The world of sports is loaded with heroes, guys who go the extra mile and make it easy to root for them. And then there are the guys who engender the exact opposite reaction. As we wind down the year and head into 2010, we decided it was time to put together a definitive list of the top 10 villains from the world of sports during the past decade.
10. Floyd Landis
Landis won the 2006 Tour de France but was disqualified after being caught doping. Not since Ben Johnson in 1988 has such a high-profile champion been stripped of his title for illegal drug use. Landis proceeded to go on a long crusade to clear his name. He was unsuccessful and managed to embarrass himself, his country and his sport by refusing to accept responsibility for his actions. His appeals failed and he was eventually banned from cycling for two years in December of 2007.
Landis and his camp also attempted to blackmail former USA cycling great Greg LeMond in the wake of the controversy after LeMond publicly voiced his anger towards Landis. Landis’ manager threatened to leak information concerning the fact that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child. Very compassionate of them.
9. Todd Bertuzzi
Anytime a hockey player gains a spot in the collective consciousness of non-Canada, he’s either really good (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin) or he’s done something very bad. And with the possible exception of nincompoop commissioner Gary Bettman, no one in the past decade of the NHL has done worse than Todd Bertuzzi.
Bertuzzi was a pretty respected power forward until March 8, 2004, when he entered the halls of infamy with one of the cheapest shots in history. Bertuzzi’s Canucks were playing the Colorado Avalanche, and hopping mad over a hit delivered by the Avs’ Steve Moore to Vancouver star Markus Naslund the previous time the team’s met.
Most of the Canucks felt that it was a cheap shot since it sent Naslund out of the lineup for three games, although no penalty was called and Moore was not fined for the hit, so by the letter of the law he didn’t do anything wrong.
Anyhow, the Canucks were ready to take out Moore in a most Ogie Oglethorpe-manner during that March game. Vancouver’s Matt Cooke was first to join the action, fighting Moore in the first period. With Colorado ahead 8-2 in the third period, Bertuzzi decided it was time to throw some more punches at Moore, but already having been in a scrap that night, Moore decided to pass. So Bertuzzi followed him down the ice, grabbed the back of his jersey and punched him in the back of the head. The result for Moore: three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, and facial cuts. And it’s every bit as serious as everyone one of those words I don’t understand implies, because he’s still never played another game.
Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season after the incident, and earned a spot in the all-time hall of douche.
8. Isiah Thomas
Where to begin…Thomas helped send the Continental Basketball Association into bankruptcy in 2001. Then he was the coach of the Indiana Pacers from 2000-03, but couldn’t take a team that had previously won the Eastern Conference title to any sort of glory. In December of 2003, the New York Knicks hired Thomas to run the team and he basically did all he could to ruin the franchise.
He traded away several future top draft picks for Eddy Curry, hired, then fired head coach Larry Brown in a huge debacle, then became the head coach of the team. He was fired after the 2008 season.
Thomas and Madison Square Garden were also sued for sexual harassment by Anucha Browne Sanders. Sanders won the settlement and one of the largest cash awards in history at $11.6 million. While under oath, Thomas claimed that he had called Sanders a “bitch,” and also said it was appropriate to exchange hugs and kisses with co-workers. He still maintains his innocence.
7. Terrell Owens
T.O. has never been in any legal trouble… which shows you how much of a jerk he had to be to make it ahead of some of the other names on this list.
Owens’ reputation as the ultimate me-first player began in San Francisco when, among other things, he accused his quarterback of being gay. But talent is talent, so T.O. did manage to work his way out of that situation into a pretty sweet gig in Philadelphia, where he helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl.
But love can only last so long. Soon, T.O. was saying that Brett Favre would be a better quarterback for the Eagles than Donovan McNabb. It wasn’t long before he was suspended by the team and doing sit-ups in his driveway in front of television cameras.
The traveling show moved to Dallas, where T.O. first made headlines with an accidental drug overdose that was not a suicide attempt because as his publicist reminded us, he had “25 million reasons to live.”
However, T.O. was a good teammate in his first couple of years in Dallas, tearfully defending Tony Romo as “my quarterback” after a playoff loss. That was all well and good until the next year, when he decided he wasn’t getting the ball enough, tore the locker room in half and found himself railroaded to Buffalo in 2009.
6. Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod was supposed to be the great hope for baseball fans, a former No. 1 overall pick who would someday erase the tragedy that was Barry Bonds’ assault on the record books. All we had was time until this all-natural, likable hitting dynamo knocked Bonds from his lofty, steroids-enhanced perch.
And then it happened. We found out Rodriguez was just as bad as Bonds. And his ridiculous apology/admission was one of the worst I’ve ever heard. The Titanic is currently more seaworthy than that explanation. Until then A-Rod’s other “incidents” had created scorn but not open hatred from the sporting public. Given his use of performance-enhancing drugs, those previous issues look much bigger and even more annoying.
Even forgiving the fact that his yearly salary is nearly equivalent to the GDP of Bolivia, there’s still tons of things that make him a villain. His trade to the New York Yankees started the Hate-Rod campaign. His comical lack of postseason production only added to it. Then he was caught cheating on his wife with (what looked like) a she-male. Soon after a very public divorce he was supposedly dating a 50-year-old and completely disgusting Madonna. And he cheated on her. Then this postseason while we had to watch him win a World Series after admitting to being a cheater, we also had to watch the painfully annoying Kate Hudson at every freaking Yankees game.
His most villainous play on the field was easily his attempt to slap the ball out of the Boston Red Sox Bronson Arroyo’s hand during game six of the 2004 ALCS. The news that he had two paintings of himself as a centaur over his bed only cemented his status on this list.
5. Bill Belichick
When he took over as head coach of the New England Patriots in 2000, not much was expected from this completely uninspiring, creepy introvert. Three Super Bowls, four AFC Championships and one undefeated regular season later and Belichick could easily be dubbed coach of the decade without much debate. But make no mistake, Belichick is to the rest of the NFL what Darth Vader was to the Jedi.
Thanks to “Spygate” Belichick’s legacy and the legitimacy of the Patriots’ dynasty will forever be (at least slightly) questioned. From what is publicly known about the incident, the Patriots had been illegally videotaping the signals of opposing teams and using the tapes to basically learn what plays were coming and change their calls accordingly. New England had apparently being relying on the practice from at least 2001 until they were caught in 2007. It is also known that the Patriots videotaped the St. Louis Rams’ practice before Super Bowl XXXVI and used the information during the game. So Belichick was behind a team cheating to gain a competitive advantage in at least one (and likely two others) Super Bowl win.
Aside from cheating on the field, Belichick has been one-half of an adulterous affair that caused a divorce. He also looks like a homeless man as he stalks the sidelines in a hoodie with cut-off sleeves, has often run up the score on hapless opponents and possesses the personality of a garden gnome. His mumbling press conferences filled with coach-speak have also made him one of the most maddening people to cover in the world of sports.
In a final salvo, Belichick’s name does not appear in the Madden NFL video game series. He is known as “NE Coach” because he is not a member of the NFL Head Coaches Association which licenses the game. Belichick is the only NFL head coach who has chosen not to join the association.
Who does he think he is, QB Browns?
4. Michael Vick
What started out as one of the most promising and exciting careers in NFL history came crashing down spectacularly in 2007, but the crumbling of the Vick Empire had begun long before he was arrested for running a dogfighting ring. After being taken with the first pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, Vick was flooded with endorsements and love from the media. That all changed gradually and had come to a head by the time the feds raided his house.
In 2004 two Vick associates were arrested for distributing marijuana. The car they were in was registered to Vick. Again in 2004 Vick and members of his party were caught on camera stealing a watch from a security guard at Atlanta’s Hatsfield International Airport. In 2005 Sonya Elliot filed a civil lawsuit against Vick alleging that she contracted genital herpes from him in 2002 after he failed to inform her he had the disease. The “Ron Mexico” incident has earned its place in the sports blog hall of fame.
In 2006, Vick showed his appreciation to the fans in Atlanta for their support by saluting them with one finger. In 2007, Vick was caught attempting to board a plane with a water bottle that had a hidden compartment for storing his pot.
Then in 2007, as we all know, he was arrested and sent to federal prison for running, funding and participating in a dogfighting ring.
In the past decade, no athlete fell further, faster than Michael Vick.
3. Roger Clemens
A lot of people were taken aback by the post-retirement revelations that exposed “The Rocket” as an asshat of the highest order. But we knew it all along.
The pattern of lies and jag-off activities started at the beginning of the decade when Clemens grabbed a shard of Mike Piazza’s broken bat and tossed it back at Piazza as he ran towards first base during the 2000 World Series, explaining that he didn’t see Piazza running and that he thought the piece of broken bat was actually the ball.
Solid story, guy.
The patterns of douchery continued as the decade progressed. Seemingly every season, he would tell us that he was retiring. That is, until the price was good enough for him to return to a team midseason. And when the price wasn’t enough, it helped to have certain conditions attached, like not actually having to be with the team except for days that he was scheduled to make a start. (Despite the repetitiveness of this drill, we still got to hear the single worst call in sports broadcasting history prior to his 45th comeback).
But of all the dick-headed things we’ve ever seen, nothing prepared us for the post-career fall of the Rocket when he finally did call it quits for the 98th and final time.
Clemens was named 82 times in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. Unlike most of the other guys mentioned, he has repeatedly denied ever using steroids, even telling Congress under oath that he never did. However, he did come clean about buying HGH, which was used by his wife, not him. Just like Piazza’s bat was a ball…
2. The Bowl Championship Series
Wait a second. That’s not a person! How can it be a villain?
When you’re as decadent and depraved as the BCS, anything is possible. In more than one cinematic thriller, the villain is not an actual person but some shady, faceless corporation that stands against everything fair and honest. And pretty much any of those movies could have been modeled after it.
The BCS is the ultimate example of the rich screwing over the have-nots so they can get even richer. And more often than not, it has done very little to ease the debate over the true national champion. Remember the year that USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all finished the regular season undefeated? Or the year that Alabama, Texas, TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati all finished the regular season undefeated?
Because of the mentality that every regular season game is a playoff game, we rarely ever see quality non-conference matchups that were once a staple of college football. Now, everyone is too afraid of picking up that loss that might keep them out of this ridiculously constructed mechanism.
One of the funniest things argued by BCS supporters is that the debate over who should be in the game is part of what makes college football exciting. Really? You know what’s actually exciting? Games like the FCS (Division I-AA) national semifinal between Montana and Appalachian State last weekend.
The final sign of the BCS’ sheer evil: there is bipartisan support in Congress to get rid of the thing. When’s the last time those people ever agreed on anything?
1. Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds broke the most hallowed record in sports after being outed as one of the most juiced individuals on the planet. Bonds is such a warm, cuddly guy and the popularity of his reality show solidified the loving relationship he has with the sporting public.
All that said, while juiced up, Bonds had the most dominant offensive stretch of any player in baseball history from 2000 to 2004.
But Bonds’ continued denials of his use of performance-enhancing drugs (despite mountains of evidence proving it) and his “I’m a victim” mentality took the focus off the good things going on in sports. Everyone will have their own take on the career of Barry Bonds. To me he’ll be the guy who put himself above baseball when he owed his life to the game. Not only is Bonds a selfish jerk, he’s also just a bad guy.
Not since Ty Cobb has there been a more widely reviled villain in all of sports than Barry Bonds. As far as evil in sports are concerned, the first decade of the 2000s belonged to Barry Lamar Bonds.
Dishonorable Mentions: Bud Selig, Kobe Bryant, Gary Bettman, Tim Donaghy, Urban Meyer, Rafael Palmeiro, Marion Jones, Ron Artest, Mark McGwire, Kelvin Sampson, J.J. Redick, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lane Kiffin, Marco Materazzi, Al Davis.