around before.
13 Sweetheart - Larry Fitzgerald
Quick question: When is the last time you’ve heard anyone say anything bad about Larry Fitzgerald? If you’re struggling to think of an answer, the very good reason for that is that Fitzgerald is practically an NFL saint. This is the guy who has been criticized by NFL cornerbacks for being too nice. They say that if he was a little cockier or a little more assertive that he might have even better Hall of Fame numbers than he does now. That’s just never been Larry’s style, however. He’s the kind of guy that would rather volunteer and start charity organizations such as the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund. He spends his offseasons so far under the radar that you tend to forget about him when the season starts up again. Maybe that’s why he’s always so wide open.
12 Jerk - Johnny Manziel
Well, technically Johnny Manziel isn’t an active NFL player, but he’s certainly a case special enough to mention. When Johnny Manziel was a college superstar, he let everyone know it. He might just be one of the most impressive college athletes in NCAA history, but he was also the exact kind of flashy player that many coaches and athletic directors train their players not to be. His high-rolling exploits are legendary. Even during this time, Johnny was apparently no joy to meet on the streets. Back then, Manziel knew exactly how good he was and apparently didn’t hesitate to remind everyone he came across. His attitude didn’t improve as his play got worse once he joined the Cleveland Browns. Manziel’s play might keep him out of the NFL moving forward, but his attitude certainly will.
11 Sweetheart - Tony Romo
You would think that Tony Romo would be more of a Johnny Manziel type. After all, he’s incredibly talented, pretty good looking, and was the long-time starting quarterback of the arguably the biggest sports team in the world. Maybe Romo’s origins humbled him a bit more. Romo was never really the nationwide star in college and he endured many seasons on the Dallas bench. Once he did become a star, however, he didn’t forget the fans. Stories of Romo stopping after games to help stranded motorists or buy some fans a round of beer are all over the place, but the true measure of his quality as a human being is the way that he has remained so approachable despite achieving a level of fame most people will never know.
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.
While most of Smith’s worst stories take place in the locker room where he has alienated teammates and opponents alike, Smith isn’t known as someone that really goes out of their way to interact with fans or use their position to better their community. Perhaps that's just his way.
9 Sweetheart - London Fletcher
London Fletcher didn’t always get the attention that he deserved to receive. Since starting on the Rams in 1998, the guy was always one of the most reliable defenders in the NFL. He was the kind of player that teams eventually were able to build around because they knew Fletcher was going to always contribute from his position. If he was underrated on the field, he’s been absolutely unsung off of it. How good of a guy is London Fletcher? He once asked for his listed height of 6 feet to be listed as the accurate 5-foot-10 just so slightly smaller kids wouldn’t feel like they couldn’t make it in the NFL. This is the man who came from humble beginnings and has never stopped loving fans for helping him rise above a series of hardships.
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.
McCoy has been linked to such bizarre acts of being a jerk as leaving a waitress a 20-cent tip. There’s also the matter of his Twitter rants and public outbursts which don’t inspire many people to try to walk up and say “Hi” to the man.
7 Sweetheart - Connor Barwin
SJ Magazine ran an article not too long ago which dubbed Connor Barwin the “Hard-Hitting Nice Guy” of the NFL. It’s the perfect title for a man that is seemingly beyond all of the petty little athletic diva moments that sometimes forever tarnish the reputation of some of the NFL’s best players. As a member of the Eagles, Connor Barwin takes public transportation to games in order to interact with the fans. He established the Make The World Better Foundation which has helped to rebuild parts of Philadelphia. He’s constantly contributing time to some kind of children’s organization or otherwise just making sure that every fan he meets is treated with absolute respect. Barwin is a perennial contender for the NFL’s Man of the Year Award and deservedly so.
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.
Along with numerous reports of Sapp being an everday jerk whenever possible, there are the stories of his numerous assault charges and other legal run-ins. When Timmy Jernigan changed his number to Warren Sapp’s as a tribute to the man, Sapp went out of his way to stop him from wearing the number. There’s no middle-ground when it comes to whether or not Sapp is a jerk.
5 Sweetheart - Drew Brees
One day, Drew Brees is going to go into the NFL Hall of Fame and, if there is any justice in the world, he’s going to go in as a first ballot selection. Even if Brees didn’t have the kind of career stats that he does, you could argue that his induction is deserved solely based on what he did during his first years as a New Orleans Saint. Brees was sent to the Saints at a time when they were considered to be the laughing stock of the league. Not only did he turn that around, but he also made himself one of the biggest contributors to the rebuilding effort that followed Hurricane Katrina. He has started numerous foundations, regularly makes military tours, and has volunteered more of his time than just about anyone else.
4 Jerk - Richard Sherman
At a certain point, your reputation becomes you. Oh sure, you can be an upstanding human being that has never cheated on their taxes, buys the neighborhood kids ice cream, and gives blood, but if you’ve got a reputation for being a jerk, then you are a jerk. Richard Sherman has such a reputation. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that he is seemingly starting or contributing to some new personal feud every week. Sherman’s worst moments typically come after games (particularly losses) during which time he’s never short on slander for his opponents and compliments for himself, but it seems like the guy never has anything good to say about anyone whenever he opens his mouth. You can only enrage so many people before you’re just a jerk.
3 Sweetheart - Thomas Davis
At a time when it seems like the world has nothing to offer but bad news, it feels like it’s more important than ever to praise guys like Thomas Davis for being incredible human beings. When Thomas Davis accepted the Walter Payton award in 2015, he burst into tears and informed his fellow players that they can do so much more with their positions than they currently do. Of course, there are few players in the league that could possibly match his efforts over the years. Davis grew up with pennies to his name, which is perhaps why he has spent so much of his personal fortune establishing organizations designed to help the least fortunate among us. He’s most likely the nicest NFL player you’ll ever meet.
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.