MLB, NBA, NFL, sports radio

Polarizing Sports Figures

Sports dominate so much of my time. I love sports and am a huge fan of the athletes that entertain. The athletes god-given ability, trained skill, luck, and evident dedication to a singular sport is inspiring to me. I can often forget that these athletes are humans, with greater ambition and influence than almost all of the population. They often find themselves at the intersect of a current issue and maintaining their own brand. Which isn’t something to be taken lightly. A brand is a valuable asset and can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This crossroads can be an almost paralyzing place to be – holding onto ones morals and beliefs vs the monetary benefit and longevity of a career. Consequently, fans choose a side based on the action of the athlete. For example, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a black leather fist on the podium of the 1968 Summer Olympics. They stood for something they saw greater than a medal and we vilified in the same way they were lauded as heroes.

Athletes don’t have to stand for a social cause to be viewed as polarizing. On the other end of this spectrum is the brash, the loud, and the cheaters. The ones who annoy and enrage opponents and fans. They wag their tongues with the same kind of vigor they execute their sport. You hate them for their supposed lack of integrity or respect for the game; “they don’t play in the right way”.

You could write a long list of athletes. I have listed a few. And I found that you can bucket them in three categories: ShiftersLoud and Proud, and Cheats. Look, these buckets aren’t perfect, but they simplify and make this conversation fun… And by that I mean, fun to simplify why they are loved and hated to a couple of sentences at most with some YouTube links. It should also be noted that they aren’t just average players. They are sometimes one of the best if not the best of their team or sport. I have selected past and present… basically those who came to my mind in a span of 5 minutes…

I am not going to try and justify what they did, or who they are, but just state it as I see it.

These are the athletes that moved the line or acted like a tectonic shift in the sporting landscape, forcing fans and spectators to take a side. They stood for themselves or for something bigger. They influenced future generations of athletes.

  • Jackie Robinson – His loudest statement was playing through the disgusting treatment thrown his way. He rose above the hate and played at a high level as the first African American athlete to play in the MLB.
  • Muhammad Ali – Not going to Vietnam was not popular and hurt his legacy for a short period. Funny how time plays out and how the war is now perceived. He is lauded as the greatest boxer of all time. He was loud and brash, with a sharp tongue that matched his jab.
  • Colin Kaepernick – Kneeling for the national anthem in protest of police brutality has killed his career, but he did it for what he felt was bigger cause.
  • Jim Brown – An outspoken civil rights activist. He has had his fair share of personal issues, but is still considered a sage of wisdom for other young athletes.
  • LeBron James – He has toed the line between protecting his brand image to a point where he was criticized, but how now sought guidance from those before him. He is very willing to state his opinion and make a vocal stand.
  • Tim Tebow – He’s as passionate is he is religious. The Heisman trophy winner may seem out of place, given this line-up mentioned, but he doesn’t fit neatly into any other category… And I really do see him as an athlete that changed the playing feild just enough to warrant a spot on the list… People were “Tebowing”.

Loud and Proud

  • Mike Tyson – He once told a reporter that he would eat children… bit off Holyfield’s ear… rape charges…. has some screws loose. No doubt.
  • Floyd Mayweather – If posting betting slips with hundreds of thousands of dollars isn’t obnoxious enough, just watch his tactics and listen to his mouth.
  • Connor McGregor – Absolutely obnoxious. NSFW video of him just talking.. for 10 minutes…. A lot of this, if not most of it, is for entertainment. He’s gotta promote himself. But his antics know no bounds… And its landed himself a fight against Mayweather. So…..
  • Terrell Owens – After the Catch II, a loudmouth was born. He was a fierce competitor. I remember he came back after a broken leg when he was with the Eagles and had the game of his life. It wasn’t enough. But I also remember his sharpe, the pom poms, and the Dallas Star Celebration. He wasn’t afraid to be brash.
  • Draymond Green – Look, if he was on my team, I would love him. I love Ron Artest; a complete physco, but facts are facts. Draymond Green is the most annoying player in the NBA.
  • LaVar Ball – If I need to post links of why he is so loud then you have been living under a cave this last couple months. I will post them anyway. Stephen A. SmithLeBron. White guys slow, lost us the game. Kristen Leahy. The last one to me is the most telling of who he is – a total jackass.
  • Richard Sherman – Highly educated and incredible athlete, but lost his cool in a very passionate moment on the largest stage. I had no idea who he was until that happened. It was smart, because outside of Stanford and Seahawks fans, no one knew who he was.

The Cheats

  • Pete Rose – Not a baseball guy. Wish I was. I’ll try to get there one day. The history of baseball is so rich. Part of this rich history is the cheats and most notably, Pete Rose. Betting on games, even his own, has kept him out of the HOF. Remember the saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Fans and writers have a real challenge of how they can separate the two.
  • Alex Rodriguez/ Barry Bonds/ Mark McQwire/Sammy Sosa – So coveted and valued in baseball’s history is statistics. They have stats for everything. Acronyms for stats. WAR, OBP, BABIP, UZR… it goes on and on. You get it. One of the mosts precious stats to track was the HR. I said was, because after the guys listed, it now has a * next to anyone. They changed the way we look at baseball and hitting. Shoot. Throw in Roger Clemens in the same pool of guys. For a good five years or so, maybe longer, baseball was really fun to watch. It was great. Guys were slamming balls out of the ball park. Pitchers were doing amazing things. All the while fantastic lies were being told to fans. They were all cheating. Steroids changed baseball. Its no longer “pure”.
  • Lance Armstrong – I mean, the lengths he went to win six tour de France made people care. Shoot, we all had the yellow wrist band. America suddenly gave a crap about cycling. CYCLING! Lance Armstrong was a household name. Name ANY other cycler EVER. You can’t, but you can name him. It all came crashing down too.
  • Tiger Woods – I don’t know if people hated him before he had a wild episode with his wife, but his golf game and life went to crap after that. I guess people hated him before, cause he was so good, but after he was found to be cheating on his wife and later having an issue with drugs, people definitely didn’t have a rooting interest for the guy.
  • Kobe Bryant – Being accused of rape never helps. In fact its horrible. Before that people just hated him for how much he shot. Then his morals came into the picture.
  • Metta World Peace – Malice in the palace to a sharp elbow to James Harden’s head. I am sure there is more ole Metta did, but those two stick out like a shore thumb. He has some screws loose.
  • OJ Simpson – Just watch the fantastic documentary O.J. Made in America.
  • Ndamukong Suh – He stomps on people. He just does dirty stuff.
The lists aren’t perfect. They aren’t complete. The categories might be off, but these were the athletes I thought of. I am sure its slanted with my viewership and attention to certain sports (no Soccer, women, etc.). On second thought, there are definitely some polarizing women athletes I should mention. Danica Patrick came to my mind, Abby Wambach or Hope Solo, Billie Jean King, even Ronda Rousey.
For quite a few of us our hopes and escapes from reality are tied so closely to sports, a vehicle of entertainment. This isn’t scripted though and we can’t get after the director or screen writers for having our star player make a controversial stand or hitting a woman (Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Joe Mixon). Life is messy, but that is part of why sports is so great, the players aren’t perfect. If they were, we would just stick with watching Hoosiers.

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