One thing that has always made sports so entertaining is how sports fans have traditionally been so good at identifying the villains of sports. Usually, these aren’t bad guys but, for one reason or another, the home audience has decided that they would rather see the other guy win.
In the summer of 2012, the villains of sports are winning.
Today, no scene is more indicative of the villains’ progress than Roger Federer dismantling Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Federer isn’t a prototypical villain—fans are used to rooting for him, or at least appreciating his excellence.
As far as we know, he seems to be a likable guy, and he’s certainly a remarkable tennis player. But, today, he’s the thing standing between Andy Murray and a Wimbledon trophy.
That makes him the villain.
Federer has played the part extremely well. His calm demeanor and pinpoint accuracy that usually make him so easy to get behind made him look like an assassin, here to kill all hope of somebody from the UK winning Wimbledon.
Federer made today’s match look like a Terminator movie: hard-fighting Andy Murray against the invincible machine that never misses a shot and hardly breaks a sweat.
At the box office, it’s the Summer of the Superhero. The Avengers cleaned up. The Amazing Spider Man, um, exists. The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most anticipated movies of the year.
In sports, it’s the Summer of the Big Villain.
It started in May which, of course, is not actually the summer. For the convenience of this column making sense, it’s going to start in May.
That is when Manchester City sealed their English Premier League title, a huge-money team from Manchester who had, along with their in-city rivals, dominated the entire nearly-endless EPL slate.
Shortly after that, Chelsea—another huge-money EPL side, this one featuring John Terry—went on to win the UEFA Champions League.
The Euro did not break from this pattern. Big Bad Favorite Spain did something that has never been done before: earn the jealous hatred of everyone in Europe without having a mega-star like Messi.
Also in the Euro, Mario Balotelli, the “why always me” guy, finished off England in the tournament with a brilliant game for Italy.
Stateside, it was LeBron’s turn. Since leaving Cleveland, James has been the villain of villains in American sports, but it seemed like nothing was going to stop the Heat from winning the title this past season.
With the season on the line against a Celtics team that had a habit of getting in his way, LeBron kicked his engine into overdrive and never looked back.
Like Murray, the Thunder looked like they would have been better off against a Terminator.
The Lakers have added Steve Nash in the NBA’s offseason. The Heat got stronger by adding Ray Allen at a shocking discount.
Oh, and the "New Orleans Hornets Who Are Owned By The NBA" were awarded the No. 1 pick in the completely-above-criticism draft lottery.
While we’re on the subject of questionable decisions, Manny Pacquiao was denied what really looked like a victory by boxing judges, who will not be denied their claim in the "Pound For Pound Biggest Villain In Sports" category.
Any golfer knows that the only opponent a golfer needs to worry about is the course on which they are playing. The US Open, where the course always wins, made Olympic into a villain of a different color, chewing up golfer after golfer.
An amateur from high school won us all over on Saturday, but Olympic crushed him on Sunday just like it crushed Tiger, Phil and so many others.
This was a course that once got Arnold Palmer. It was not afraid of any one man. It had already once claimed an Army.
By the All-Star Break, the Major League Baseball standings have begun to reflect the villains’ dominance over sports.
The New York Yankees are currently on a 100-win pace. Other title contenders include: the Texas Rangers (based out of Dallas, in case the name threw you off), both teams in greater Los Angeles, the Nationals and the Mets. Big-market baseball can be beaten, but it doesn’t go away.
Also in Major League Baseball: Ryan Braun continues to play stellar baseball after last year’s controversy. Sure, he could win the Triple Crown and still not get the vote for NL MVP after last year’s sample debacle, but he’s still out there.
With him come the whispers, and make no mistake—those whispers are baseball’s biggest villain. Until the sport defeats them it will never move forward.
That’s only through July 8. There’s more to come.
Team USA Basketball—a lovable villain, but a villain nonetheless—takes center stage in London at the end of this month. More LeBron. More juggernauts dominating a sport.
Spain could continue their dominance of the European sport of choice by winning the Olympic tournament, in which they are favored.
Both Andy Murray and Roger Federer will return to Wimbledon as part of the Olympic Games.
Liverpool Football Club visits Fenway Park in a display of awkwardness where Bostonians have to pretend to like a team many of them view as a parasite here to destroy their beloved baseball team.
NFL camp starts soon, which means that the Jets take training camp and Tim Tebow gets his first crack at being a bit of a villain. Belichick and Brady will not give up the top spot in that category so easily, however.
The New Orleans Saints will also have a “bad guy” label after the whole “hurting the other players on purpose for money” thing.
There are two more major golf tournaments left in the summer. Tiger Woods appears to be healthy and showing occasional flashes of his old self. How long from the moment he starts winning again until the moment he joins LeBron as one of sports’ biggest villains?
There are some villain wild cards as well.
By the end of the summer, some people may have a sharply different opinion of Lance Armstrong one way or the other.
The National Hockey League faces labor negotiations again very soon. Donald Fehr, who nearly killed Major League Baseball with his grandstanding in 1994, is in charge of the NHL Players’ Association.
NFL preseason will give Roger Goodell another chance to hold a city hostage by making veiled threats about moving that team to Los Angeles, because the NFL doesn’t have enough fan support and is therefore right to torture its own fans like this.
Every time Serena Williams takes the court, fans need to wonder if they’re going to see the legendary tennis player or the angry boss of the court who threatens line judges.
These are not necessarily bad things. Villains are the topic of conversation around the water cooler. They make sports more entertaining for being part of it.
If Murray were the favorite this morning, playing some also-ran, what fun would that have been? It had to be Murray versus "The Perfect Tennis Machine."
It’s the Summer of the Villain, and Federer has officially won enough tennis matches to be a natural villain.
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