21 Current Athletes Who Love Them Some Them

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIIDecember 11, 2012

21 Current Athletes Who Love Them Some Them

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    Self-confidence is a common trait among successful athletes, but some jocks love themselves just a little too much. For many, their hubris is all about the Benjamins, strategically used to maximize their off-field earning potential. Others are simply too clueless to realize that it’s not always about them.

    Today’s media climate—fueled by the Internet, social media and a 24-hour news cycle—makes it possible for anyone to become an instant celebrity. This is especially true for those athletes who ascend to the highest levels of their respective sports.

    Some athletes, even seemingly obscure ones, take full advantage of any opportunity to be seen, heard or read. They always know what to tweet, when the cameras are rolling and when to drop the perfect quote in a room full of microphones.

    With so many ways to get noticed, it is difficult to keep track of all the athletes clamoring for attention. Thankfully for us, a special few are so over-the-top with their cries for attention that the sports world can’t help but take notice.

    I happily present to you the 21 most self-centered athletes currently vying for our attention. For those athletes who were snubbed, I fully expect to have my inbox flooded with angry emails from their publicists.

21. Rory McIlroy

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    Rory McIlroy has quickly ascended to the top of the golf world, and he is enjoying every minute of his journey to stardom.

    He finished the 2012 season in dominant fashion after entering the year with questions about his desire to be great. Now that he has proven his doubters wrong, he has no intention of compromising his high-profile lifestyle.

    McIlroy began a well-publicized relationship with WTA star Caroline Wozniacki in 2011, and the two are not shy about their affection for each other. The couple routinely appears in photos taken all over the world, leading many to suspect that the relationship was inhibiting both of their careers.

    While Wozniacki stumbled out of the Top 10, McIlroy went on to win his second golf Major (The PGA Championship), the FedEx Cup and two money titles (PGA and European Tour), all but locking up the 2012 Player of the Year award.

    He also helped the Europeans pull off a stunning upset of the Americans in the 2012 Ryder Cup, capping off a spectacular year that ended with McIlroy regaining the No.1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

    None of this has compromised McIlroys’s jet-setting ways. In fact, he has embraced the blueprint established by golf’s former dominant star, Tiger Woods, riding his stardom to become a global icon and marketing machine.

    Rory McIlroy is sitting pretty atop life’s leaderboard, and he is certainly enjoying the view.

20. Nick Swisher

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    Nick Swisher is MLB’s version of that annoying coworker who never seems to have a bad day. Even when the New York Yankees are struggling, Swisher keeps smiling, as if the 2009 World Series just ended five minutes ago.

    His overly optimistic outlook on life went mostly unnoticed when he was coming up with the Oakland A’s. Once he took his act to New York, however, Swisher soon became a player fans love to hate.

    I have followed Swisher’s career since his days in Oakland, and unlike most, I am convinced that his chipper disposition is not an act. The guy clearly loves his life more than 99 percent of people do.

    He has a hot wife, a World Series ring and makes millions of dollars playing a game, so there’s a lot to like there.

    Still, Swisher often acts as if he forgets that other people are not as fortunate.

    Right now you’re at a 10, Nick. I need you at about a two.

19. Jay Cutler

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    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler does not want anyone telling him how to be a better player or how to lead his team to the Super Bowl. In fact, Cutler doesn’t want anyone’s advice on much of anything, even when coaching him falls directly under their job description.

    He has a huge chip on his shoulder, fueled by being ignored by college football's elite programs. Cutler used that motivation to become the Denver Broncos first-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft

    Cutler’s my-way-or-no-way attitude got him traded out of Denver following the 2008 season. While many Bears fans felt they were finally getting the franchise quarterback that would lead them back to the Super Bowl, his immaturity was on full display during two separate on-field instances this season.

    He chewed out left tackle J’Marcus Webb, before ending his tirade by shoving his teammate. Cutler later blew off Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Tice during a Week 4 Monday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys.  

    Jay Cutler is perfectly happy with his quarterback play and leadership skills, and teammate Brian Urlacher, for one, tends to agree with him.The jury is still out on whether he has it figured out or not, but Cutler will succeed or fail strictly on his terms.

18. Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper was destined to be a star in the major leagues, and he has never been shy about his intentions.

    The Washington Nationals outfielder first gained national attention when he made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old wunderkind. Although he took a nontraditional route to reaching the big leagues quickly, Harper’s single-minded focus was never broken by those who questioned his choices.

    Harper justified the SI hype by becoming the No.1 overall pick in MLB’s 2011 Amateur Draft. He did not make a lot of friends along the way, but he showed enough during his one season in the minors to earn a call-up in late April on his way to becoming the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.

    Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels famously gave Harper a rude welcome to the big leagues when he beaned the rookie the first time he faced him. Harper wasted no time returning the favor by stealing home against the All-Star lefty a few pitches later.

    Harper just turned 20 in October, so he appears to have a long, bright future ahead of him.

    Ask him if he is destined to reach Cooperstown one day, but don’t be surprised if he gives you a chilly “Clown question, bro” as a response.

17. Alexander Ovechkin

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    Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin has made his presence felt on and off the ice ever since becoming the No.1 overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The 2004-05 lockout delayed his NHL debut by a year, but once he arrived, Ovechkin wasted no time dominating the league with his flashy play and brash attitude.

    Ovechkin's rivalry with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby is as much about their contrasting personalities as it is about their battle to be the NHL’s best player. While Crosby exhibits a low-key and professional—some might say boring—persona at all times, Ovechkin has often been criticized for his exuberant on-ice celebrations.

    He clearly enjoys his rock star-like celebrity status as one of the world’s most recognizable athletes. Ovechkin has a love for the nightlife, hot women’s tennis players and appearing in music videos for Russian pop stars.

    In other words, Ovechkin has rarely seen a camera he did not like—with the exception of this unfortunate incident in 2010.

    His star power has diminished over the past two seasons, but at 27, Ovechkin remains one of the NHL’s brightest and most marketable players.

    While he is undoubtedly providing plenty of fodder for the Russian paparazzi during the current NHL lockout, the nation’s capital anxiously awaits his return stateside.

16. Serena Williams

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    Serena Williams is young, fabulous and the best women’s tennis player in the world (when she wants to be). So what’s not to love?

    Well, nothing, if you ask Serena.

    She and older sister Venus have spent much of the past decade defending themselves against critics from the notoriously conservative tennis world. Well after their outspoken father Richard retired from making a scene at seemingly every Grand Slam tournament, the two continued to defend their varied interests and unique paths to stardom, even as they smashed their way into the record books.

    While Venus typically plays it cool, Serena routinely fires back at her detractors with the force of one of her famous first serves.

    She has cursed at chair umpires, brashly dismissed perceived slights by the media and even called out other tennis players—completely unprovoked—she felt were unworthy of the attention they received.

    Serena used tennis to escape the crime-ridden streets of South Central Los Angeles and become one of the most accomplished athletes of all time. Having spent most of her life listening to people tell her what she cannot or should not do, she has understandably grown a bit defensive about creating a life outside of tennis.

15. Rob Gronkowski

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    If you are not a New England Patriots fan, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski can be a hard guy to like.

    If he's not terrorizing your favorite NFL team on the gridiron on Sundays, he’s probably ticking you off by living his life like a lost cast member of Jersey Shore.

    No matter how you feel about Gronkowski, he makes no apologies about livin’ la vida loca. Whether he’s hitting the club after a soul-crushing Super Bowl defeat, taking over the red carpet with his meat-head brothers or showing up in twitpics with porn stars, “Gronk” certainly loves to party all the time.

    I don’t think that Gronkowski’s off-the-field antics are an act contrived to raise his marketability. He’s just a young, rich, good-looking professional athlete who loves all the spoils that come with the job.

    No need to hate on that man. In fact, I hope to have the privilege of tearing the club up with him one day…right after my Dallas Cowboys beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for that day to come.

14. Dwight Howard

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    Few athletes in history have cared as much about their public perception as Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard.

    He wanted so desperately to be liked by all, only to sabotage his own image faster than LeBron James could make “The Decision”.

    Howard’s big-kid personality and Super Man persona were refreshing. He demonstrated a rare quality among celebrities by genuinely enjoying being himself while not appearing to take himself too seriously.

    But all that changed when Howard badly misplayed his pending free agency last season. Instead of letting the situation play out quietly behind closed doors, he behaved like a spoiled brat by constantly pouting to the media and forced his way out of Orlando for pennies on the dollar.

    Howard may, in fact, be the lovable gentle giant that he wants us to believe he is, but last season’s free-agency fiasco at least gives us pause. After watching James handle his decision so poorly, Howard must have been living in his own world to think he was going about it the right way.

13. Chad Johnson

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    Chad Johnson’s playful antics were highly entertaining—or at least tolerable—when he was playing at a Pro-Bowl level for the Cincinnati Bengals. But as his on-field production declined, so did the patience for his flamboyant personality.

    Johnson was on his best behavior in New England despite a diminished role in the Patriots' offense. The wide receiver formerly known as Ochocinco, however, found plenty of time to become one of the most popular and outspoken athletes on Twitter.

    He is still the most followed NFL player on Twitter, with nearly 3.8 million followers.

    Johnson was a seasoned reality-show veteran by the time the Dolphins debuted on last summer’s HBO series Hard Knocks. His affection for the cameras was apparent immediately, as he was featured in profanity-laced segments and randomly popped in on a coach’s meeting.

    Miami’s first-year head coach Joe Philbin was clearly not inspired by Johnson’s behavior, famously cutting the wideout during an episode of Hard Knocks. He is now out of football, and with his 35th birthday arriving in January, Johnson's future in the NFL is in doubt.

12. Alex Rodriguez

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    Only Alex Rodriguez could get himself entangled in a controversy involving soliciting a female fan for her phone number while being benched during an ALCS game. Whether or not the story is true, it became news only because of A-Rod’s failure to acknowledge that the real world does not play by his rules.

    Rodriguez is brutalized by the New York media for essentially not being Derek Jeter, and his treatment outside of New York is not much better. But he, admittedly, does not make it easy to like him.

    Unlike Jeter, A-Rod flaunts his celebrity status at every opportunity, even when he’s painfully unaware that he’s doing so.

    I’m 100-percent certain that over the next six to seven months, while recovering from offseason hip surgery, Rodriguez will show up in some obnoxious photo with some hot celebrity doing something completely innocent.

    The media will, undoubtedly, spin it as another sign that he’s more concerned about his celebrity than winning.That may not be true, but, hey, perception is reality.

11. Tiger Woods

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    Try telling Tiger Woods that Rory McIlroy, not he, is the world’s best golfer. Go ahead, I dare you.

    Tiger may publicly play the big brother/mentor role well, but don’t think for a second that he’s going to willingly pass the torch to Rory as the game’s next great player. In Woods’ mind, the Tiger era is far from over.

    Woods has struggled to regain the form that earned him 14 Major victories ever since a car accident in November 2009 marked the beginning of the end of his public image as we knew it. He has failed to win a Major since the 2009 U.S. Open, but he’s still focused on passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major victories.

    Woods turns 37 later this month, and while his game may no longer strike fear into his opponents, his icy stare is as deadly as ever.

    Just ask Rory how uncomfortable that look is.

10. Ronda Rousey

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    Mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar Ronda Rousey is a bad chick, and she is not afraid to let you know it.

    The 25-year-old Olympic bronze medalist (2008 Beijing Games in Judo) has quickly risen to stardom since her amateur debut in 2010 and is currently preparing to become the female face of Dana White’s Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

    Rousey has used her famous armbar technique to dominate opponents at the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. Her 6-0 record and good looks haven’t hurt her career, but Rousey’s trash-talking is what really sets her apart.

    She is not shy about calling out her opponents and openly questioning their skills. However, Rousey’s most famous verbal assaults have been reserved for other celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and fellow-Olympian Michael Phelps.

    I don’t follow MMA very closely, but Rousey has definitely gotten my attention.

    At the risk of drawing the ire of woman scorned, let me be clear that I love you almost as much as you love yourself, Ronda.

9. Terrell Owens

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    Terrell Owens—the wide receiver who introduced the phrase “I love me some me” into the everyday athlete lexicon—became one of the most polarizing players in NFL history, largely because of his perceived selfishness.

    His commitment to giving his best performance on the field was exceeded only by his need to let you know how good he was—and how poorly his teammates were performing around him.

    Owens never found a quarterback he could not throw under the bus. From Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, to Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and Tony Romo in Dallas, T.O. always found a way to let the public know that his QBs were not getting the most out of his Hall of Fame-caliber skills.

    In many ways, Owens was everything you’d want from an athlete. Despite his commitment to his craft, Owens broke one of sport’s most sacred rules: keep team beef in-house.

    Be it Garcia’s lack of arm strength, McNabb’s lack of physical fitness or Romo’s failure to get him the ball, Owens couldn't help but air his grievances to the media. If there was a right time and place for things to be said, Owens rarely chose wisely when letting his voice be heard.

    He may be loving himself a little less these days after failing to revive his NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks, but that won't stop me from being a T.O. Apologist.

8. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant is no longer one of the Top Five players in the NBA.

    The Los Angeles Lakers’ window for winning another NBA title is probably closed.

    Good luck convincing him of either.

    One thing that is not up for debate is that Kobe Bryant is the most confident player in the NBA. His belief in himself has led him to five NBA championships and more than 30,000 career points scored, so it’s hard to argue with the results.

    While Kobe has built a Hall of Fame resume over his 17-year NBA career, he hasn’t exactly done it quietly. His public flaps with teammates like Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and even Smush Parker have become as legendary as his highlight-reel dunks and game-winning shots.

    Kobe’s moments of hubris are humorously captured in his most recent series of Nike commercials, but Grantland.com editor-in-chief Bill Simmons captures the brilliance of Kobe’s arrogance in this recent article.

    He may never surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time, but that won’t stop Kobe from admiring his own greatness any less.

    Keep on shining, Black Mamba. We love you, baby.

7. Usain Bolt

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    Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt reportedly makes quite a bit of change just for showing up at track meets. He could probably earn a few more dollars teaching other star athletes how to properly market themselves.

    No other athlete in recent memory has parlayed his likability into marketing gold as flawlessly as Bolt has over the past four years.

    LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant have all tried playing the role of likable megastar, but each has had notable missteps along the way.

    Bolt is the guy that everyone seems to love—even other Olympians wanted to party with him in London.

    Bolt truly makes self-absorption seem cool, which is particularly astonishing for an athlete who dominates a sport that we only care about once every four years. Others have managed to make us loath their obsession with celebrities, but Bolt has the trendy status that even other athletes want to emulate.

6. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    If I were Real Madrid star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, I would love me some me, too.

    (I do love me some me, but that’s another story.)

    Good looks? Check.

    Hot girlfriend? Check.

    Insanely wealthy? Check.

    World’s best footballer? Maybe, but Lionel Messi might have a word or two with you about that one.

    Regardless of which side you fall on in the Ronaldo vs. Messi debate, you cannot deny that that the 27-year-old star from Portugal has a very good life.

    Ronaldo is the most followed athlete on Twitter, with nearly 15 million followers. He has another 51 million-plus likes on his Facebook page, and he is very savvy about engaging his fans to maximize his celebrity status.

    The most glaring hole on Ronaldo’s resume is his inability to lead his teams to success on the biggest international stages. He has failed to lead Portugal to victory in any of his six appearances in the UEFA European Football Championship or the FIFA World Cup.

    He still has plenty of time to earn more hardware on the pitch, but off the field, Ronaldo has got it made.

5. Cam Newton

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    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has taken the NFL by storm during his first two years in the league.

    He has also become somewhat of a media sensation since winning the 2010 Heisman Trophy and leading the Auburn Tigers to the BCS National Championship.

    His handsome looks, bright smile, engaging personality and freakish athletic talent make it easy to root for Newton. Unfortunately, his immaturity and lack of humility often overshadow his electric performances.

    Newton has taken to his stardom like a duck to water, but his incessant celebrations and poor sport attitude make you wonder if he will ever take the next step to becoming an elite, championship-caliber quarterback.

    I’m all for Cam getting his paper off the field with a seemingly endless stream of entertaining commercials.

    But he needs to be reminded that his team is just 10-19 in his first two years as starter.

4. Hope Solo

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    Hope Solo clearly read the T.O. handbook on how to alienate fans and teammates.

    She first gained national attention during the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup when she publicly questioned her coach's decision to bench her before the United States’ semifinal match versus Brazil.

    Solo turned out to be right, but her teammates shunned her, and she quickly gained a reputation as a malcontent.

    Instead of humbling Solo, the episode led to even more media fodder as she called out teammates who failed to support her. Although she was somewhat vindicated after leading the U.S. to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Solo clearly still harbors resentment from the 2007 incident.

    Solo has managed to enhance her celebrity status off the field by modeling, acting and penning an autobiography. She most recently made headlines with the bizarre story of a fight involving her husband, former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, the night before their wedding.

    He was recently arrested again in Florida for a parole violation stemming from the incident.

    Despite reports of alleged domestic violence stemming from the event, Solo and Stevens proceeded to get married the next day.The episode reminded us that Hope Solo will defiantly live life on her own terms, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

3. LeBron James

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    These days, it is good be the king, and no one knows this better than Miami Heat star LeBron James.

    After capturing his first NBA title in June, James led the United States to an Olympic gold medal in London. Despite a rough stretch of recent losses, the Heat are again favored to win the NBA title, and James appears to have the world at his feet.

    His superstar status took a bit of a hit after the ill-advised “Decision,” and fuel was added to the fire when Miami fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals in the first year of the Big Three era.

    Now that the union between James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh has been validated, LeBron is back to being the world’s most popular athlete.

    It is obvious that LeBron embraces his place on the throne. The weight of unmet expectations was finally lifted this summer, and his life has become so much more enjoyable because of it.

    Although the title came at the expense of my beloved Boston Celtics, I’m happy to see James finally reach the pinnacle of his sport.

    Enjoy the spoils of celebrity and success young man, because no one knows how long the party will last.

2. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

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    There are not enough words in the English language to describe how much Floyd Mayweather, Jr. loves himself. But If I asked the boxer for some suggestions, he would have no problem accommodating my request.

    Mayweather, Jr. has earned the title of best pound-for-pound fighter of his generation—and perhaps of all time—by amassing a 43-0 record across five weight classes in a spectacular professional career that began in 1996.

    While dominating his competition in the ring, Mayweather, Jr. has also developed a reputation for being a brilliant, yet controversial, self-promoter. The art of trash talk is nothing new to the sport of boxing, but “Pretty Boy Floyd” has taken it to a whole new level.

    His hubris has come at the cost of his popularity in recent years as he has constantly avoided facing Manny Pacquiao, the one fight that every boxing fan has wanted to see.

    Now, a fight that many thought could be the most lucrative in boxing history has lost all of its luster. Pacquiao was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez in the fourth installment of their long-running rivalry this past Saturday—a result that probably cost Pacquiao and Mayweather, Jr. millions of dollars apiece.

    “Money Mayweather” has been quiet in recent months as he served an 87-day jail sentence for a domestic violence incident. He plans to fight twice next year, so expect to hear from him—a lot—again very soon.

1. Lance Armstrong

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    Lance Armstrong’s place at No. 1 on this list is best explained by this classic line from the movie The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”

    Armstrong clearly one-upped the devil by convincing millions of cycling fans and cancer supporters that he wasn’t a cheat.

    The level of arrogance that Armstrong demonstrated in perpetuating the lie for so long is almost unfathomable. He has been living the dream for so long that he had the audacity to send out this picture via Twitter about a month after the USADA publicized the results of its investigation.

    It is almost impossible to find a person who hasn’t at least been indirectly affected by cancer in this day and age.

    I have no interest in debating the good that has come out of Armstrong beating the disease and dedicating his life to helping others do so.

    Even the most fervent Armstrong supporter has to concede that what he pulled off over the last 10 years required an unbelievable level of confidence, not only in himself, but in his ability to convince those closest to him to perpetuate the lie.

    Arrogance has never been in short supply among world-class athletes, but it could be quite some time before we see someone as into themselves as Lance Armstrong.

Honorable Mention

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    Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: If these two were still playing baseball, they would both easily be listed in the top five of this list.

    With both retired players showing up on MLB's 2013 Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, it seems appropriate to acknowledge their Armstrong-like flair for denying the use of performance-enhancing drugs during their playing days.

    Well, at least Bonds copped to it, but he would have us believe that he didn't know he was using a banned substance.