Hate is a strong word. In the online world, where people are prone to give their opinions strongly, due to their relative anonymity, the word “hate” can mean a lot of things. The Internet by its very nature is a realm of righteous indignation, snap judgments, and hyperbole.
In the offline, brick-and-mortar world we live in, it takes a lot to make normally well-adjusted people hate a person. People have to be Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler or some other permutation of evil to inspire true hatred. For the rest of the villains and vile people walking around, you might dislike them, distrust them, or even kind of loathe them, but you don’t have a visceral hatred for what they represent.
In the court of public opinion, the standards are a little different. Politics, religion, and pop culture combine in a melting pot of denunciation and reaction. The public’s reaction to any given event is little more than one-off opinions and hair-trigger emotions. In the cauldron of popular anger, hate simmers at a different temperature. Republicans hate Democrats, and usually quite loudly. Democrats hate Republicans, too, and their insults are only slightly more academic and muted.
In the public view, Donald Sterling, Donald Trump, Honey Boo Boo and the Duggars, Kanye West and (of course) the Kardashians…these people are fair game for whatever vitriol anyone cares to spew.
These targets of hatred might or might not deserve the venom flung in their direction. It hardly matters. What’s important is they trend always upward, drawing attention, drawing ratings and clicks, pushing the fashions, driving the discussion until something new comes along.
In the sports world, the dynamics are only slightly different. They say academic debates are so nasty because the stakes are so low. If so, then American sports are more like academia than you might think. Fans divide as separate tribes, loving or hating a player based on the color he wears. Loyalties are seldom split. Fans are all-in, for better or worse, on one side or the other. Here, public hatred takes its most artificial form.
One factor adds a special fervor, though. That’s the presence of fantasy sports. In the fantasy sports niche, players take on a special meaning. Like a child with a narcissistic parent, the player is an extension of his fantasy team owner’s identity. The owner handpicked this starting lineup. For that reason, the performance of an athlete is tightly bound with the team owner’s self-image, even more so than an average sports fan’s self-identity is tied to his or her favorite football team’s results. When someone hates because of fantasy sports, it’s about how a player screwed up dynasty league strategies or played with the minds of a whole class of fantasy owners, usually with some really boneheaded decision.
Which brings us to our list of hated NFL personalities.
In the following list, I tried to limit the discussion of hatred to the level of an average NFL fan’s reaction. I try to avoid too many references to fantasy football. If hatred were connected to fantasy points, then a whole list of other players would be on this list. Bishop Sankey would be a Top 20 entry, because he’s disappointed so many fantasy football owners in the past year. Montee Ball would inhabit a special circle of his own little Hell. So I avoid that trap on this list.
I also tried to focus on personalities and not team identities. For the most part, this has to do with something a person did off the field. That isn’t always the case, and sometimes, on-field and off-field results are so mixed that you can’t separate the two. What do we really know of Bill Belichick, except that dour persona who has stalked NFL sidelines for the last several decades?
What do you know of any of these men, except what is sifted through the filter of the media? Yet we’re focusing faux hatred on these people, because of something they did. Usually, our antipathy goes beyond mere stats. If a player is hated because of his on-field production, it usually stems from the fact they were a high draft pick of some team (and they’ve been bad).
One further note: I avoid Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, because they are retired–and they retired some time ago. In the cases I discuss people no longer in the NFL, it’s because that person just left recently–but left an indelible mark.
16. Adrian Peterson – RB – Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is a new inclusion on these kinds of lists. It takes a lot of hatred to break into the Top 15 of a most-hated list, especially when you’ve been a crowd-pleaser for so many years.
Sure, there had to be a ton of fantasy football owners who’ve gotten beaten by Peterson-led fantasy teams that might not like him. There might be Packers, Bears, and Lions fans who don’t like All-Day, which is often shortened to “AD” (which might be the most confusing nickname in football, since his initials are “AP”). But for the most part, Adrian Peterson had been a respected stud running back for years, until 2014.
That’s when it became known Adrian Peterson had been arrested for child abuse. Nothing is worse than abusing innocent little children, so you might wonder why Peterson isn’t higher on this list. It’s my contention that many people sympathized with AD. Those people from the American South (at the very least) are likely to have had a mother or a grandmother that punished them with a switch. I know people whose mother would make them go get a switch off a tree, and it had to be the right size. Those people do not want to think they were abused by their nice old granny, so they are willing to excuse what Adrian Peterson did. That’s my theory, anyway.
To many fantasy team owners, Adrian Peterson’s real crime is his scandal hit after their local league drafts. In 2014, every single league had one owner draft Adrian Peterson in the 1st round–usually really high in the 1st round. For those owners, it was like starting the draft without having a 1st rounder. I’m sure a few recovered from the ordeal. Most, I imagine, had a terrible 2014 season. And they can blame Adrian Peterson.
15. Riley Cooper – Wide Receiver – Philadelphia Eagles
In a way, Riley Cooper should be far higher up this list. In another way, he should be far lower. Riley Cooper made racist comments during a Kenny Chesney concert in July of 2013. Cooper’s drunken performance was recorded by a friend or bystander and then posted online for all the world to see.
That’s bold stuff, so Riley Cooper could be much higher up the list. I mean, even the charge of racism is enough to vilify people in America in 2015. A Texas high school referee gets tackled by two players and people vilify him because the tacklers merely claimed he used a racial epithet. It doesn’t even take proof to hate people when racism is alleged.
So when someone is aggressive enough (and dumb enough) to look into a camera and fling out the N-word time and again, they really deserved to be hated. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Florida, Riley Cooper is to many African-Americans (and others) the picture of the Big Southern Dummy.
What makes Riley Cooper even more obnoxious is he didn’t lose his job. There he is, years later, still hanging on as as a 3rd or 4th member of the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver corps. It makes it easy to believe when LeSean McCoy charges Chip Kelly with being a racist. It makes it easy when Brandon Boykin and Desean Jackson imply something rotten is happening in Philly’s front office. The black players, who happen to be stars, get shipped out. The white player, who is caught red-handed being racist, gets to stay. It somehow seems unjust.
At the same time, Riley Cooper seems irrelevant, in many ways. That’s why I say he could be much further down the list. He’s a marginal NFL talent. He’s a late-round draft pick in fantasy drafts. In many ways, Riley Cooper is a forgotten man. But good gosh, he’s also making a huge NFL paycheck. And man, he said some racist stuff.
14. Richie Incognito – Center – Buffalo Bills
Nobody likes a bully. Well, that isn’t necessarily true. During the Miami Dolphins bullying fiasco, many people stood up for Richie Incognito. Most of his teammates defended him, while Jonathan Martin was shunned. Even a significant number of NFL fans seemed to think Martin’s behavior was stranger than Incognito.
Why wouldn’t a man as big and powerful as him stand up to a bully? That question gets at the heart of all such cases: people often blame the victim. It’s frustrating to see someone “take it”.
The bystander eventually might want to scream at the victim, “fight back”, which brings us full circle. Since people don’t like confronting such primal emotions, we can all agree that nobody likes a bully.
Everywhere he goes, Richie Incognito wears out his welcome. He was kicked off the Nebraska Cornhuskers team. The St. Louis Rams ran him out of town. More famously, the Miami Dolphins did the same. Now he’s joined forces with Rex Ryan.
What’s funny about Richie Incognito is that he looks like a bully. But then, he also looks like an overgrown child, which might be what he is. All that being said, Richie once was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player. He’s a tough, hard-nosed, gritty NFL player. Maybe he’s not the brightest guy you’ll ever meet, but teams love having guys like that around.
13. Daniel Snyder – Owner – Washington Redskins
It’s a dream scenario. You love an NFL team. You always imagined what it would be like to be its owner. Then you get rich…I mean, mega-rich. You become a billionaire, and then the team comes up for sale. You buy the franchise. You get to be its latest savior. You get to hobknob with all the players and coaches and limelights you’ve seen on TV all these years. What a dream.
Daniel Snyder has been able to live out his dream. The problem with that is it’s often been somewhat nightmarish. For most of his 16-year reign, the Skins have been awful. In a 16-year span, he’s gone through 8 head coaches. He’s tried hot young coordinators, hotshot National Championship winners from college, highly-respected retreads, and Super Bowl winning coaches (twice). Heck, he’s even hired a coach in the Hall of Fame. You name the coaching type and he’s tried everything. Nothing’s worked. Nothing.
The team languished without a real quarterback. Snyder traded half the franchise to trade up to the #2 pick overall. The pick turned out to be RGIII. He’s added blue chip free agents…spent hundreds of millions of dollars…and the free agents never seem to make a difference. Some end up good, like Clinton Portis. Others end up being Albert Haynesworth. You name it, he’s tried it, and it’s been a disaster.
And then there’s the very idea of the mega-rich fanboy getting to run his dream franchise. Many fans are likely to be jealous, even in the best of circumstances. But when the fanboy also seems to be a control freak and a stuffshirt, well, it’s going to get ugly.
And then there’s the “Redskins” name controversy. Daniel Snyder says he’ll never change the name, so the drumbeat continues on through the years. And the funny thing is, everyone already calls them the “Skins”–it would be so easy to solve that PR nightmare. Yet Daniel Snyder didn’t save up a billion dollars to have someone else tell him what he should name his franchise, so it never dies. It’s like Daniel Snyder was born to be hated by fans.
12. Bill Belichick – Head Coach – New England Patriots
Before you scoff that Belichick is only #12 on this list, I have a story to tell. Years ago, I read a book about the 100 Most Influential People in History. I was taken aback when Jesus Christ was only #3 or #4 on the list, behind Mohammed. Then I realized that St. Paul was #6 on the list.
If you add it up, you realize that the authors were saying Christianity had a bigger impact on the world than Islam, but two men were so instrumental in its founding and subsequent shaping, that they each get big credit for their influences. We see it all the time in MVP votes. In short, they split the vote from the Christian standpoint.
That’s how I see Bill Belichick and Tom Brady…they carry a lot of hate, but it’s hard to put them both in the Top 10.
That isn’t to say Bill Belichick isn’t imminently qualified to be hated. He’s dour. He seems humorless. Belichick’s known to be secretive. He might be a cheater. Even if he isn’t a cheater, he does everything he can to put his toe up to the line between fairness and cheating. Bill Belichick seems like an obsessed, conniving sort of person.
To make matters worse, Belichick wins. He wins a lot. The Patriots coach has won 4 Super Bowls in 15 years. He’s gone to the Super Bowl (as a favorite) 2 other times. He’s been to 3 other AFC Championship games, and it seems like it’s been more. Since Tom Brady took the field in the 2001-2002 season, it seems like Bill Belichick is always lurking around the top of the AFC heap. Lurking seems to be the accurate term.
In the end, Bill Belichick is unlovable. In the sports world, that makes him hated. Unless you’re a Patriots fan, you hate the guy. If you’re a Pats fan, well, forget everything I said. The problem with Bill Belichick is, he isn’t going to be drafted by millions of fantasy team owners every year (or week), which somewhat mitigates the hatred of Tom Brady. (Note: Though I’m in a league where head coaches are started and quite important. I own Bill Belichick in that league, it’s a dynasty league, and so I’m a quasi-Patriots fan each week. That might explain why he’s so low on the list.)
11. Ben Roethlisberger – QB – Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s telling that a group of protestors came to the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp this year with signs. They wanted to protest the Steelers’ quarterback, but they weren’t there to protest Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, they were there to protest Michael Vick. Being a convicted dog killer is seen as more detestable than being an accused rapist.
Like Ray Lewis rehabilitated himself, it seems that Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged misdeeds are in the past. In 2008 and 2010, in two separate incidents, Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault. A few seasons have passed and many people forget. Not everyone has forgotten, so Big Ben is still well-hated in many NFL cities. It should be noted that his case never went to court and he should be presumed innocent, though Roger Goodell saw fit to suspend Roethlisberger due to the league’s personal conduct policy. He also lost endorsements due to the allegations. Also, Steelers President Art Rooney was said to have been furious at the incidents, though not furious enough to waive his star quarterback. He had won the Super Bowl in 2006 and 2009 (after the 2005 and 2008 seasons, respectively).
After losing the 2011 Super Bowl, Big Ben and the Steelers have become less central in the NFL’s storylines. While the team is usually in the playoffs or on the cusp of the playoffs, they have not gotten that close to another Super Bowl appearance. For that reason, the Steelers QB is not as high-profile as he once was. Ironically, Roethlisberger has become a better fantasy football quarterback in recent years, especially after Antonio Brown became arguably the best receiver in the league.
10. Jerry Jones – Owner – Dallas Cowboys
As the high-profile owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones is one of the most polarizing figures in the National Football League. Though he is almost always positive (“Never let your money get mad”), Jerry Jones inspires a great deal of hatred from Cowboys Haters across the United States. Cowboys fans probably share many of those same opinions with the Cowboy Haters, because many of the Dallas faithful really dislike the team’s owner, too.
I’ll try to give a full rundown of why.
A Texas oilman named Bum Bright bought the franchise from the team’s founder, Texas oilman Clint Murchison, in the mid-1980s. By 1989, the Cowboys were awful and Bum Bright wanted out. Tom Landry had been the head coach for 29 years, but coming off a 3-13 season, it was obvious that Landry needed to go. Bum Bright sold the team to Arkansas oilman Jerry Jones, but he did not really want to be the man who fired Tom Landry. He made a halfhearted offer to do so, but Jerry Jones said he would do the deed. Jerry Jones wanted to bring in his college roommate, Jimmy Johnson, to lead the team. Instead of firing Landry before hiring the new coach, Jerry Jones was seen out on the town dining with Jimmy Johnson. When he subsequently fired Tom Landry, many older fans never forgave Jerry Jones. (This is true. I know 3 older generation fans that swear they hate Jerry TO THIS DAY, because he fired Tom Landry.) Strike one against Jerry Jones.
The first season in Dallas was dismal, with the team going 1-15. The second season showed improvement as Troy Aikman matured, Michael Irvin returned from an ACL injury, and Emmitt Smith was drafted. Over the next two years, the team would improve. Jimmy Johnson built the team into a powerhouse–the team of the 90s–and won back to back Super Bowls. But to Cowboys fans, the 1990s-era Cowboys will always be a story of “What Might Have Been”. Free agency and the salary cap was instituted, and Jimmy Johnson knew the team would fall apart. Also, he grew tired of Jerry’s meddling, especially his desire to bring luminaries into the locker room before games. One such incident with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia led to a huge blowup between owner and coach.
The real issue was a power struggle, as well as a PR struggle. The Dallas sports media was convinced Johnson was “Jimmy Genius”, and that he was the sole reason for the team’s success. Jerry Jones could not live with that perception. One night, when Jimmy and his coaching staff seemed to snub Jones at an awards banquet, a soused Jerry Jones had it out with Jimmy Johnson, telling him, “500 football coaches could coach this team to a Super Bowl. Why, even Barry Switzer could win a Super Bowl with this team.” The next thing you know, Jimmy Johnson was no longer the team’s coach. Instead, Barry Switzer was hired off his couch in Norman, Oklahoma to take the reins. Again, younger generation Cowboys fans felt betrayed. After 2 Super Bowls, they had forgiven Jerry for firing Tom Landry. They never would forgive him for firing Jimmy Johnson, when they had the youngest team in the NFL and back-to-back titles. The Cowboys would go on to win a third title with the same team, but so many fans were convinced (with Jimmy drafting) the team would have won a fourth title, and perhaps a fifth.
Twenty years have passed since the last Super Bowl victory. In those 20 years, the team only has 2 playoff wins. Each year, Jerry Jones tries to prove Jimmy Johnson wasn’t the sole reason the team won those 3 titles. But with each passing year, it becomes more obvious that Jerry Jones had very little to do with winning. He hired his college roommate and got really lucky. If his college roommate had been Rich Kotite…well, you get the point.
9. Richard Sherman – Cornerback – Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman is disliked because he is the vocal leader of the Seattle Seahawks, who have been the best team in the NFL over the past 2 seasons. The Seahawks came one play from being back-to-back champions. Marshawn Lynch is the heart-and-soul of the team. Russell Wilson is the face of the franchise and the leader of the offense. But when the media needs a quote or a story, they run to Richard Sherman.
He is happy to supply the quotes, usually done with a brashness which has won Sherman many fans, but is off-putting to many non-fans of the Seahawks.
The hate for Richard Sherman comes down to a couple of factors. First, he is arrogant. Richard Sherman has a lot of skins on the wall. He’ll tell you about them anytime. If some NFL player comments on social media about their own skills, Richard Sherman runs to Twitter to remind people of his own accomplishments. In doing so, he usually disparages the other player, while his fans remind anyone willing to listen that the other player started it first (in other words, they act like children). Sherman isn’t simply trying to control the dialogue on Twitter, though. He likes to belittle opponents on the field of play, such as the infamous moment when he berated Michael Crabtree after the NFC Championship Game.
One gets the idea Richard Sherman is one of these personalities who is either supremely confident that he cannot but help to boast about himself, or else he has such a fragile ego that he can’t take even the least bit of criticism. He responds to any criticism, even a comparison with another NFL player, with the nuclear option. Having been a 5th round pick, he has a chip on his shoulder. Many people prefer humility. They want to see a player act like he’s been there before. That’s a reasonable enough reaction, though not the only valid one. Maybe maintaining an Us-versus-Them attitude is what drives Richard Sherman. Maybe it’s what keeps his greatness at the cornerback position.
Whatever the case, Richard Sherman’s combination of arrogance and thin skin gets him in trouble with certain NFL fans who like great players to exhibit quiet confidence.
There’s another type of fan Richard Sherman offends.
Which brings me to another factor in the Richard Sherman hate ranking: old-fashioned racism. Despite being a Stanford graduate who writes one of the best football columns (for Sports Illustrated), Richard Sherman sets off a lot of racist hot-buttons, it would seem. Some fans think he’s a “thug”, if you know what I mean. If you’re a (white) person who sees things through racial lenses, then all the Richard Sherman traits described above make you really hate the guy. I’ve seen this kind of thing in person. It’s an ugly thing to see such venom and hatred on display. I had to walk out of the place, even though it meant I had to miss part of a Super Bowl. Believe me, racism exists in America, and Richard Sherman’s brashness seems to touch the nerves of racists among the population. So he is a much-hated player among a certain type of NFL fan.
8. Ndamukong Suh – Defensive Tackle – Miami Dolphins
Some of Ndamukog Suh’s antics on the football field remind me of a heel in the world of professional wrestling. A “heel” is the villain. They do things so rotten that they invite people to hate them. The thing with Ndamukong Suh is: I’m not sure if he’s trying to be that way.
It’s possible he has anger issues. That would be a surprise. Coming out of college, Suh was touted as a high-character person.
He’s made big donations to Nebraska Cornhuskers causes. His mom is a school teacher and his father is a mechanical engineer/ex-soccer pro. Nothing about him screams angry dude. But there he is on Sunday, stomping on linemen and giving Aaron Rodgers a nice kick while the referee isn’t watching. Frankly, it’s a little bizarre.
No doubt, Ndamukong Suh’s many extracurricular tactics have made him one of the most hated players in the National Football League. In a poll by the Sporting News of active NFL players, Suh was voted the dirtiest player in the league. A Nielson Media Research poll of NFL players conducted in 2012 found Ndamukong Suh to be the “Least-Liked NFL Player”. He was fined 9 times for flagrant penalties in the first 2 years of his career, while he had collected $216,875 in fines over the first 4 years of his career. It’s like someone told Suh the NFL was like the US prison system and he had to establish he was a tough guy early and often, so nobody would mess with him.
Whatever the case is, Ndamukong Suh is hated by his fellow NFL players. As always, it helps to be one of the best defensive tackles in the game. Dirty is one thing; dirty and talented is another matter entirely.
7. Johnny Manziel – Quarterback – Cleveland Browns
You hate Johnny Manziel the way you hate a bratty kid. That is, you don’t really hate the child, because they’re relatively harmless. At the same time, you really don’t like them and it’s kind of funny when bad things happen to them. Since the stakes aren’t very high, you feel fairly justified in your schadenfreude.
The point being, public figures such as Johnny Manziel tap that little reservoir of darkness many humans have for the talented upstart. And if you have a few friends who love the guy, well, it makes it all-the-better when their guy trips up.
Let’s review what made Johnny Manziel famous. He had a storied college career at Texas A&M. While it didn’t rise to the level of Tim Tebow’s career, nothing does. But Johnny Football captained A&M into the choppy waters of the SEC and did it so well, he emerged as a star. In many SEC games, Johnny seemed like the best player on the field. Certainly, he was the one everyone kept their eye on. And what a show he put on, full of swagger and success. Opposing fans wanted to see some beefy SEC defender crush his punk ass. A&M fans wanted to see him make his haters crazy. He usually did.
For the Johnny Manziel Haters, life has been good in the past year. First of all, he had the misfortune of being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, which is the NFL equivalent of being sentenced to a Siberian gulag. The fact that he texted the Browns urging them to draft him so they could ruin the league is telling in so many ways. Johnny Football is a 21st century creation: trademarked and tech savvy. Luckily for the haters, he’s not as PR savvy as he would think. The money symbol he makes backfired so bad that he vowed never to make the symbol again.
Of course, Johnny Football made a lot of vows in his 1st NFL season. He swore he’d study game film and attend to the craft of football more than he had. He swore he’d never have parties on the weekend of the big football game again. He swore he wouldn’t be late to practice anymore. All of these are common sense actions any decent professional should know the day they’re drafted onto an NFL team. The fact he’s a 1st round pick makes it all the more astounding that Johnny Football is having to learn these things midway through his rookie season.
That’s why I always go back to the brat analogy. Johnny Manziel was born the son of a rich Texan. Before he was drafted, Johnny was seen courtside at a Dallas Mavericks game in $2,400-a-seat tickets. The NCAA didn’t bat an eye, because his daddy had the cash to make it happen. I’m not saying it’s right that class distinctions play some sort of a role, but it is what it is.
At the end of the day, the Johnny Manziel Show isn’t nearly as hated as he was at the beginning of 2014. Part of the reason is the NFL media is less interested in him. A year on the Browns will do that to you: Johhny Cleveland isn’t that noteworthy, and he isn’t that hateworthy. Also, Johnny seems to have matured a little bit. It’s hard to hate the bratty kid as much when they’re a little less bratty. Johnny Football needs major success to rise up the ranks. You get the idea the real Johnny is just waiting to come out. The haters almost have to hope he has a little success. When he does, watch out.
6. Jay Cutler – Quarterback – Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler sets of a whole other set of sensors with NFL fans, it would seem. If Richard Sherman sets off race sensors, then Jay Culter sets off economic triggers. That’s what happens when you are (for a short time) the highest-paid player in the NFL. If you’re the highest-paid quarterback, you better win Super Bowls like Tom Brady or rack up passing totals like Peyton Manning. When you’re the hapless quarterback of the hapless Chicago Bears, you are going to inspire a lot of hatred.
Jay Cutler makes it worse on himself. He never seems to be very interested in the ballgame. Cutler just stands there with that bored-looking, emotionless expression on his face at all times. Now once again, he might be one of the nicest guys in America. He might be completely passionate about helping the Chicago Bears win games. He might not have the team around him that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady has. Whatever the case, on television, Jay Cutler seems like he doens’t care.
Of all things in sports, players who don’t hustle and don’t care are the most-hated. Combine that with the huge contract and you get a rare stratum of hatred for Jay Cutler.
5. Tony Romo – QB – Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo has history similar to Jay Cutler’s, but he plays for a team a lot more hated than the Chicago Bears. Being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is going to draw hatred from many quarters. Mix in the relationships with celebrities, singers, and reality TV stars and people are going to be jealous. Then add in a string of ill-timed interceptions and the Tony Romo hate factor is high.
Tony Romo doesn’t help himself. After a 44-6 drubbing in Philadelphia in 2008 that knocked the Cowboys out of a possible playoff spot, Tony Romo said, “I wake up tomorrow and I keep living….If losing a sporting event is the worse thing that ever happens to me, I have had a wonderful life.”
That quote, coming right after a 38-point loss in which another promising season went down in a flaming heap…it just drove Cowboys fans out of their mind.
In many ways, Tony Romo has never recovered from that PR disaster. Since then, he’s said all the right things. But it’s like insulting someone’s mother. After you do it just once, you can say all the nice things in the world about the mother and it doesn’t make a difference. The horse has already left the barn, so to speak.
Still, all of that might have been forgotten, but Romo has led the team through a succession of last-minute losses and pivotal gaffs. He’s always screwing up, one way or another. On January 6, 2007: The wildcard loss to the Seahawks, in which Romo drops a wet ball while holding for the game-tying extra point. The next year, on January 13, 2008: After going 13-3, the Cowboys cough up a playoff win to the New York Giants, who go on to win a Super Bowl. On December 7, 2008: The Steelers score 17 unanswered points, including a pick-six interception by Romo. There was the late fumble at the goal line to lose to the Jets to open the 2011 season. In December 2012, Romo throws 3 interceptions against a very flawed Redskins team, including an INT with less than 2 minutes left, giving RGIII his lone trip to the playoffs. What an awful moment.
Then there was the 51-48 loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos, when Romo matched Manning all day, only to throw an interception late to lose the game. I remember driving in the car and listening to that game, thinking, “I know Romo’s going to mess this up.” Three weeks later, there was the loss to the Detroit Lions after giving up 10 points late to the Lions on October 27, 2013. Even later that year, the Cowboys took losing to a whole other level when they lost a 23-point lead to the Green Bay Packers backup QB Matt Flynn to the tune of 37-36. After getting saved on an earlier 4th Quarter interception by a play reversal, Romo threw an interception up 36-31 with a little over 2 minutes left. Then he threw another one in an attempt to retrieve the disaster with a late field goal. Just awful.
It just goes on and on. Needless to say, Tony Romo has presided over some of the worst defeats in Cowboys history.
But it’s not just that Tony Romo is hated by many Cowboys fans. He’s also hated by the Cowboys Haters. He sits in that sweet spot where he’s good enough to inspire passion in both demographics. Romo is good enough to get Cowboys’ fans hopes up, only to dash them in the cruelest fashion. And he’s good enough to get Cowboys Haters’ worried he might actually prove them wrong, only to reward their hatred in the most dazzling fashion. Tony Romo is a perfect storm of fan hatred.
And after it all, people can always imagine him going home to Carrie Underwood or Jessica Simpson or whichever blonde he’s dating at the moment and saying, “I guess I’ll keep living. If losing a sporting event is the worse thing that ever happens to me, I have had a wonderful life.”
4. Ray Rice – Free Agent Running Back – (Formerly of the Baltimore Ravens)
It’s strange, but Ray Rice is hated for one single act: knocking out his then-fiance (now wife) on the elevator at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City. Before that incident, he was a well-loved Super Bowl winning running back for the Baltimore Ravens.
Besides the season before the incident, he was loved by fantasy team owners, too. To the fantasy football crowd, Ray Rice was a dependable workhorse runner. He was a consensus 1st round pick, year after year. Pretty much, name any type of NFL fandom and it was likely to respect and like Ray Rice.
Then it all blew up in one drunken reaction.
Make no mistake: that one-punch fight was stark and brutal. When TMZ released it to the world at large, it became an Internet sensation and a culture-shaping moment. Domestic abuse was given a face and that face belonged to Ray Rice. The fact he was so nonchalant after knocking out his girlfriend only fed the anger. His body language betrayed more than simple callousness, though; the way he stood upright over his fallen woman, he seemed proud of what he had done. His careless disdain for her as he dragged her off the elevator was the cherry on top for the brand of abusive criminality he came to symbolize. For America in 2014, Ray Rice became the archetype for domestic abuse.
He was more than that. He was a hated figure, as well as a punchline. He was deemed so vile that any form of reproach or ridicule was on-the-table. Ray Rice became a popular Halloween costume in 2014. Many people posted pics online of their costume, but most of those were offensive due to racial undertones. Most had Rice dragging a baby doll, a blowup doll, or some other semblance of Janay Rice.
Of all the players on this list, Ray Rice is the only one who became persona non grata. He’s no longer welcome.
It’s bad enough being an aging running back in the NFL. When you’re an aging RB with bad baggage, you’re likely to never have an NFL job again. A year later, it appears that one moment on the Revel Casino elevator was the end of Ray Rice’s career. Even now, he is a symbol of abuse. Perhaps it makes it worse that Janay Palmer stayed with her man. People are left to assume, behind closed doors where TMZ can’t watch, the abuse still continues.
3. Roger Goodell – Commission – The National Football League
Roger Goodell’s story is intertwined with Ray Rice’s. The fact he is higher on this list is indicative of a few things. One, he’s more relevent. Roger Goodell has continued to supply grist for the mill. Ray Rice has slinked off to whatever mansion he inhabits, but Roger Goodell is still on center stage, still enraging the crowd.
I’ve written ad infinitum about Roger Goodell, so I’ll try to be brief today. I believe Roger Goodell botched the Ray Rice Scandal in a huge way. Ever since then, he’s been like a boxer trying to regain his footing after receiving a haymaker. His legs are rubbery and he might not make it to the bell. But he’s a crafty old infighter and he might have the tactics and the savvy to stay in the fight.
The handling of the Ray Rice Scandal is important to any understanding of Roger Goodell’s motivations this past year. It’s my contention (and many others’) that all the heavy-handedness in other cases stem from his attempt to regain control. He’s trying to show he’s the strong leader. He’s trying to project strength. In doing so, Goodell often hurts his standing. His best strategy would be to sandbag a while, to do the rope-a-dope, sag back on the ropes and rest, but the current NFL commissioner is a straight-ahead fighter. It might not be in his basic nature to do so. Roger Goodell attacks.
Let me describe how.
After their arrests, but before their court case, Rice and Janay Palmer spoke to Roger Goodell. It was reported after that meeting that Rice told the commissioner he hit his girlfriend and knocked her out. Goodell seemed to acknowledge he understood that fact in reports at the time. Months later, Roger Goodell reversed his position and denied having those details. Goodell was trying to save his job, so he tried to make it out like Rice and Palmer had lied to him and the Ravens about what happened at Revel Casino. In my opinion, the commissioner’s Septebmer 2014 statements on that meeting are just bold lies.
Then Goodell mishandled the Adrian Peterson case. Then he mishandled the Greg Hardy case. Then he tried to smear Tom Brady. It worked with 50% of the population. The other 50% decided the NFL was trying to smear one of its biggest stars. A federal judge was one of the people in that latter group. Thus, the Tom Brady suspension was overturned, further damaging Goodell’s reputation.
Meanwhile, NFL owners are wondering why their commissioner spent 7 months trying to prove that footballs were deflated, especially when the NFL’s lawyers admitted behind closed doors that the facts pointed in the other direction. After his legal victory, the sports media (besides ESPN) sided with Tom Brady. Public opinion further tipped away from him. While he has a big contract that runs into 2017, none of this can be good for his long term position as commissioner.
When Roger Goodell became the commissioner, he wanted people to know there was a new sheriff in town and he would come down hard on players. At the time, he was applauded by fans and reporters. Over the years, Goodell’s high-profile authoritarian ways have assured that the NFL got media coverage 365 days a year, but that offseason media coverage was largely focused on the NFL Front Office. He’s expanded his authority, while becoming a key part of most every story. That’s been a detriment to the NFL. Sure, the TV numbers are larger than ever, but that’s more a case of fan interest in fantasy sports, population growth, and inflation. People can’t seriously think Roger Goodell is the reason the NFL’s revenues have grown: they always grow.
However you feel, Roger Goodell has become in the past year a much-maligned executive. He’s a laughingstock. It’s common to see him portrayed as the worst commissioner in sports history. In a world with Gary Bettman, that’s saying a lot. By virtue of Goodell’s touching upon virtually every other case on this list (except Rowdy), I’d say his place at #3 most-hated is justified.
2. Michael Vick – Quarterback – Pittsburgh Steelers
Being a dog killer earns you a special place in Hell. If it’s not that extreme, then it certainly earns you a special place in the enmity of soft-hearted Americans. Pitting dogs against one another in brutal bloodsport, then killing the losers, is barbaric. It’s seen by many people as a special kind of villainy, because it’s preying on the innocent and the dependent.
It’s a little bit like training small children to fight one another, then killing the one which consistently loses you money.
All in all, Michael Vick has earned his place as one of the most-hated athletes in the NFL. As I mentioned in the Ben Roethlisberger entry, Vick still draws the hatred of protestors years after Roethlisberger is given a pass by those same fans.
That being said, it would be hard to name someone who paid more for his crimes than Michael Vick. I once saw it estimated that he lost $50 million in salary and endorsements from the dogfighting scandal. He spent 18 months in a federal prison–and it wasn’t some white collar prison. He was suspended for a year, so he lost several of his prime years. Michael Vick permanently lost his reputation. People still hate him to this day…and they hate him with a fury that won’t go away.
None of that is to make you feel sorry for Michael Vick. He did it all to himself. But when he returned to football and people wanted him banned for life, I said that no one was more likely to have been rehabilitated than Michael Vick. By that, I mean that I’m pretty confident he’ll never kill dogs again. I have less confidence about all the wife beaters and child abusers and other assorted violent criminals on this list. They say Michael Vick volunteers for animal causes these days. He seems to have reformed. Whether you think it’s sincere or not, I bet we can agree he won’t be a repeat offender.
Michael Vick is not likely to change your mind about him. That’s why, 8 years after the Bad Newz Kennels investigation began, people still hated Michael Vick with a burning passion. If you polled your average NFL fan, I’d say he still ranks high–very high–on the hate scale.
1. Tom Brady – QB – New England Patriots
Hatred is a strange thing. When we see a person punished for their misdeeds, it’s a natural reaction on some level to think they’ve done their penance. When they commit an offense and escape punishment, the injustice sits there before people, taunting them.
For those who think Tom Brady is a cheater, the idea that he sits smugly in his mansion each night with his supermodel wife can be galling.
In the NFL as of October 2015, Tom Brady got away scot-free with his crimes.
Tom Brady has his defenders. He has New England Patriots fans who would defend him if he joined the Taliban. He has an online community of rationalists and contrarians (trolls) who wonder if he committed an offense at all. He has anti-authoritarians who simply hate Roger Goddell, and want to see Brady stick it to The Man. It’s a big coalition of NFL fans who support the Patriots quarterback, but it’s a bigger coalition who think he cheated and wants to see him punished, somehow and some way.
That coalition is massive. The New England Patriots have made many enemies over the past 15 years. AFC rivals like the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, and Denver Broncos have whole fanbases which dislike Tom Brady, whether they respect him or not. On some level, every group of fans in the AFC dislikes the Patriots. The Patriots always seem to win. They’re always there in the playoffs. They’ve climbed the mountain 4 times. They stand on the verge of history, ready to do what the 1970s Steelers and the 1980s Niners couldn’t do…win 5 championships in one era. If you’re not from New England, you’ve got to hate these guys.
Like Roger Goodell, I’ve written a ton on the Tom Brady saga. I tend to believe Tom Brady was the victim of a smear campaign. The key piece of evidence is the fact (yes, FACT) that 11 of the 12 balls were not underinflated. The ball that was underinflated was 0.20 of a pound underneath the limit. I know you’re been told just the opposite–that 11 of the 12 balls were way underinflated–but that’s why it’s a smear campaign. Chris Mortensen was told by an anonymous league source erroneous information. He reported that on ESPN and the impression stuck that the Patriots were guilty as sin. Instead of retracting its accusations when the truth was known, Roger Goodell doubled down when the Wells Report came out and doubled down again when he rejected Brady’s appeal. It took a federal judge taking a look at the evidence to say, “Wait, all your facts are wrong,” for the true story to come out. It still isn’t reported very well.
I know I’m not going to convince the Tom Brady Haters. That’s why Tom Brady is the most hated personality in the NFL. He’s won as many Super Bowls as Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. He’s won for 15 years and doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down. Brady’s married to an exotic supermodel. He’s handsome. He’s rich beyond means. He works for the evil Bill Belichick and the well-dressed, well-meaning, seemingly dim-witted Robert Kraft.
On top of it all, he may have cheated…twice! So I get it: we should hate Tom Brady. You’re worse than a dog killer. You might think you’ve gotten away with deflating balls, but it’s a legion of NFL fans who hate your very existence. You win the most-hated award, as you’ve won everything else this year.
Mr. Brady, receive your plaque.
For Those Who Want More Hatred and Negativity
There you have it: the 16 most hated personalities in the National Football League. If you want 16 more well-hated NFL players, coaches, and executives, keeping reading in a post I call “16 More of the Most Despised NFL Players“. Let us know if you agree with the decisions of the SportClash Editorial Board. We like to hear your feedback, whether you’re for us or again’ us.