20 Athletes Who Think They're Better Than They Really Are
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the famous Teddy Roosevelt quote, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” TR may have penned those words at the turn of the century, but they continue to be relevant and powerful.
The 26th President forged his career in the vicious, bloodthirsty (literally) world of New York City politics, and the experience taught him that actions speak louder than words—that respect is earned, not bestowed.
Few spheres of life cut through the BS and bring artificially inflated expectations crashing down more efficiently than sports. In sports, the value of a person’s words is tied to their performance when it matters most; a win gives words life, a loss transforms those words into scars.
In other words, speak softly and carry a big stick.
The history of every sport is littered with cautionary tales of men and women who eagerly and loudly proclaimed their greatness, only to fade into obscurity...or infamy. Likewise, there are those very rare moments when legends—Joe Namath, Babe Ruth—boldly staked their claim to greatness and made good on the promise.
There is a reason that history so often enacts swift and brutal justice on athletes who can’t back up their words—few of the great ones had the need or desire to advertise their capabilities.
Dominance in a sport is underpinned by more than just raw talent; it takes a burning drive to what it takes to get better.
If a guy makes more headlines talking about the records he’s going to break, rather than the success he’s already had, then he isn’t as good as he believes or isn’t doing what’s necessary to get there.
This is why athletes shouldn’t guarantee wins or thank their hands for being “great”—because no great athlete needs to inflate their value…their ‘profits’ speak for themselves.
These are 20 athletes who think they’re better than they are.
20. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
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There's no question that (soon to be former) Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has become one of the most explosive young playmakers in the league since his rookie season in 2009. But all that talk about him being the best downfield threat in the NFL clearly went to the young man's head.
Wallace, one of the top free agents available in 2012, failed to find a team willing to pay him the "Larry Fitzgerald money" he demanded from the 49ers.
After holding out through all of training camp, Wallace's production dropped dramatically last season, proving just how undeserving he was of the contract he felt he deserved.
He should've done a little research before dropping names of that caliber.
Fitzgerald is the franchise player in Arizona.
In fact, Wallace was valued less by the Steelers than wide receiver Antonio Brown, whose contract they extended during his lockout.
Wallace is a great player who will likely have a big impact wherever he signs in 2013. But there's no question that, at the moment, he's got a very inflated sense of his value.
19. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
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With the ridiculous amount of hype that surrounded him at USC, is it any wonder that undersized running back Reggie Bush has a skewed vision of his own talent?
He was passed over in favor of Mario Williams by the Texans, who had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, but was selected in the No. 2 spot by the Saints.
Over his five seasons in New Orleans, Bush was given (too much) credit as an elusive playmaker that was difficult for the opposition to "game plan" for.
But durability issues and poor rushing production forced him into that role—nobody drafts a situational role player No. 2 overall on purpose.
Ultimately he was traded to the Dolphins, where he had the best rushing season of his career in 2011, probably because of the quarterback situation. Bush just needed one season to get his confidence back, insisting he was more than capable of running for over 2,000 yards—just 1,000 more than his career best!
In 2012 Bush came up 100 yards short of matching his production from the previous year and was benched during a divisional game against the Bills in November.
The Dolphins are "highly unlikely" to re-sign him in 2013 (per Jason La Canfora), but something tells me Reggie Bush's confidence in Reggie Bush won't be impacted by that decision in the slightest.
18. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
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Heat big man Chris Bosh shoulders more than his share of criticism as the least loved member of Miami's "Big Three."
They tend to focus on perceived flaws in Bosh's character, rather than any substantive discussion about his play on the court. So it's understandable that he would take a strong contrarian position in defense of himself.
Someone has gotta stand up for the guy, right?
But in January 2013 Bosh may have gone a little too far in defending his own game, insisting he's a "lock" to make the Hall of Fame. And not just a lock now, having won a championship in 2012, but a lock "like four years ago."
Maybe more people would have gotten on board with him if he hadn't added that second part.
But not even Bosh's teammate Dwyane Wade could get anywhere in the neighborhood of echoing those sentiments, offering only that Bosh is "on the right path."
Even Bosh's most vocal supporters would have to agree that he overplayed his hand just a bit on that one. Hopefully he finds a happy medium.
17. Matt Leinart, Oakland Raiders
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After a very impressive four-year career at USC, which includes winning the Hesiman Trophy in 2005, quarterback Matt Leinart was one of the top prospects heading into the 2006 NFL Draft.
After losing to Texas in the BCS Championship, Longhorns quarterback Vince Young leapfrogged Leinart, going No. 3 overall to the Titans.
But Leinart was still the second quarterback taken, selected by the Cardinals No. 10 overall, one pick ahead of Jay Cutler.
During his rookie season, Leinart played 12 games in Arizona, but his decent-for-a-rookie stats were't enough convince new head coach Ken Whisenhunt that he was the future.
Leinart lost his starting job to an aging Kurt Warner in 2007, and he never regained it.
He signed with the Texans as a backup in 2011 and immediately went down with a season-ending shoulder injury when a late-season injury knocked out starter Matt Schaub.
Leinart was signed by the Raiders in 2012 to backup starter Carson Palmer, but was skipped over in favor of Terrelle Pryor as the starter in the season finale. Leinart protested, insisting he "deserved" the start.
But what about Leinart's career to this point proves he's deserving of anything?
He's been an underperforming bust-turned-journeyman backup, who hasn't done anything with the starting opportunities he's been afforded. We're talking about the Cardinals and the Raiders here.
If you can't earn a starting job there, you don't deserve anything but a pink slip.
16. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
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In recent years, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has never publicly overstated his value to the franchise explicitly with his words.
At least not that I know of.
But these days, pretty much everything he says or does offers proof that he has no clue how far the value placed on his talents has plummeted.
The last six months have not been kind to A-Rod.
He was benched for most of the playoffs, relegated to staring blankly from the dugout as he compulsively ate sunflower seeds. After the playoffs, Rodriguez swiftly dismissed trade rumors, reminding everyone about a no-trade clause that he had no intention of waiving.
Just recently, Rodriguez was named as the key figure in an investigation into a Biogeneis anti-aging lab in Miami, another PED scandal that will bookend his career with the use he admitted to from 2001-03. And then there's the hip surgery that could keep him out for the entire 2013 season.
Rodriguez has never once given any indication that he recognizes his value as being worth anything less than the $29 million the Yankees paid him in 2012.
But the rest of us recognize him as the most overpaid athlete in the world and his contract as one of the worst in sports history.
15. Tim Tebow, New York Jets
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From leading the Broncos to a playoff victory—in a season that was nothing short of miraculous—to an ugly, gossip-plagued season as the backup to Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, the last two years have been a rollercoaster ride for quarterback Tim Tebow.
Actually, ever since former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels surprised everyone by choosing Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, he's been a lightning rod for controversy.
But whatever your thoughts about Tebow, it's become increasingly clear that he does not have the talent to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Even when all was lost for the Jets about midway through the 2012 season, head coach Rex Ryan wouldn't even consider starting Tebow over Sanchez; he was leapfrogged on the depth chart in favor of Greg McElroy.
The Jets have been trying to unload him in the offseason and reportedly have interest in signing JaMarcus Russell, an obese draft bust who has been in semi-retirement for three years.
That's a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests he hasn't got a prayer at becoming a starting quarterback in the league.
But Tebow still insists he's got what it takes.
He's the victim of his own false narrative. All those people who said he couldn't play in high school and college? They never existed. Now he's convinced the same people are keeping him down in the NFL, rather than his own abilities.
Sometimes trying hard just isn't good enough.
14. Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
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Until injuries started to get the better of him in 2011, Knicks big man Amar'e Stoudemire and Heat big man Chris Bosh actually had very comparable careers in the NBA.
Looking at their stats—and the highs and lows of each of their careers—would leave most people thinking this is a race that's too close to call. You could make arguments for or against either player but none strong enough to make it anything closer than a horse race.
But that's not exactly how Stoudemire sees it.
When the Knicks were shopping for free agents in 2009, Stoudemire was adamant about who he felt was the cream of the free-agent crop.
When asked about Bosh, the player he's been compared to most over his career, the question of which one them was better was nothing short of laughable to Stoudemire. He replied "Are you kidding me? Ask Chris Bosh that question."
Stoudemire added that there was "no doubt" he was better.
Their career to that point may have been close, but it's been anything but the last two seasons.
Someone might want to revisit this issue with Stoudemire if the Heat embarrass the Knicks again in the playoffs in 2012. I'd be much more interested in his opinion now than I was in 2009.
13. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Philllies
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When the Phillies signed former Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year contract worth $50 million in 2011, the general consensus seemed to be that Philadelphia overpaid. But since the Phillies have money to burn, the signing would have been worth it had Papelbon actually panned out.
This didn't come as a surprise to anyone who's familiar with his history of overstating his own worth.
A New York Times piece on Papelbon in 2006 begins with the line: "He calls it confidence; some call it cocky." By the end of the piece there is no doubt on which side of that argument the writer comes down.
In 2008 Papelbon once again proved how tone-deaf he can be, when he complained about Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera being the automatic AL closer at the All-Star game in his home stadium.
Unsurprisingly, the home crowd didn't take kindly to his comments, but Papelbon felt the need to again take his crybaby routine to the media.
Since being signed by the Phillies, Papelbon has…in a word…sucked. Although, if you ask him, he'll tell you that it's the officiating that really sucks.
That's because nobody loves and respects the play of Jonathan Papelbon more than Jonathan Papelbon.
12. Chad Johnson, NFL Free Agent
There was a time when wide receiver Chad Johnson, formerly Chad Ochocinco, was actually one of the best in the league.
And then, just like that, he wasn't very good anymore.
With the exception of one rebound season, Johnson's production fell off a cliff after 2007.
Not that that ever stopped him from planning elaborate stunts to aggravate division rivals like the Steelers and Ravens.
I guess if you can't beat 'em…annoy them? That almost never works though.
11. Nyjer Morgan, Yokohama DeNA BayStar
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Most of us look at Nyjer Morgan as the guy who was such a pain in the butt that he wore out his welcome with two of the worst teams in MLB in just under two seasons.
Despite relatively solid stats in 2009 and 2010, both the Pirates and the Nationals felt that getting rid of Morgan was addition by subtraction.
The Brewers ignored those serious red flags when they decided to trade for Morgan in the spring of 2011.
Initially they were rewarded.
Morgan was a key player in the success Milwaukee had that season. But his production declined sharply in 2012, and he was outrighted to Triple-A after the season, clearing him from the Brewers' 40-man roster.
Morgan—and his troublemaking alter ego Tony Plush—didn't appreciate his talents being relegated to the minors.
He spent a few months on the free-agent market but attracted little to no interest—at least not publicly—after which he decided to take his bat and ball and go to Japan.
Rather than playing in the minors, Morgan signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. Something tells me that he won't be missed.
10. Titus Young, St. Louis Rams
In February 2013, the Lions made the largely expected decision to cut loudmouth wide receiver Titus Young after just two years with the team.
In the weeks prior to his release, Young had been lashing out frequently at anyone and everyone on Twitter.
Young has always been a loose cannon though, so none of that was a surprise.
What was a surprise? Recent revelations show that Young believes his talents are so great that they match, if not exceed, those of Lions superstar wideout Calvin Johnson.
There's self-confidence, and then there's delusion. Guess which one this is.
9. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs
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When the Browns traded Brady Quinn to the Broncos for fullback Peyton Hillis, the expectations were not exactly sky-high.
Cleveland was happy to unload their latest first-round quarterback bust, and Denver was happy to get something for a bum who had combined for under 500 yards rushing and receiving in 26 games with the team.
Expectations were so low that when Hillis finished the 2010 season as the NFL's 11th-leading rusher, it was elevated to almost mythical proportions.
It may sound as though I'm understating his performance, but since when has the NFL's 11th-leading anything landed the coveted Madden cover?
Fan vote or not, it was a ridiculous choice.
One person who fully bought into the hype? Peyton Hillis.
His dissatisfaction with his contract carried over into the next season, with many people wondering whether he was truly injured or merely disgruntled. His former teammate Joe Thomas finally confirmed the latter in December 2012, though Hillis himself denied it.
Hillis had a more creative explanation for why his career immediately fell off a cliff (and has yet to recover).
In late 2011 he spoke out about how his struggles made him a believer in curses—obviously referring to the infamous "Madden Curse" said to befall any player gracing its cover.
In recent years I've become a believer in the curse.
It's kind of absurd, but it's so hard to deny at this point.
I believe in the curse for every player impacted by it except Peyton Hillis. He never should have been on the cover to begin with.
8. JaMarcus Russell, NFL Free Agent
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There might be a little room for debate with Ryan Leaf, but quarterback JaMarcus Russell, a former No. 1 overall draft pick out of LSU, is widely regarded as the biggest draft bust of all time.
The $39 million he collected from the Raiders for doing nothing but expanding in mass may be the biggest contributing factor to the implementation of the rookie wage scale.
Surprise superstar Russell Wilson can thank Russell for being locked into a contract that paid him $390k in 2012.
The Raiders cut ties with Russell in 2009 after just three seasons.
The fact that he's now attempting an NFL comeback is proof positive that Russell thinks he's better than he is. So far the only interest Russell, who boasts a current weight of 308 pounds (down from 320), has attracted is from the Jets.
Sorry, but being the last option for the Jets means you are simply not an option anywhere else. Time to let it go, dude.
7. Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians
The fact that Nick Swisher had multiple suitors when he became a free agent after the 2012 season is proof of how good Yankees fans have it.
Sure, it's been a few years since their last World Series. And yes, the playoffs were a complete disaster. But at the end of the day, they had absolutely no problem kicking a loser like Swisher to the curb.
His play may have been straight up terrible, but that didn't stop Swisher from trying to place some of the blame on Yankees fans. The nerve of them booing his wretched play!
Swisher's showing in the playoffs was nothing short of disgraceful, but his fate in New York was all but sealed in August 2012.
According to reports, Swisher was expecting a free-agent contract on par with Jayson Werth's seven-year deal worth $126 million.
Not even the Yankees like wasting money that much.
Yet, at the season's end, there were still a few teams desperately clamoring to overpay the garbage left on the sidewalk outside Yankee Stadium.
The Indians beat out the Mariners for the privilege of paying the 32-year-old Swisher $56 million over four years. Enjoy your one-time All-Star, Cleveland.
6. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
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Any running back in the NFL who has had trouble getting a long-term extension in the last two years can thank Titans running back Chris Johnson for that.
Recognizing the enormous leverage he had with a rebuilding Tennessee team in 2011, Johnson stood strong on a lockout that kept him out of training camp and the entire preseason.
He was rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $53 million, $30 million of which was guaranteed. And the Titans were rewarded with production that dropped off in every statistical category across the board—except for fumbles.
He's distanced himself from the Titans' recent struggles, plainly stating that he's "not the issue." Of course it has nothing to do with him! And in August 2012 Johnson doubled down on that assertion, insisting he could beat Olympian Usain Bolt in a foot race under the right conditions.
Maybe he's right, if the conditions include Bolt racing with a broken leg.
Johnson's delusion of grandeur truly have no bounds.
5. Latrell Sprewell, Retired NBA
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Former NBA player and current penniless sad person, Latrell Sprewell once thought so much of his talents as a baller that he turned down a three-year contract worth $21 million.
Although he cited the concern of "feeding his family," one would think it'd be easier to feed any family with $21 million as opposed to zero dollars.
Sprewell obviously thought far more of his abilities than anyone else in the league, since that was the last contract offer he ever received.
He slipped out of the public eye for a while—only his foreclosures made news—but resurfaced after an arrest on New Years' Eve 2013.
Sprewell's legacy of being a terrible human being lives on.
4. Matt Barkley, University of Southern California
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There's no question that the Matt Barkley-led USC had one heck of a year in 2011. Despite being short on scholarships and still operating under a post-season bowl ban, the Trojans finished an impressive 10-2 on the year and were ranked No. 1 overall to start 2012.
Barkley thought enough of his own performance to declare that he would have been drafted above Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, if he chose to enter the NFL Draft. But he chose to stick around and be the big man on campus for another season.
It's hard to say exactly where Barkley would have been drafted had he declared in 2012, but it's safe to say the Redskins haven't had an ounce of buyer's remorse over drafting the Rookie of the Year.
Barkley has got a long road ahead of him if he wants to change the damage he's done to himself in the last year.
And considering the negative buzz the 2013 class of quarterbacks has been receiving, it's a substantially longer road than he once imagined.
3. Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
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It's probably hard not to get a big head if you're playing for the superstar-stacked Miami Heat.
Coming off his first NBA Championship at the age of 26, and starting alongside future Hall of Famers like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (and probably even Chris Bosh), Mario Chalmers is not lacking in the confidence department.
It was evident that his head was starting to swell in August 2012, when he gave a very generous assessment of his own abilities in comparison to some of the league's standout point guards.
Chalmers first dressed down the Celtics' Rajon Rondo's assertion that he was the best at the position, declaring Rondo "top five."
Not really a big deal on its own: Rondo remains one of the NBA's most debatable players.
But then Chalmers added that he is on the "front end" of the top 10 point guards, which is the most humble way possible to say that he thinks he's a top-five talent. That's pretty interesting considering the talent at the position right now.
Despite Chalmers rarely (if ever) appearing on any list ranking the top-10 point guards in the NBA, he remains steadfastly convinced of this point.
In January 2013 he did back off his initial statement slightly, downgrading himself to the "middle part" of the top 10.
2. Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers
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After complaining his way out of New England early in the 2010 season—by far the most successful stint with a team of his career—Randy Moss had very unimpressive runs with the Vikings and Titans before deciding to sit out the 2011 season.
Perhaps worried about the legacy for which he mocked his one-time mentor Cris Carter, Moss returned in 2012, content to be a role player on a Super Bowl team.
He decided to sign with the just-short-of-the-Super Bowl 49ers in the summer of 2012.
Well, at least he seemed to be content. Moss, who has always been almost as disgruntled as talented, had just 28 receptions for 434 yards with the 49ers in 2012.
But he didn't let a little thing like stats stop him from declaring himself the best receiver of all time during Super Bowl XLVII Media Day.
Among the masses who disagreed with Moss' assertion was another notable 49ers wide receiver—Jerry Rice, who is not just best wide receiver of all time but also the guy many regard as the best player of all time.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
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There's no question that there are an awful lot of people in this world who dislike Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
He's just kind of hateable. He's ridiculously wealthy, attractive, talented, and he's dating the Russian Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover model, Irina Shayk.
As much as I detest people dismissing criticizers as "haters" just being "jealous," I tend to think this is often the case when it comes to Ronaldo—unless it has something to do with his own assertion that he is unquestionably better than Argentine great, Lionel Messi.
Anyone who knows the slightest bit about soccer knows claims of Ronaldo being overrated are complete garbage.
In each of the years Messi has won the Ballon d'Or, which is basically soccer's global MVP, he's handily bested Ronaldo.
The fact of the matter is that the only way anyone, including Ronaldo himself, can overstate his talents is by definitively declaring them better than that of Lionel Messi.