For all the athletes who bask in their fans’ unconditional love, just as many are hated on by opposing fans and teams. Regardless of their success on the basketball court, hockey rink or football field, many sports stars struggle to redeem themselves after they’ve tarnished their reputations.
Some of these athletes just don’t play fair, others have fallen foul of the law and a few simply rub fans, teammates and the media the wrong way. Love them, hate them or love to hate them, these athletes will definitely be remembered for more than their sporting achievements.
He’s now retired from professional ice hockey, but former left winger Raffi Torres could be considered one of the most hated players in hockey history. Animosity toward Torres came from both fans and fellow players, following incidents of head-hunting and dirty play. In a 2015 preseason game for the San Jose Sharks, he was ejected for hitting Anaheim Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg in the head.
Despite being widely hailed as the best player in the NBA, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James definitely had a habit of rubbing fans the wrong way in the early days of his career. He often danced during timeouts and showed up other teams. At the age of 17, James got “Chosen1” tattooed on his back, a move that may have been prophetic but was seen as arrogant at the time.
Dennis Rodman, aka “The Worm,” played for the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his professional basketball career. He was one of the NBA “bad boys” of the 1990s, alienating his more conservative fans by dying his hair crazy colors and covering his body in tattoos. But it was kicking cameramen and trash-talking fans of opposing teams that really cast him in a bad light.
Alex Rodriguez, nicknamed “A-Rod,” had a long professional baseball career before he became known as Jennifer Lopez’s other half. The former shortstop and third baseman, who played 22 seasons for the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, didn’t impress fans with his poor playoff performances with the Yankees. His reputation took another hit years later when it was revealed that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his Rangers period.
Kobe Bryant’s arrogance both on and off the basketball court turned fans against him when he was still a teenager drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. The controversy around him took a darker turn in 2003, when he was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old girl. Bryant, who was married at the time, admitted to a sexual encounter with the girl but denied raping her. The criminal case was dropped after his accuser refused to testify and Bryant later settled a civil lawsuit for an undisclosed amount, but the damage was done.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Professional boxing promoter Floyd Mayweather Jr. alienated fans during his own boxing days due to his fighting style, which was based on avoiding contact as often as possible. He drove away even more fans as well as the majority of the general public when allegations of domestic violence came to light.
One of the highest-paid athletes in the world for several years, professional golfer Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is a polarizing character. Loved by some, he lost the respect of many — and destroyed his image as a devoted family man — when it was revealed that he had cheated on his wife with several other women.
Lance Armstrong has won the Tour de France seven times and beaten testicular cancer, but his achievements will always be overshadowed by his doping scandal — the biggest in cycling history. Armstrong was stripped of Tour de France titles and eventually admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.
Even the most loyal fans of former boxer Mike Tyson found it difficult to support him following his 1992 conviction of raping a Miss Black America contestant. Tyson, who once called himself “the baddest man on the planet,” served three years of a six-year prison sentence for the crime. He also threatened to eat a fellow boxer’s children and bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has earned his place as one of the best players in the NFL, but he has a reputation for arrogance — and being connected to two cheating scandals during his career hasn’t helped.
After allegations of ordering the deliberate deflating of balls used in the 2014-2015 AFC Championship Game — which he denied — Brady was suspended for four games and the Patriots were fined $1 million. He’s definitely the NFL player people love to hate.
O.J. Simpson was a popular NFL player during his running-back days, and he remained in the public eye after retiring from professional football, appearing in movies like “The Naked Gun.” But his reputation took a massive hit after he was charged with murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her boyfriend Ronald Goldman. After a lengthy, high-profile trial, Simpson was acquitted (he later was found “responsible” for their deaths in civil suits filed by Nicole and Goldman’s families).
Simpson also found himself back in court in 2008 on armed robbery and kidnapping charges and sentenced to 33 years imprisonment. He was granted parole on July 20, 2017, and released on Oct. 1, 2017.
Barry Bonds may have been one of the best professional baseball players of all time, but he did plenty to alienate both fans and the media. Bonds has acknowledged that he wasn’t the friendliest, calling himself a “dumbass.” However, it was the allegations of performance-enhancing drugs that did the real damage. Bonds eventually admitted to taking steroids, but it was a case of too little, too late.
Former quarterback Jay Cutler was seen as standoffish by his NFL teammates and the public. In one ESPN poll, Cutler received 42 percent of the votes in the category, “Who is the one QB you would not want as a teammate?”
NASCAR driver Kurt Busch was well-known for feuding with teammates and reporters, but his anger management issues went deeper than that. In 2015, he was suspended from NASCAR for allegedly committing an act of domestic violence against ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
Conor McGregor divides opinion among UFC fans due to his brash tactics at press conferences and his failure to defend either of his UFC belts after making history at UFC 205. And then there was the time he threw a dolly through a bus window, injuring a few fighters and leaving them unable to fight at UFC 223.
Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo may have self-awareness on his side (he told a reporter for The Times in 2015, “I am not the humblest person in the world, I admit that”) but he might need more than that to survive the current rape allegations against him. The Juventus and Portugal player is being sued by Kathryn Mayorga, who claims Ronaldo sexually assaulted her in a Las Vegas hotel in 2009 and then used underhanded tactics to obstruct the criminal investigation and buy her silence for $375,000.
Professional wrestler and mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey has had her ups and downs with the public throughout her career. After she was knocked out by Holly Holm in 2016, losing her UFC Women’s Bantamweight title, she was widely criticized for bashing Paige Vanzant for congratulating Holm on her victory. More recently, it’s been reported that her antics behind the scenes at judo tournaments made her unpopular with her fellow judokas.
Over-the-top celebrating on the football field aside, Cam “Killa Cam” Newton left a bad taste in NFL fans’ mouths after his Carolina Panthers lost the Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos. Newton came across as immature during the post-game interview, refusing to answer questions before walking out of the press conference.
Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is criticized for being a recluse, but beyond that, the ill-feeling toward him is nothing personal. Generally, he’s simply hated for playing for Barcelona, historically one of the most polarizing soccer teams in the world. He also gets major bad vibes from Cristiano Ronaldo fans, as the two continue to vie for the position of greatest soccer player of all time.
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is an example of a world-class athlete whose incredible sporting achievements come second to his scandals. Lochte hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil when he and teammates Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger falsely claimed they were held at gunpoint by Brazilian robbers posing as police. (Charges against Lochte for falsely reporting a crime were later dropped.)
He’s also been suspended for committing anti-doping violations and ridiculed for his show, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?”
In his early NFL days, Michael Vick was hailed as a dynamic quarterback, but he had a very public fall from grace when his dogfighting operation was exposed. Vick spent a year in prison and was suspended by the NFL. When he finally got the chance to play again, fans still booed him when he was on the field.
Former wide receiver and NFL record-holder Terrell Owens was a constant headache for coaches, players and fans for being temperamental and disruptive. His behavior kept him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for two years. When he was finally admitted in 2018 — in true T.O. style — he snubbed the official ceremony and hosted his own alternative event.
The world hasn’t always been in love with tennis icon Serena Williams. She got more than a little mud on her face in 2013 when she commented on the charged Steubenville High School rape case, saying, the 16-year-old victim “shouldn’t have put herself in that position.” Williams later publicly apologized and privately spoke to the victim’s parents, which helped to minimize the damage to her public image.
Around the same time, Williams also riled up Maria Sharapova, who beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final, for apparently criticizing Sharapova and her then-boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov.
NASCAR’s “nastiest driver” Tony Stewart is one of the most controversial — and disliked — sports figures of all time. He was widely ridiculed for boasting about his sexual prowess, and regularly demonstrated a lack of control over his emotions. He got into a fist fight with Joey Logano after a late race block and was heavily fined for backing into Brad Keselowski’s car following another race that didn’t go Stewart’s way.
Kevin Garnett was one of the NBA’s most talented players, but he was also one of the most hated. He drove his opponents crazy with his constant trash-talking, which was so extreme — and cruel — it even caused Chris Bosh to lose sleep. Garnett was celebrated as an awesome player, but he was also labeled a “playground bully.”