The Most Polarizing People in Sports Right Now

Nick DimengoFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

The Most Polarizing People in Sports Right Now

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    When putting this piece together, I had to remind myself that being polarizing doesn't always mean being hated.

    And while some of the people on this list might fall under the category of pompous, arrogant and outspoken, us fans and other media members just can't get enough of them.

    They may populate the news cycle with nearly everything they do and give us headaches for being overanalyzed, yet we still find ourselves somehow intrigued by them, as the following are the most polarizing people in sports right now.

Brazil 2014

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    OK, so I know that Brazil isn't exactly a person. However, the people behind the decision to have the South American country host this year's World Cup fall under this category, which is why it makes my list.

    While FIFA and everyone involved fall under fire after pumping insane amounts of money into this year's tournament—mainly FIFA president Sepp Blatter—the people of Brazil continue to struggle with a faltering economy and an educational system that could use the cash a bit more.

    I know it's not FIFA's responsibility to take care of an entire society, but seeing how the general population protested during last summer's Confederation's Cup, the entire world will be watching for what might happen during the World Cup this summer—which hopefully won't include anything other than great soccer matches.

Skip Bayless

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    ESPN's Skip Bayless is typically an easy target for fans who dislike the guy, but don't get confused with his outlandish and stubborn personality, because the guy knows his sports.

    Known for unpopular and often biased opinions regarding teams and players he falls in love with, Bayless seems to create controversy whenever he opens his mouth. However, he's smart enough to back them up with solid facts, which, for better or worse, makes him the bad guy in sports media—a role he thrives in.

Mark Cuban

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    While his Dallas Mavericks won't be winning the NBA title this year after getting bounced in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs, owner Mark Cuban still seems to stay in headlines.

    Outspoken and brash, Cuban has never been shy about what's on his mind, typically pissing others off in the process—especially those in NFL circles.

    An easy target, Cuban continues to take risks on what he says—in both personal and professional business decisions as well as when it comes to anything with the NBA and, well, sports in general—yet is still widely beloved.

Derek Jeter

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Even before announcing his intentions to retire following the 2014 season, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has always been in the spotlight. That's usually what happens when a guy wins five World Series titles in 20 seasons in the Bronx, captaining the Yanks and becoming the King of the city in the process.

    But don't think that it hasn't come without transgressions.

    As Jeter has gotten older, many debate his current worth as his performance declines and, as the face of the Yankees, fans will continue to make arguments for why Jeter has been overrated as a player.

    For all the talk, The Captain will one day find himself in Cooperstown while championing the mantra of another New York icon, Frank Sinatra: "I did it my way."

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    It's not so much that Cristiano Ronaldo is all that hated—unless you're a fan of associated goal-scoring and La Liga rival Lionel Messi—but it's that the guy is often criticized for being the best player on the planet without leading his national team to much glory.

    As the World Cup approaches, CR7 will have a chance to leave his mark on the world's game with a performance that separates himself from Messi for good.

    Whether that means hoisting any trophies in early July or not is to be determined, but given his past performance on the big stage, Ronaldo will need to silence the critics who label him as a pretty boy star who could never lead his country to victory—much like David Beckham was viewed during his time in England.

Yasiel Puig

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Can you believe that it's only been a year since L.A. Dodgers sensation Yasiel Puig has been in the Majors? After seeing that myself, I was a little put back, because he has instantly become one of baseball's biggest stars in such a short timeframe.

    Puig shows flashes of athletic greatness which fans love seeing on highlight reels, but his lack of maturity and sound decision-making continues to be his Achilles heel—at least amongst his teammates, fans and media.

    If Puig can eliminate the mistakes and just focus a bit more, he could be great—which is scary given what he's already done when healthy.

John Calipari

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    Go ahead and call me biased because I'm a UK alum, but the facts point out that Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari is the best head coach in college hoops right now.

    That doesn't mean he's the most liked, though.

    Still, with three Final Four appearances, two national title game appearances and one championship in his five seasons in Lexington, even the haters of his one-and-done philosophy have to be impressed by his work.

    It's no wonder NBA teams have been putting Cal on their list of candidates for vacant positions over the past few years.

Jerry Jones

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    As the owner of the Dallas Cowboys since 1991, Jerry Jones has turned America's Team into one of the great enterprises in all of sports, elevating them to another level in part because of the drama which always surrounds the team.

    And although Jones would prefer the drama evaporate and the wins pile up—mainly Super Bowl victories—what has actually helped Jerry and his team stay relevant is their inconsistent play, continued questions regarding quarterback Tony Romo and the flash of having a mega-brand.

    Even his decision to not draft Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel a few weeks ago showed just how much impact this guy has.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    Whether it's interacting with fans on his social media pages, doing his rounds to promote a fight, dropping hundreds of thousands on bets or winning bouts to increase his undefeated record, welterweight boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. stays in the headlines.

    That can be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask, but one thing's for sure: sports fans can't help but get enough of the guy.

    He's the greatest and most-watched fighter on the planet right now, so while people may bash him, he still draws the biggest crowds ringside.

LeBron James

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    It's LeBron James' world; we're all just living in it.

    As one of the most popular athletes on the planet, James has proven that he's more than just a marketing guru, taking his game to the next level over the past few seasons—especially in the playoffs—to win back-to-back championships.

    James, as both a brand and athlete, has seemingly won on all levels, and his quest for a three-peat and potential pending free agency will dominate headlines over the next few months, so be prepared for the continuous "LeBron Watch."

Johnny Manziel

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    As a Cleveland sports fan, the past few weeks since the Browns drafted quarterback Johnny Manziel have made the franchise seem like they're the star of a Hollywood thriller—and it's all due to Johnny Football.

    Evaluators and fans can debate his style of play and the potential boom-or-bust outcome he'll have in the NFL, but for everything Manziel brings to the table, his every move is followed.

    If you need anymore proof of this dude's impact on sports, just take a look at how Twitter blew up as he slipped down the board with each team who passed him over him on draft night.

    Fans just love to crap on this guy, yet they can't stop talking about him.

Tiger Woods

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Make no mistake, just because Tiger Woods has been injured and missed the first major tournament of 2014 doesn't mean that he's suddenly disappeared.

    In fact, I actually agree that all of the attention and success other golfers have received in Woods' absence only adds to Tiger's impact, with fans and media impatiently anticipating what he might do for a comeback—as was the case following his sexual transgressions a few years back.

    Tiger may or may not ever win another major, but the quest to chase down Jack Nicklaus' all-time record will continue to get talked about as long as Woods is capable of swinging a golf club.

Donald Sterling

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Giving attention to a guy as ignorant as Donald Sterling wasn't my plan, but unfortunately, there may not be a more polarizing figure in all of sports at the moment.

    We all know what he said and did a few weeks ago, which may potentially cost him his ownership of the L.A. Clippers. But until a decision is made on a new owner, Sterling will continue to tarnish the NBA playoffs.

    He's balking at the league's issued punishment already, so you can bet that Sterling will continue to throw jabs to make sure that if he goes down, the NBA will be in for a monster fight.

    I hate this guy, but he has reminded us that race remains a serious issue in both sports and society alike.

Roger Goodell

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Roger Goodell is the at the helm of the most powerful sports company in the world, so of course he's one of the most polarizing people in the industry.

    Called the "most powerful man in sports" by Sports Illustrated last year, Goodell holds the keys and is the lone driver of a billion-dollar car that is constantly under scrutiny.

    His decisions on fines and suspensions for NFL players as well as the back-and-forth idea of increasing the league schedule and expanding the playoff format put him under constant fire and contradict his belief in improving player safety.

    Love him or hate him, Goodell is leading the league in all of its efforts—with most of them being debated.

Michael Sam

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Before newly drafted St. Louis Rams defender Michael Sam came out to become the first active openly gay NFL player, there were very few who knew the can of worms he was about to open.

    The fact that any of us are even talking about a seventh-round draft pick as if he were the top overall selection, following his every move and wondering just how he and his teammates will adjust, is staggering.

    When considering that his jersey sales currently rank second in the league among rookies—for a dude who might not even make the Rams roster—it speaks to how much impact Sam has had on people, regardless of one's opinion on sexuality.