Michael Vick and the 20 Most Polarizing Athletes Ever

Elliott Pohnl@@ElliottPohnl_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2010

Michael Vick and the 20 Most Polarizing Athletes Ever

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    Michael Vick's legacy has seen a dramatic amount of highs and lows.

    Now, just two years removed from prison, Vick has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches while rediscovering the magic that once had many believing he would be among the all time greats to play in the NFL.

    Tuesday, Eagles coach Andy Reid announced Vick would be the starting quarterback moving forward.

    It appears his career has now come full circle.

    Vick's rise and fall has cemented his place has one of the most polarizing figures in sports.

    Joining him on this list is a handful of future Hall of Famers, several athletes who will likely never get the chance to make the Hall of Fame despite putting up huge numbers, and a large assortment of sports pop culture icons who are more famous for what they have come to represent than what they have actually accomplished.

    Here's a look at 20 of the most polarizing athletes in history.


No. 20: Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire

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    The Bash Brothers went from being teammates and close friends to being arch enemies while becoming synonymous with steroid use in baseball.

    Canseco broke into the big leagues in 1989 and won Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player award while becoming a member of the exclusive 40-40 club.

    McGwire came into the Big Leagues as a slim third baseman and left as a hulking home run king.

    Canseco's fall from grace came first, and in an effort to save face he began taking shots at McGwire and telling anyone who would listen they had used steroids together.

    He even wrote about it.

    In the end, sports fans have managed to see through the facade and see the sluggers for what they really are: big, fat liars.

No. 19: Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco

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    If only reality shows had been around in the days of Bath Ruth...

    The aging wide receivers have become ultra-famous in recent years despite declining production.

    The list of Terrell Owens' antics off the field is long and bizarre.  From holding impromptu press conference in his driveway while doing sit-ups to his strange suicide attempt that wasn't, he has captivated the sports nation throughout his career.

    Ochocinco's name change is only the beginning of his attention-seeking tactics.

    The player formally known as Chad Johnson has spent hours choreographing touchdown celebrations that keep fans laughing and the NFL scowling.

    In the end, the duo will always have some sort of celebrity, regardless of how successful their careers are in the twilight years.

No. 18: Allen Iverson

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    Hampton's finest has lived a life filled with glory and pain.

    Arguably the best player in NBA history under 6'0', his tattoo "Only the Strong Survive" is emblematic of his battles against bigger opponents, society and most importantly, himself.

    His MVP Award and scoring titles were overshadowed by his persona as being a new breed of spoiled, thuggish-ruggish NBA hoopsters.

    His troubles off the court did little to alter his image, even as his single-handedly led a horrible 76ers team to the NBA Finals while dominating.

    Whether it was allegedly forcing his long-time girlfriend out of the house while naked or rumored bouts with gambling and alcohol addiction, the Answer's legacy will always be shrouded by questions.

    Did we ever really know who Allen Iverson was?

No. 17: Danica Patrick

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    Not everybody on this list has accomplished a great deal in their particular sporting realm.

    Danica Patrick is pretty sexy, very marketable and drives really fast cars.

    She just isn't a very decorated driver.

    Her sex-appeal and reputation as a ground-breaking figure in racing has been overshadowed a bit by occasional bouts of whining.

    She wants to be known for what she does, not for who she is, yet has no problem sharing her body with the world.

    It might seem a bit hypocritical, but regardless of how she has done it, Danica has found a place in the sports spotlight for good.

No. 16: Shoeless Joe Jackson

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    One of the best players of his era, Shoeless Joe Jackson was blacklisted from baseball after he helped throw the 1919 World Series.

    At least that's how the story goes.

    Jackson admitted his role in the scandal, but later retracted his guilt and spent the last few years of his life trying to clear his name.

    The inspiration behind the hit film Field of Dreams, it's difficult to know exactly how involved Jackson was in throwing the World Series.

    It's not difficult to argue he would have been a lock for the Hall of Fame if not for the Black Sox Scandal.

No. 15: Jim Brown

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    Jim Brown is without question a legendary athlete who excelled in a number of arenas, most notably at football while becoming one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.

    Brown was also an outspoken figure who has a nasty temper.

    His work in the community and as a mentor to many athletes is certainly admirable, but has overshadowed the troubling dark side of his personality.

No. 14: Diego Maradona

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    Maradona has battled drug abuse throughout his life, but his talents on the pitch gave him second chance after second chance.

    His colorful character has secured him a place as one of the most polarizing sports figures ever.

    From his tattoo of Fidel Castro to his tax-debt to the Italian government, Maradona has a way of being in the news for the weirdest reasons.

    The man who scored the famous "Hand of God" goal against England will always have us watching over him.

No. 13: Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe was hated, loved, hated, then finally loved again.

    It might not be quite that simple, but the Black Mamba has bounced back after his actions in a Colorado hotel room threated to tarnish his image beyond repair.

    Given the actions of LeBron James over the summer, he might no longer hold the title as the most hated superstar in sports.

No. 12: Manny Ramirez

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    Manny being Manny.

    The phrase has caught on in the media like wildfire in recent years as the sluggers has enjoyed more downs than ups.

    It symbolizes the unpredictable nature of one of the more talented and inconsistent baseball players of the modern generation.

    Ramirez has always been bull-headed, and despite his underrated work ethic, he is often reluctant to play with a great deal of effort on the field.

    The smiling superstar is on his last legs in Chicago.  Even after he is gone, he won't be forgotten.

No. 11: Michael Vick

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    Vick's career was starting to go in the wrong direction even before he got outed for housing dog fights and throwing money around while committing atrocious acts.

    In his final years in Atlanta, he failed to show any improvement as a passer and appeared to be leveling off.

    The hits kept piling up, and the honeymoon was coming to an end.

    And then, the arrest happened and Atlanta was divided.  Despite his actions, Vick still had plenty of support in the city.

    After doing his time, Vick returned and started saying all the right things.

    It remains to be seen if he can continue doing all the right things, both on and off the field.

No. 10: Tim Tebow

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    Tim Tebow has become a household name on a first and last name basis.

    That's only part of the reason it's obvious he has become one of the most polarizing sports figures ever.

    The media anointed him as the next big star even while he was playing sparingly as a freshman behind Chris Leak.

    Once he started playing and producing huge numbers, the first true college football superstar was born.

    When the NFL Draft rolled around, Tim Tebow apologists cropped up all over the media and in the football world.

    His famous "intangibles" and track record of winning magically outweighed his physical shortcomings.

    The man is a myth and a legend despite having fairly pedestrian skills.

No. 9: Brett Favre

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    What about Brett Farv-ra?

    Once regarded solely for being one of the toughest competitors to ever play in the NFL, Favre has made himself into a diva while constantly waffling with retirement.

    His clashes with Vikings coach Brad Childress and the way he ended his run in Green Bay haven't helped repair his damaged image.

    Favre's bouts with addiction and painkillers made him an "everyman" type athlete.  He wasn't perfect, and he admitted it.

    Now it's time he starts acting like just another NFL quarterback.

    Arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Favre's legacy can't be saved at this point unless he manages to lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl.

    What a shame.

No. 8: John McEnroe

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    "You can't be serious!"

    That famous quote is only one of many outbursts that made McEnroe famous more for what he said than for what he did during his storied tennis career.

    The outspoken McEnroe put his foot in his mouth again during the 2010 U.S. Open, when he attributed the rash of injuries in the depleted ladies field by saying women aren't "built" to handle the rigorous tour schedule.

    As usual, his comments were honest but not well-received.

    Some athletes never completely grow up, and McEnroe appears to be one of those athletes.

No. 7: Alex Rodriguez

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    Selena Roberts ensured A-Rod's place on this list by hounding him about growing steroids allegations.

    Eventually, the talented third baseman who has won three Most Valuable Player Awards fessed up to his use of PEDs.

    Sort of...

    A-Rod claimed he only use the drugs for a short period of time and received them from his "cousin" in an effort to stay healthy and produce.

    Like most athletes who are caught in the act, he claimed he could have produced his gaudy numbers without the use of PEDs.

    And like most athletes, he was lying.

No. 6: LeBron James

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    LeBron has been world-famous since he was a teenager, so maybe we shouldn't have been surprised when he listened to his Mickey Mouse Club of advisers and took the decision of his free agent future public.

    That doesn't make it any better.

    After winning back-to-back MVP's just 30 miles away from the place he grew up, LeBron rubbed Cleveland in the mud during his painful hour-long ESPN special.

    The fallout had to be bigger than he expected.

    In the end, he looked like a spoiled, arrogant athlete who had a exaggerated sense of entitlement.

    The pressure on his broad shoulders to finally deliver a championship has never been greater.

No. 5: O.J. Simpson

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    No matter where you were, it's almost impossible to forget watching Al Cowlings speed down the freeway with a suicidal O.J. in the white Ford Bronco.

    Amidst a tense environment in Los Angeles, O.J. escaped prison after his team of high-powered lawyers exposed a sloppy Police investigation.

    Many people still considered him to be 100 percent guilty.

    His strange life has finally taken him to prison, after he engineered an armed-robbery in Las Vegas.

    The Juice isn't lose any longer...

No. 4: Mike Tyson

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    Iron Mike is without question one of the craziest dudes to ever walk the face of the earth.

    His image has taken countless punches, yet always seemed to bounce back.

    His reputation as a rapist tarnished his career.  Then came his cannibalistic actions against Evander Holyfield.  There was the spat with Lennox Lewis.

    The list goes on and on.

    Somehow, Tyson has managed to become a cult social figure despite all of his transgressions.

    There's nothing quite like a second chance.

No. 3: Pete Rose

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    The Hit King spent over a decade lying about betting on baseball, than finally admitted it in order to sell copies of his book.

    Somehow, it's not surprising.

    Rose was regarded as being a fanatical competitor who loved stats during his playing days, so his gambling problems didn't come as a surprise.

    What did come as a surprise was that he actually admitted it after years of denying accusations he bet on baseball.

    Now, many people want one of the great all-around players in MLB history to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

    Don't bet on it.

No. 2: Barry Bonds

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    Bonds was the epitome of an arrogant jerk.

    His crusade to conquer the home run record wasn't even worth watching towards the end of his career.  Everyone knew what was going on, yet he stuck to his story.

    Bonds had few friends across baseball and even fewer friends in the media, which made defending his reputation a difficult task.

    Despite having produced Hall of Fame numbers before many people believe he began juicing with the Giants, a spot in Cooperstown appears unlikely.

No. 1: Tiger Woods

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    How far Tiger Woods has fallen in the last year...

    His "transgressions" led to the most lucrative divorce in sports history, not to mention the most widely-publicized.

    His contrite apology wasn't enough to satisfy many people, who felt they never really knew what happened.

    More importantly, it seems we still don't know exactly what caused Tiger to embark on path of personal destruction.

    Will Tiger be able to bounce back from his tribulations?

    Like many of his counterparts on this list, the answer appears to be yes.