20 Jerk Athletes You Can't Help but Root for

Jessica Marie@ItsMsJisnerCorrespondent IIApril 2, 2013

20 Jerk Athletes You Can't Help but Root for

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    You know you should hate them. They can be whiny, they can be obnoxious and sometimes, they even throw tantrums mid-game. 

    But somehow, you just can't quit them. 

    This athlete we're talking about isn't just any old jerk athlete, though. This is the elusive breed of jerk athlete that you can't help but support, despite the fact that you know they can be despicable human beings.

    This is the athlete that appeals to your heart, not your head. You know they're not worth it, but somehow, whenever they're on the verge of doing something great, you can't help but root for it to happen. 

    And when they do something jerk-y, you just look the other way and pretend it never did. Nobody ever said that sports fandom had to be rational. 

20. Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper seems to really like himself. That much is obvious. He knows he's one of the best young players in baseball, and he's pretty into it. 

    But wouldn't you be, too, if you became the youngest player in the live-ball era to homer in your first two at-bats of the season? Or if you were the rookie catalyst behind a suddenly scary Washington Nationals team? 

    Some fans take offense to players like Harper, who march into the big leagues like they own the place, who don't show any deference or humility when people talk about them like they're one step away from the Hall.

    But players like Harper are exactly what baseball needs, especially now. At a time when interest in the sport seems to be diminishing, Harper has the swagger and—more importantly—the skill to get people to care again. 

    And there's no way you can claim you didn't watch "That's a clown question, bro" 30 times. He may be a bit obnoxious, but that doesn't mean he isn't hilarious and weirdly likable. 

19. Andy Murray

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    For a long time, the world of tennis was dominated by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Then, Andy Murray showed up and firmly inserted himself into the conversation. 

    Like the other three players that, with him, comprise the top four in the tennis world, Murray is polarizing. Some people have taken offense to the fact that he never smiles while he's on the court. Some have accused him of faking—or at least exaggerating—injuries in the middle of matches in order to buy himself some precious time to collect himself. 

    But in spite of all of that, when Murray finally got over the hump at the end of last summer and defeated Djokovic in an epic U.S. Open final to win his first-ever major, there weren't a lot of people out there who were upset. Suddenly, when he won that tournament, it didn't matter if he was surly or unpleasant or devoid of a personality. 

    It just mattered that he worked his butt off to beat one of the best players out there, and most fans were happy to see him finally get the job done after failing for so many years. 

18. Michael Vick

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    It is possible that in the eyes of some, Michael Vick falls firmly on the "jerk" side of the pendulum rather than the "jerks we like" side. 

    But how, then, do you explain the somewhat shocking support for him when he made his comeback with the Philadelphia Eagles a few years ago?

    No one is disputing the fact that Vick had zero fans in 2007, when he pleaded guilty to participating in a dogfighting operation. He was suspended from the NFL, he went to prison, he did his time and somehow, he made a comeback.

    It was a slow progression, but eventually, Vick turned his life around: He went from Most Exciting Player in the NFL, to Worldwide Pariah, to Comeback Player of the Year in 2010. 

    Vick will always have to deal with the people who hate him regardless of how much effort he puts into changing his life and revamping his reputation. Some people will never forgive him for what he did. And nobody will ever forget the infamously despicable Bad Newz Kennels. 

    But some of us out there are at the point where we can look past what he used to be and see what he is now, and we can at least appreciate the effort, to some degree. 

17. Ray Lewis

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    Lots of people are quick to judge Ray Lewis for his alleged past indiscretions, confirmed or otherwise. 

    Criminal history aside, though—when Lewis announced at the beginning of the Ravens' 2013 playoff run that he'd be hanging up the cleats at the end of the season, it was a tough pill to swallow. And not just for Ravens fans. 

    There are some players who define certain periods of NFL history, and Lewis was one of those players. He and the Ravens defense were so dominant for so long that it's hard to imagine the league without them. It's hard to imagine what 2013 is going to be like for Baltimore, when there's no No. 52 on the field. 

    And on top of the dominance factor, it's hard to listen to Lewis' pregame sermons—whether they're addressed to his own team or elsewhere—without getting at least a little bit amped up.

    He loves the game—that much is clear—and it's easy to like that about him. 

16. Ladies' Division: Maria Sharapova

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    Grunting in tennis is a deal-breaker for some fans. It's insufferable to listen to on TV, so one can only imagine how infuriating it must be to be the player on the opposite side of the court from a hardcore grunter. 

    Grunting may not seem like a huge deal, but when Sharapova does it, it is: According to Time magazine, her noisemaking has been measured at 101 decibels, which equates to a chainsaw or a motorcycle. 

    Still, despite her epic grunting, Maria Sharapova remains one of the most beloved female tennis players in the world. 

    The biggest reason is that aside from the grunting and the fact that she was once engaged to Sasha Vujacic, there's really nothing to dislike about her. She seems nice enough. Her commercials are funny.

    She even publicly stated her support for rules against grunting in tennis, despite being one of the worst offenders out there. 

    At least she keeps it real. 

15. Ladies' Division: Hope Solo

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    It seems that every time Hope Solo makes a public appearance in which she has to speak, disaster ensues. 

    Why, then, does she still have fans?

    Well, first and foremost, because she's an excellent goalie at the top of her game who helped the U.S. win two Olympic gold medals and got the national team to the World Cup finals in 2011, even if it didn't win.

    But there's also a part of every fan who knows that players like Solo—who have so much potential to invoke disaster every time they make press appearances—are gold.

    They get people talking. They stir up controversy, and with controversy comes attention for the sport. And when they say things like they made a drunken TV appearance, it makes them a little bit more human, which is always nice.

    Plus, Solo doesn't seem to care at all what people think about her, and there's nothing more intriguing than that—even if she is kind of a conceited mess.  

14. DeMarcus Cousins

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    No matter how many bad things you hear about DeMarcus Cousins, when the trade rumors start popping up, you can't help but feel a twinge of excitement at the possibility of him joining your team (especially if you have no center).

    Why? Because he's good enough to be a fan favorite, even if, by all indications, he's a clubhouse cancer. 

    Cousins has endured more than his fair share of suspensions and disciplinary actions for "unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team," according to USA Today. Why, then, do fans show up to watch him play? Why do GMs continue to inquire about his availability? 

    Because he can be a game-changer. Because he can turn a team from a middle-of-the-pack wannabe to a bona fide contender. When you're that kind of player, you can offset pretty much any off-the-court drama that accompanies the mere mention of your name. 

13. DeSean Jackson

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    Like many of the most talented wide receivers who have come before him, DeSean Jackson does what he wants, when he wants, and doesn't really feel the need to listen to anyone. 

    But like many of the wide receivers who have come before him, he'll still be cherished by the fans regardless only because when he's on, he's on.

    For the most part, media portrayals of Jackson haven't been kind. They've painted him as pompous and selfish, and he has noticed. See this tweet for evidence (but beware of language). 

    Maybe it's a sympathy thing. Maybe people want to see him triumph as his harshest critics look on in amazement. Or maybe people just love watching him play because sometimes, even if it's kind of rare, he can be great. 

12. Randy Moss

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    Randy Moss used to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Therefore, back in the day—when he was a world-class jerk and put it on display by doing things like pretending to moon the crowd—people liked him because he was incredibly talented. 

    Now that he's getting old, is no longer a No. 1 wideout and can barely find a team that wants him, people like him because he's entertaining—not because his skill level makes it easy to overlook his shortcomings. 

    Moss can be hit or miss on the field. Sometimes, when utilized properly, he can be a walking matchup problem that pays dividends. But other times, he kind of mails it in—even at the most inopportune times, like the Super Bowl. 

    But even so, his press-conference commentary these days makes it hard to dislike him. If nothing else, he's hilarious. Only he say with a straight face that he's the best wide receiver in NFL history after a season like the last one. 

11. Coaches' Division: Jim Harbaugh

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    He just cares so much, you know? 

    For some reason, Jim Harbaugh doesn't really seem like a scary guy. When he throws a sideline temper tantrum, as he is prone to doing, it doesn't inspire the same fear in observers as it does when, say, Bill Parcells does it. 

    So maybe that's why it seems more amusing than obnoxious. 

    Last season, Harbaugh seemed to make more headlines for his hot-headedness and his sideline antics than he did for the fact that he got the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. But you have to admire the way he did it.

    He made one of the gutsiest calls of 2012 when he decided to keep Alex Smith benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick, and it paid off pretty nicely for him. You have to love that. 

    And it doesn't hurt that his hissy fits provide some much-needed amusement. 

10. Coaches' Division: Nick Saban

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    Nick Saban may be completely irreverent. He may not care about his loyalties to anyone except himself, and he may have a reputation for being phony and full of it. 

    But you have to respect what he's been able to do in college football. You don't have to like him, but as a fan of the sport, you at least have to respect him. 

    Saban hasn't always played his cards right in the past. He skipped out on the Miami Dolphins after a mere two seasons—but not before running them into the ground—when he was offered the head coaching job at Alabama. Not cool.

    But on the other hand, if you know what you're good at, you kind of have to do what's best for you. And whereas Saban was a middling NFL coach, he is a top-tier college football coach, as we've seen in the past six seasons. 

    Saban has won three of the last four SEC championships, and when you're coaching in the most competitive conference in the league, that's no small feat. On top of that, he's won three of the last four national titles and has knocked off some of the very best teams in football to do so.

    Nobody wants to go up against a Saban-led Alabama team, and even if you hate him, that has to impress you.

9. Coaches' Division: Rick Pitino

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    Rick Pitino seems like a rather humorless guy—actually, a lot of college coaches do. Pitino rarely cracks a smile or jokes around or shows human emotion of any kind. 

    Some people still despise Pitino for what he did—or rather, failed to do—as the head coach of the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001. Not only were the Green terrible under him, but he made no apologies for it and, at times, said things that made it seem like he didn't even care. 

    After the Celtics experiment failed colossally, Pitino returned to the college ranks, where he's been tremendously successful.

    Maybe that's why some people can't help but root for him: When someone fails, you can't help but hope that they redeem themselves, especially in the form of three Final Fours since 2005 and two conference tournament championships. 

    Or maybe right now, at this moment, you can't help but root for Pitino after he had to watch one of his guards snap his leg like a tree branch in the midst of an Elite Eight matchup. Pitino even shed a tear or two over it—how can you dislike him now? 

8. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant can be detestable sometimes.

    True, things were much worse during his earlier years; that seemed to be the heyday of his personal tailspin. There was his uncomfortable frenemy situation with Shaq. There was his foray into rap. And there was, of course, the Colorado Situation

    But the many years and many seasons in the wake of those troubled times have provided us with some much-needed perspective, and what we have learned is that Kobe is one of the best ever.

    He's won five NBA titles and he has kept the Lakers afloat as one of the most revered franchises in the league—and as we have seen this season, that hasn't always been a given. He has tried to do everything humanly possible to make sure his team stays on top.

    Nobody could ever dispute his passion for the game, nor his willingness to do whatever it takes, even if he does get a bit snippy and attitudey sometimes.

    Sure, Kobe still has his moments—there was the whole Dahntay Jones situation a couple of weeks ago—but for the most part, we're all dreading the day when he hangs up his hat for good. 

7. Dez Bryant

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    It's hard to watch some players just waste their prime years by engaging in suspicious off-the-field activities. All that wasted potential; all that skill, just bottled up inside with nowhere to go. 

    The Dallas Cowboys knew they were taking a risk when they acquired Dez Bryant. They knew he had his fair share of off-the-field issues, and they knew that he could certainly get into even more trouble once he reached the big leagues, when fame and fortune were entered into the equation as well. 

    But still. If he panned out, he'd be so good—which is why they couldn't pass him up. 

    After the first two years of his NFL career, Bryant looked like a a big old bust. He had flashes of brilliance, but he couldn't stay out of trouble and even needed to be supervised 24/7 by a set of team-mandated representatives. 

    Finally, in 2012, something started clicking. Bryant started a career-high 14 games and played in all 16. He registered a career-best 1,377 yards. He seemed to finally care about the sport he was playing. 

    People may hate the Cowboys, but it's still nice to see all that potential finally translating on the field. 

6. Kevin Garnett

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    To be a successful professional athlete, you have to be passionate. If you don't live and breathe your sport, you can't reach the mountaintop. You can't become the best of the best. 

    There's a downside to being passionate, though. Sometimes, you exude so much passion that you turn into kind of a d-bag when you're exuding it. 

    Kevin Garnett is a prime example. Sure, to some, he may just seem like your average trash-talking over-competitive jerk. He's someone that will never speak to you again if you abandon his troops during a battle.

    But it's not because he's a mean person; it's just because he cares about winning more than anyone. He cares about loyalty more than anyone. That's why he'll do whatever it takes to win, even if it means crushing your spirit with his vitriolic words, and if you're on his side, he'll always have your back.

    You may not like KG if he doesn't play on your team. But he's the kind of guy you want in your corner—and love to have in your corner—if you have the choice. 

5. Alexander Ovechkin

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    In hockey, it's substantially easier to hate players than it is in any of the other major sports. It's the sport where players are actually allowed to knock each other out. They're allowed to be aggressive and dirty and vindictive. 

    But even if you hate Alexander Ovechkin, you have to at least appreciate how good he is. 

    Sure, he's cocky and he whines at the most inopportune times. Exhibit A: He pulled out of the 2012 All-Star game because he'd just been suspended for laying a dirty hit on Zbynek Michalek.

    He disregarded the honor of being recognized as one of the league's best and instead chose to focus on the fact that his heart wasn't in it...all because the league had penalized him for doing something illegal. 

    And yet, despite the dirty hits, he can be charming. For one, he has his commercials. Then there's the fact that he's one of the game's most electrifying players to watch. 

    True, it's fun to beat him, but it's almost as much fun to watch him doing what he does best. 

4. Mario Balotelli

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    Sometimes, it's really easy to hate players who are at the top of their game. When they're playing against you, you can almost add a mark to the loss column before the game even starts, and because of that, it's hard to find it in your heart to objectively enjoy their skills. 

    People can say whatever they want about Mario Balotelli—and they have. They've said he's a showboat, he's overconfident, he's hard to play with. They've said that he's a liability when he's on the field because he can't control what comes out of his mouth.

    But whenever he's on the field, it's nearly impossible to look away. He's mesmerizing. And on top of that, it's hard not to root for him in light of all of the racist garbage he has to deal with in international competition. 

    In those cases, it's pretty fun to see him stick it to those fans.

3. LeBron James

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    People don't like it when you're an elite athlete and you whine about the calls you don't get from the refs (especially when you get a zillion more calls than everyone else, as it stands). They also don't like it when you're an elite athlete riding a 27-game winning streak, and you act like a big baby when it comes to an end. 

    And yet. And yet. No matter how many LeBron James haters there are out there, they will always be outnumbered by his fans. And his fans will always be there, regardless of the shenanigans he pulls. 

    The fact of the matter is, LeBron will always get away with anything because he is the best player of his generation—and he still has time to make a case for being the best ever. When you have that much talent—when you can take over a game or a series the way he can—you can get away with pretty much whatever you want. You've earned it. 

    Even the people who hate LeBron love watching him because of what he can do on the court. There aren't any other players out there who can do it. Some of us may hate him, but at the same time, we can't imagine the game without him.

    So LeBron? Whine and cry all you want to. We'll deal. 

2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    We know that Floyd Mayweather Jr. has gotten busted for doing some rather despicable things of late. We know he's never been one to downplay his own skill. 

    But even in spite of all that, the world celebrates when he wins. 

    Last spring, while speculation about a potential superfight between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao reached a fever pitch, Mayweather kept his eyes on the prize, and he got it: a win over Miguel Cotto. So what if he had to leave straight from that fight to go serve a jail sentence for alleged domestic abuse?

    We were still happy to see him get the win. We were happy to see the Biebs rejoice and hoist the belt at his side. We still wanted to see him dominate. It seemed like he'd earned it, even if he did happen to be awful outside of the ring. 

1. Tiger Woods

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    We know about his power trips. We know about his infidelities and his alleged addiction. And yet whenever he plays in a tournament, there's a small-to-enormous part of every golf enthusiast hoping to see him come out with the W, whether they admit it or not.

    Last year, it was obvious. Tiger Woods was still trying to rebound from knee surgeries and massive public humiliation, and he hadn't won a major since 2008 (and still hasn't). As soon as he pulled out a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he suddenly became the consensus favorite to win the Masters. 

    But not only did the oddsmakers think he'd win—people genuinely wanted him to win. Even now, a year later, we still can't wait to see him win a big one. We can't wait to see him put his personal life back together, perhaps with the help of Lindsey Vonn. We can't wait to see him go back to the Tiger we all used to know and love, pre-2009. 

    And in the process, we're willing to ignore everything we know we should hate about him.