Predicting the Sports SupervIllains of 2017
Lane Kiffin will be a head coach again in 2017, and with his new job will almost surely come a resurgence of his status as a sports supervillain.
Kiffin has managed to stay somewhat above the fray as offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide, but all signs point to his return to the spotlight, and soon.
Of course, there is no crystal ball here, but we don't need one to predict the 2017 sports supervillains. Some are old standbys on this list, while others are relatively new.
To be clear, a sports villain in this context is one in perception only. That is to say, the following people are likely to be viewed as bad guys by certain sports fans. This could be for a variety of reasons: They win too much, they are seen as floppers, or they are too outgoing for the Goose Gossages of the world.
Whether they should be or not, these folks will almost certainly be looked at as sports villains in 2017. And because of their villain status, they are likely to face criticism, with their every move being scrutinized.
Good luck, sports villains, and thank you. After all, what would Batman be without the Joker?
Phil Jackson, an 11-time NBA champion head coach, signed on to become president of the New York Knicks in March 2014. At the time, the Knicks were in the midst of a 37-45 season.
Since then, the team has fired two head coaches (Mike Woodson and Derek Fisher) and posted 17-65 and 32-50 records in 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively.
And despite an eventful offseason that included the acquisition of 2011 MVP Derrick Rose and the hiring of new head coach Jeff Hornacek, 2016-17 isn't looking fantastic yet either. The Knicks are 17-19 after just breaking out of a six-game losing streak. They are also dealing with injury issues and, from the looks of it, some internal turmoil.
According to The Record's Steve Popper (h/t James Herbert of CBSSports.com), star forward Carmelo Anthony told reporters in early January: "Regardless of what happens when we win, it's us. When we lose, it's me."
If things continue to trend downward for the Knicks, Jackson stands to get much of the blame. And if he bails (which he could do via an opt-out clause at season's end but has indicated he won't), that wouldn't look great either.
Odell Beckham Jr.
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. started off his NFL career with a bang in 2014—making possibly the greatest catch in NFL history and taking the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Since then, he has continued his on-field prowess, but he has also made some not-so-flattering headlines.
For instance, there was that public feud with cornerback Josh Norman. He has also called out referees and been labeled a distraction by team executives, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. After several games in which Beckham struggled to keep his emotions in check, even Giants quarterback Eli Manning said, per Leonard: "He's got to play smart. He can't afford to do anything they'll call. He's kind of brought that upon himself."
Ahead of a playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Beckham took a trip to Miami with some teammates, a move that inspired criticism.
Beckham seems like the type of athlete the "get off my lawn" crowd would particularly dislike. He's young and outgoing and has rapidly growing celebrity. None of those is a reason to dislike a guy. Then again, as long as OBJ continues to do OBJ (how dare he), some folks just won't like him.
Word on the street ("the street" being Christian Red of the New York Daily News) is former MLB supervillain Alex Rodriguez will not attempt a comeback at age 41.
So who will fill his shoes as baseball's veteran villain in 2017? Free agent Jose Bautista has laid a solid foundation for the gig. The former Toronto Blue Jays slugger with a penchant for bat flipping is in search of a new home, and he's not having the easiest time finding it.
David Schoenfield of ESPN.com compared Bautista to retired slugger Barry Bonds: "Like Bonds, Bautista is a difficult personality. It's not an exaggeration to say he's possibly the most hated player in baseball. Like Bonds, he plays with a chip on his shoulder."
In December, Baltimore Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette told Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun the team would not pursue Bautista because he is a "a villain in Baltimore" and the fans don't like him.
No matter where Bautista ends up in 2017, his performance should face harsh scrutiny.
Golden State Warriors
For some sports fans, winning is all it takes to earn the villain label.
So it's safe to say the Golden State Warriors were already well on their way after making back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, winning a title and notching a record-breaking 73-win season.
Their status as the villainous team of the NBA was solidified when Kevin Durant joined them in July, however.
Durant left his longtime team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and joined a(nother) perennial title contender. OKC fans burned his jersey. Some accused him of being a sellout. TNT's Charles Barkley suggested on Mike & Mike (via ESPN.com) he was joining the "gravy train" with Golden State.
Regardless, the Dubs are 31-6 to start the 2016-17 season, and since their villain status seems linked to their success, they likely won't become good guys anytime soon.
Amanda Nunes is at the top of her game at the moment. The Brazilian fighter defeated Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 to retain her women's bantamweight title.
And yet she didn't exactly handle her 48-second dismantling of Rousey with grace in victory.
She told TMZ (via Michael Blaustein of the New York Post): "I don't know how Ronda Rousey went this far in the division. Honestly, I don't know how those gals lost to Ronda Rousey. ... Yes, [she's overrated], for sure. UFC make this happen…but I know that I could beat Ronda Rousey since I saw her first fight."
Fellow fighter Cat Zingano tweeted: "I'm not petitioning a rematch yet @Amanda_Leoa I'll earn it. You're disrespectful of @RondaRousey & I detest you being ungrateful @ufc."
With Rousey out of the UFC spotlight (possibly for good), Nunes has stepped up as the new face of the bantamweight division. Her prowess is to be respected, but extreme confidence (re: cockiness) is, right or wrong, often a key ingredient in the sports villain formula.
Chelsea striker Diego Costa is not new to the villain list.
In August, The Telegraph's Callum Davis wrote: "It's the one fact that seems to unite all football fans, regardless of club allegiances: everybody hates Diego Costa. Since arriving in the Premier League the Chelsea striker has had more theatrical feuds than a WWE wrestler."
In addition to theatrics, Davis cited "nastiness" and "immunity from punishment" as reasons for the disdain for Costa.
And things don't look to change in 2017.
During a January win over Tottenham, Costa got into an on-field argument with teammate Pedro Rodriguez.
There are also rumors of a potential transfer to the Chinese Super League, although Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has denied those, according to Riath Al-Samarrai of MailOnline.
With Chelsea atop the Premier League table, the spotlight is only going to shine brighter on Costa's every move.
As if folks needed another reason to dislike Duke.
The Duke men's basketball program, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski with it, is not what one would call universally liked. Per Chris Chase of USA Today, among the reasons is the perception that players take dives and receive preferential treatment from officials. Plus, you know, Duke is also one of the winningest programs in history.
So when Duke suspended junior guard Grayson Allen indefinitely for his third tripping incident in one year, it didn't exactly go over well. In fact, David Ubben of Sports on Earth thereafter put him atop his list of Duke's all-time most hated players and wrote, "Allen does all the things that grate on people about Duke players."
It also didn't help that his indefinite suspension lasted just one game—a surprisingly light sentence Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com called "a bigger joke than Mariah Carey's performance on New Year's Eve."
In short, Allen is not a fan favorite. And as Duke continues toward another March Madness run, it's probably only going to get worse.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is not exactly beloved as it is. Despite successes such as expansion teams and growth in television contracts, Bettman has also stood at the helm for four work stoppages since 1992, including the erasure of the entire 2005 season.
In June, fans in San Jose booed him as he presented the Stanley Cup to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In November, the boos rained again as he participated in the unveiling of the new Las Vegas expansion team.
And now, with the possibility of NHL players not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Bettman's fragile image is teetering on the edge. Concerns about participation include travel costs, injuries and the timing of the Games (i.e. smack in the middle of the NHL season).
In early January, Bettman said, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com: "Absent some compelling reason, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season."
Meanwhile, T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals said, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post: "One hundred percent, we should be there. I think it's just important for hockey."
There is no deadline for the decision, so TBD.
Lane Kiffin is the coach everyone loves to hate. Ever since he bolted on Tennessee in 2010 after one season, folks just can't stand the guy. Tumultuous tenures with the Oakland Raiders and USC Trojans didn't help, either.
And guess what? Balance has been restored to the universe, because Kiffin will be back under the harsh head coaching spotlight in 2017. After three seasons as Alabama's offensive coordinator, he accepted the job at Florida Atlantic University.
Tom Ley of Deadspin wrote (in a very NSFW way):
There's a good chance that you haven't spent much time thinking about Lane Kiffin over the last three years, during which he had been serving as Alabama's offensive coordinator. … But if you've missed having Kiffin in the news, if only because it feels good to hiss, 'F--k that guy!' every time you hear his name or catch sight of him, I've got good news for you. Lane f--king Kiffin is back.
Meanwhile, he and the Crimson Tide parted ways just one game shy of the national championship rematch against Clemson. So, if Bama loses, Kiffin will hear about it. And if Bama wins, not many folks outside Tuscaloosa will likely be too happy about it, so that won't help Kiffin either.
Brady-Belichick New England Patriots
No surprise here. The New England Patriots—and specifically, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady—are regularly on the sports villain list. And despite some minor Deflategate-related sympathy, it doesn't appear that will change anytime soon (because, you know, they are still dominating the league).
If the Pats win Super Bowl LI (which they are favored to do, heading into their first-round playoff bye, per OddsShark), the "hate us cuz you ain't us" vibe will just get stronger. It would be the fifth title of the Brady-Belichick era.
And if the Pats lose, opposing fans will rejoice in their defeat.
For his part, the 39-year-old Brady continues to put up age-defying numbers (3,554 yards on 67.4 percent passing with 28 touchdowns and two interceptions in 12 games) and is getting MVP talk despite missing 25 percent of the season. And Belichick, well, he just keeps being Belichick.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com wrote: "You might hate their smugness and the arrogance of their coach sometimes. Or the fact that they've been caught cheating. But that aside, they are arguably the best dynasty of all time."