Jeremy Lin and the 50 Most Polarizing Figures in American Sports History
In a world where sports are covered on live television 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it's impossible for any athlete to survive with a reputation unscathed.
Every sports figure has their haters, whether it's deserved or not.
The most recent example of this is Jeremy Lin. Despite his inspiring story, Lin still has his haters.
I won't beat around the bush, here's Lin and the 50 most polarizing figures in the history of American sports.
Vincent Laforet/Getty Images
Bill Romanowski: Some admired his intensity and passion for playing a man's game, others argued that he was nothing but a bully who never missed an opportunity for a cheap shot.
Charles Barkley: There are people who will sit there and tell you that there is nothing funnier than Charles Barkley saying "turrible" or swinging a golf club.
But there are other people who will tell you it's a chore to listen the guy attempt to commentate a game.
Scottie Pippen: There's a great debate in basketball: What's the deal with Scottie Pippen? There's people who will tell you Pippen is one of the 20 best players ever and just as integral a part of the Bulls dynasty as Michael Jordan.
Then there's the people who believe MJ always made him look better than he was.
Curt Schilling: People loved Curt Schilling because the guy was blue-collar, tough as nails and always pitched his best in the playoffs.
But he was just as easy to hate as he was to love; he had a tendency to let his mouth get him in trouble.
Reggie Miller: Reggie Miller was as clutch as any player in NBA history, and nobody needs to be reminded of his constant heroics against the Knicks. He always respected the game. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said about his opponents.
Miller had a reputation for playing dirty and being extremely cocky—who could ever forget his choke gesture at Spike Lee?
Vince Carter: If the game of basketball was based around just talent and athleticism and nothing else, Vince Carter might have been better than Kobe Bryant. In fact, many people believe he should have been.
However, Vince Carter always lacked in terms of effort. He was all finesse and no fight, and he lost a lot of respect for it.
Rex Ryan: Rex Ryan talks about winning Super Bowls like he's been there before, but he hasn't.
He talks about his team like they're the best in the league, but they're not.
And he talks, and he talks and he talks. Some people love to hear him speak, but many don't, making the Jets perhaps the most hated team in football.
Derek Jeter: What's not to love? He wins, puts up good numbers, is the face of the most successful franchise in the history of sports and never, ever says or does the wrong thing off the field.
The only real Jeter haters irrationally hate him for the simple fact that he represents the evil empire and wins a lot.
They'll point to his poor defensive performance or declining numbers to put him down. They may respect him, but there's plenty of haters of the Golden Boy shortstop.
Kevin Garnett: The guy who draws the line in the sand where intensity and passion for the game goes too far.
50. Tony Romo
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Tony Romo is a face for America's team. He's a very good signal caller who occasionally shows flashes of brilliance for the most popular team in the NFL.
He constantly brings them to the brink of greatness.
Why We Hate Him: The reason why so many people hate Tony Romo lies within the reason so many love him—he only brings a ridiculously talented Cowboys team to the brink of greatness. He's only great some of the time; he doesn't finish.
It seems that every time we think Romo has finally taken the next step, he steps right back, almost like he doesn't want to be great.
And many people, fairly or not, attribute this to him not caring enough. He'd rather vacation with Jessica Simpson than prepare for the biggest game of his life.
49. Wilt Chamberlain
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Wilt Chamberlain set the league on fire the day he stepped onto an NBA court, averaging an incredible 37 points and 27 rebounds per game as a rookie.
He was the best player in the NBA in terms of stats for practically his entire NBA career. And who could ever forget his 100-point game?
Why We Hate Him: One look at Chamberlain's stats are sure to leave any human being with a pulse in awe.
But students of the game aren't so impressed. Wilt played in an era where great big men were few and far in between and was notorious for his selfishness.
And he never shied away from gloating about his unhealthy amounts of casual sex.
48. Anna Kournikova
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Why We Love Her: She burst onto the scene, making it to the fourth round of the 1996 U.S. Open at the age of 15.
Next, she won WTA Newcomer of the Year and became the No. 1 doubles player in the world.
Once she turned 18, she became a national celebrity and one of the most searched people on the Internet.
Why We Hate Her: She never won anything on her own.
Kournikova wasted loads of talent to become a celebrity and rarely played well once she turned 18.
47. Reggie Bush
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Few running backs have ever run as swiftly as Bush did at USC.
Before his college career was over, he was right up there with some of the greatest running backs in NCAA history, and boy was he fun to watch.
He quickly became one of the most famous college football players ever, and was considered one of the greatest draft prospects of our time.
People laughed at the Texans for passing him up.
Why We Hate Him: Reggie Bush entered the league with a sense of entitlement; he was rated 87 in Madden before playing a game in the NFL.
He whined and moaned about wearing his college No. 5 jersey in the pros despite it being against NFL rules.
And, in the end, he turned out to be, if not a bust, then a major disappointment.
Plus, his recruiting violation set USC back five years.
46. Dennis Rodman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Dennis Rodman was out of his mind, and not in the way most people realize.
At 6' 6" he was hardly a beanstalk at power forward, but he was arguably the greatest rebounder in NBA history.
And, hey, he was always entertaining.
Why We Hate Him: The dude was an absolute headcase.
He died his hair a different color for every meal of the day, cross-dressed, and had shorter marriages than Kim Kardashian.
45. Mark Cuban
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: There isn't a more passionate owner in all of sports than Mark Cuban.
His dedication to making the Mavericks a success is almost touching in an era where so many owners care about money, money, money and then the actual games in that order.
And he's always right beside his players to defend them.
Why We Hate Him: While some admire Cuban's passion, others just find him annoying and think owners should let the players play.
He also seems to stick his head where it doesn't belong far too often, and I think people will be reminded of that once they get out of their "Cuban as a champion" hangover.
44. Jeremy Lin
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Jeremy Lin is a ray of sun for the aspiring stock broker mopping the floors on Wall Street, he's a glimmer of hope for the wannabe screenwriter serving up cappuccinos out in L.A.
What he is for many people, some who don't even realize it, is a symbol for what we as human beings are capable of through persistence and hard work.
To others, he's a symbol that if you stick it out through the tough times and stay positive, good things will always happen.
This guy was about a week away from being cut by his third team in two seasons before he finally got his chance, and he took it and ran.
This scrappy kid from Harvard is a lot of things to a lot of people, and that's why so many love him.
Why We Hate Him: Just like ice cream, the movie Elf and candy canes, Lin will always somehow have his haters.
They say he's over-hyped, overrated and lucky; not everybody likes an inspiring story.
43. Donovan McNabb
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Donovan McNabb was booed out of Philadelphia the day he was drafted; they all wanted Ricky Williams.
Throughout his career, McNabb never really got the praise for how great he was in his prime, and plenty of people realized that.
McNabb took the Eagles to four NFC Championship games throwing to underwhelming receivers like Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, and played through countless injuries.
His name was passed around on the trading block year after year. Philly never gave him the stability that his performance earned.
And now that his career is just about over, people are starting to realize that no matter how great he was, this poor guy couldn't catch a break.
Why We Hate Him: While some people will praise McNabb for taking the Eagles to four straight NFC title games, others will rip him for never winning the elusive Super Bowl.
Then there's the people who will point to the fact that he didn't know an NFL game could end in a tie, or his terrible clock management in Super Bowl XXXIX.
42. Ricky Williams
Why We Love Him: Ricky Williams was oozing with talent, and if you don't want to take my word for it, just ask Mike Ditka, who sent his entire 1999 draft and a future first and third-round pick to the Washington Redskins for him.
And throughout his first five years in the league he flashed that talent, becoming one of the best running backs in the game, but following a third positive marijuana test in 2004, he decided to retire from football in his prime.
During his hiatus he reportedly studied Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of holistic medicine, and battled depression just trying to find himself and become truly happy.
Many people believe Ricky did the right thing walking away from the game to fight his personal demons.
Why We Hate Him: Those who who criticize Ricky see nothing more than a scumbag who threw away otherworldly talent to smoke a bunch of weed.
41. Tom Brady
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: It's almost comic to think about it now, but Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick out of Michigan, was an underdog the day his NFL career began.
And it made him a fan favorite from the day he succeeded Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots starting quarterback.
Since he took over as starting quarterback, all he's done is win, and to this day it's made him the face of the league.
Why We Hate Him: There's several reasons why people dislike Brady but perhaps the biggest is that he's too perfect.
He's got a hot wife, money, fame, rings and puts up otherworldly stats on a yearly basis.
It also doesn't help that he plays for a team known for running up the score.
40. Ray Lewis
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: It's impossible to talk about Ray Lewis without using cliche.
Nobody plays the game with more heart or intensity than Lewis, football is a religion for this guy.
At 36, this ageless wonder is still going strong and is continuing to move up the ranks of all-time great defensive players.
Why We Hate Him: One incident in 2000 put a permanent blemish on this otherwise flawless reputation.
39. Shaquille O'Neal
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Shaq was one of the most dominant players in NBA history, he owned the paint for a decade and a half.
He's also the owner of one of sports' all-time most unforgettable personalities.
He rapped, acted (I use that term very loosely) and just went out there and enjoyed life. And it's hard to not like a guy who just goes out there and makes life happen.
Why We Hate Him: As great and jolly as ol' Shaq was, he wasn't without his faults.
He was always about himself and what he could do to improve his brand and popularity, and to some people, he was just annoying.
He talked and talked and talked and it didn't fly with everyone.
38. Scott Boras
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Say what you will about Scott Boras, but he's by far the best agent in baseball.
And while many people loathe him for that very reason, there's sort of a silver lining that follows around the storm cloud that comes with his name—he always gets his clients the best deal possible, and in a sick little way, isn't that kind of admirable?
Why We Hate Him: Many people say Boras ruined the game of baseball by driving up the entire market of baseball player salaries.
His clients' overpriced contracts have led to inflation throughout the entire MLB, giving big-market teams an even bigger advantage than they already had to begin with.
37. Al Davis
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: The NFL wouldn't be what it is today without Al Davis.
He was instrumental in the AFL-NFL merger, and would most certainly appear on the NFL's Mt. Rushmore.
Davis made the Raiders not just a team, but a brand, and always showed a loyalty to winning.
Why We Hate Him: While Davis' impact on the league was indisputable, so was the fact that he lacked grace.
I'll let Rick Reilly take it from here.
36. Deion Sanders
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Deion Sanders always had a little more strut in his step than everybody else.
He would dare the opposing quarterback to throw at him all game, and when they finally did, he would grab it and take it the other way for six.
He revolutionized the touchdown dance and had the whole crowd chanting in unison before every punt, "Prime Time, Prime Time."
His swagger was second to none, as were his supreme cover skills.
Why We Hate Him: But for every fan who couldn't get enough of "Neon Deion," there was another who never liked his act.
For every guy who loved watching him embarrass opponents, there was another who never understood the appeal of a guy who barked at receivers.
You either got him, or you didn't.
35. David Beckham
Toby Canham/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: When David Beckham signed with the L.A. Galaxy, he was supposed to change the entire landscape of American soccer and its popularity.
He was generally considered one of the best and most marketable players in the world, and many people applauded his attempt to change the game forever.
His decision, while risky, could have completely altered the course of a failing sport, and there are people who love him for that alone.
Why We Hate Him: Since coming to America, Beckham's been, if not a bust, a relative disappointment (sort of in the same mold as Reggie Bush).
Not only has his play been disappointing, but he hasn't exactly made soccer completely relevant in America either.
Sure, he's certainly helped what is a slowly growing sport here in the States, but he did no more for the sport than the 2010 World Cup.
Soccer remains a work in progress here, and David Beckham simply didn't change that.
34. Danica Patrick
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Why We Love Her: Patrick has made a statement to women everywhere to follow their dreams.
Her career in competitive racing has been one giant step for female athletes everywhere hoping to play with the guys.
Why We Hate Her: The day Danica Patrick started competitive racing, the question was asked: Is she a revolutionary or a sex symbol?
And, in seven years, we still really don't know.
33. Bill Belichick
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Bill Belichick runs the Patriots like a five-star general.
His team always knows the weakness of their opponents and how to expose it.
Since he took over the Pats, he's done nothing but win, and for that he's become perhaps the most respected coach in the NFL and has already joined the pantheon of all-time great coaches.
Why We Hate Him: I know he doesn't lose a lot, but when he does, boy is Belichick a sore loser.
Never was that more apparent than in Super Bowl XLII where he left for the locker room before the end of the game, after it was clear his Patriots would be defeated by the Giants.
As bad a loser as Bill is, he's probably an even worse winner.
If running up the score were a felony, Bill Belichick would top the FBI's Most Wanted List every single year.
Many also hate Belichick for his interviews—if you want to call them that—where he rarely actually answers any questions.
32. Ben Roethlisberger
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: It isn't always pretty, but like many Steeler greats before him, Ben Roethlisberger always seems to find a way to win.
And there's no quicker way to gain respect in sports than putting all individual stats aside for the sake of winning.
Big Ben has also earned a reputation for being tough as nails.
Why We Hate Him: You know what else isn't pretty? A grown man trying to sleep with college girls.
31. Pedro Martinez
Al Bello/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: A valid argument can be made that Pedro Martinez was the most dominant pitcher in MLB history. I would know, I've made the argument before.
He dominated opposing batters in an era where so many were using steroids, and that alone made many admire the Dominican power pitcher.
Why We Hate Him: But he was always rubbing people the wrong way.
Whether it was fighting Don Zimmer or threatening to wake up the ghost of Babe Ruth and "plunk him in the ass," Pedro always did things his way, and some people really hated him for it.
30. Michael Irvin
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Michael Irvin changed the game; he was a football player years ahead of his time.
His mix of size and speed made him a threat to score a touchdown on any play, and one of the most exciting players in the game.
Why We Hate Him: While his talent made Irvin can't-miss, so did his mouth.
He's often credited with ushering in the current generation of diva receivers, and to a lot of people, that in itself is unforgivable.
Plus, it's never a good thing when an athlete gets in trouble with the law.
29. Reggie Jackson
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Reggie Jackson, the man so cool he got his own candy bar.
Mr. October wasn't popular upon first arrival in New York, with his cocky attitude and big contract, but he gained the respect of every person in the Bronx with his incredible bat.
He socked three homers in a game in the 1977 World Series, making himself a legend of mythical proportions.
His 563 career homers added to the myth as well.
Why He Hate Him: Once calling himself "the straw that stirs the drink" in New York, Reggie was always one of the cockiest players in baseball.
He feuded with plenty of people in his day, no one more than Yankees on-again, off-again manager Billy Martin.
Along with Martin and George Steinbrenner, Jackson helped the Yankees of the late '70s become known as "The Bronx Zoo."
28. Ron Artest (Metta World Peace)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: When he's at his best, Ron Artest is arguably the best defender in basketball, an enforcer who always plays with toughness and a chip on his shoulder.
In addition to being a great defender, Artest is a solid offensive option.
But above all, when he can use a little self control, Artest can be one of the most entertaining and hilarious players in all of sports.
Why We Hate Him: Unfortunately, Ron can't always keep himself under control, and when he loses it, it gets ugly.
He once attended a practice in a bath robe, drank alcohol during halftime, and was responsible for maybe the ugliest moment in NBA history—The Malice in the Palace.
27. Lawrence Taylor
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: There was never a more intimidating player in football, and maybe even all of sports, than Lawrence Taylor.
The man was completely unblockable, with five guys or one, and when he found his way to the ball carrier, he would always lay a nasty hit on him.
His career-ending sack of Joe Theismann is still the most gruesome football hit I've ever seen.
LT completely revolutionized the game, forever changing the importance of the left tackle.
Why We Hate Him: But as great as he was, Taylor could never get away from his personal demons.
He twice failed drug tests in his career, and was also arrested twice for buying cocaine from an undercover police officer.
In his prime he admitted to spending thousands of dollars a day on narcotics and sending prostitutes to his opponents' rooms the day before a game in an attempt "to tire them out."
And his worst offense came two years ago, when he was arrested for raping a 16-year-old girl.
26. Randy Moss
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: If we were to create the perfect wide receiver, it would probably turn out like Randy Moss.
Blazing speed, size, great hands, a vertical leap that puts most NBA players to shame; that was Randy Moss.
And it's why he was so much fun to watch. There was a time where as a quarterback, you just had to throw it near him and he would always come down with it.
He was one of the most exciting football players ever.
Why We Hate Him: Like I said before, if the perfect wide receiver was created, he would turn out like Randy Moss.
And while he was clearly one of the best receivers ever, it's almost disappointing that he didn't finish his career as the best ever.
He had a three-year stretch in Oakland where he was constantly guilty of pulling up short on routes and not hustling, two problems that haunted him his entire career.
Which brings me to my next point, because Moss never really put in the effort, he never lived up to his potential.
We saw flashes of how dominating he could be in New England and Minnesota, but he was always too cocky to put it all together.
25. Jose Canseco
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Jose Canseco's impact on the Steroid Era of baseball was perhaps greater than anybody else.
His book, Juiced, outed countless steroid users and ruined countless lives.
On the surface it seems like a bad thing, but many people cite Canseco as the only honest man in an era of liars; a guy who was extremely helpful in ending the most tainted era of America's pastime.
Why We Hate Him: While some believe that without Canseco, the Steroid Era would have lasted longer, most people don't care.
He ratted out all his friends for 15 more minutes of fame, and ruined lives just for a little press.
Plenty of people will never be able to forgive him and consider him a complete sellout.
24. Ty Cobb
Why We Love Him: Ty Cobb was one of the greatest hitters in MLB history.
His .366 career batting average is the best of all-time and his 4,189 hits are the second most ever.
Cobb could flat out hit and nobody ever denied that.
Why We Hate Him: While nobody will question what Cobb did with the stick, they won't question how much of a scumbag he was either.
The stories of Cobb's horribleness as a person are more talked about than the stories of his greatness as a player.
23. Terrell Owens
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Getcha popcorn ready!
Few people have ever played the wide receiver position better than Terrell Owens. He's sure to go down as one of the best to ever play.
But he'll go down as one of the most entertainingly strange players ever as well.
And for that, some people loved him the same way they love their favorite TV shows, they always wanted to see what would happen next week.
Why We Hate Him: Has there ever been a more cocky and outspoken player in all of sports than Terrell Owens?
I don't think he ever lost a game that his team wouldn't have won if they targeted him more (is what T.O. would say).
The man who was once quoted saying "I love me some me" never shied away from that, and many people could never respect that.
22. John McEnroe
Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: John McEnroe was as passionate a tennis player as anybody to ever play the sport.
He was also a winner time after time and a guy who always left it all on the court.
Why We Hate Him: Yes McEnroe was a winner, but he was also a whiner.
He was just as notable for yelling at line judges as he was for being the No. 1 tennis player in the world.
And his most notable moment as a pro came when he yelled "You cannot be serious!" at a line judge at Wimbledon in 1981.
21. Jim Brown
George Rose/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Many people believe Jim Brown is the greatest football player of all-time, you won't hear any arguments here.
He's not only a football Hall of Famer, but also a Lacrosse Hall of Famer.
Since his retirement, he has done tons of charity work.
Why We Hate Him: Yet, despite that charity work, there have been reports that Brown has a dark side.
He's been accused of several crimes, specifically against women, making us wonder who Brown really was.
Brown is also disliked for walking away from the game in his prime to pull a Dwayne Johnson and try his hand in acting. Unfortunately, he's not nearly as likable as The Rock.
All that talent and the guy just walked away after arguably his best season.
20. Manny Ramirez
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: In his prime, few were ever better than Manny Ramirez.
But there was always something that separated Manny from the other great run-producers of his time.
Sure, he never gave it his all in the field or on the base-paths, but that could always be summed up in three simple words: "Manny Being Manny."
And for his entire career, those three words were always enough because he was so much damn fun to watch out there.
Nobody had more fun playing the game than Manny, and that's why nobody was more fun to watch.
Why We Hate Him: Not everybody appreciated "Manny Being Manny." Plenty of people called him a disgrace to the game and a guy who wasn't worth the trouble.
And steroid allegations later in his career were a reputation killer as well.
19. Jack Johnson
Why We Love Him: Jack Johnson was a revolutionary in the early 20th century, famously beating white boxing legend James J. Jeffries in the bout dubbed the "Fight of the Century."
He was the first African-American world heavyweight champion, and a man who many believe blazed a new trail in the boxing industry for African-American up and comers.
Why We Hate Him: His victory over Jeffries caused race riots across the country, as many had dubbed Jeffries "the great white hope" prior to the fight.
Johnson's popularity peak and the peak of American racism happened at nearly the same time, so naturally he had his haters.
18. Isiah Thomas
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: For the sake of this article, it's best to think of Isiah Thomas as two different people: Thomas the player, and Thomas the out-of-control GM.
As a player, we remember Isiah as one of the all-time greats, the type of guy we all pretended to be a recess.
He was a Finals MVP, and his accolades on the court made him a favorite of many kids growing up.
Why We Hate Him: As a GM, Thomas gave out draft picks like fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant; it seemed like sometimes he just threw a few in for the hell of it.
He set the Knicks back five years with his ridiculous trades and free-agent signings, and then named himself coach, where he proceeded to somehow make Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry even more lazy and unmotivated than before.
And he cost the Knicks millions when he got sued for sexual harassment.
This guy is so hated in New York that when a rookie guard for the Sacramento Kings, who also happens to be named Isaiah Thomas (but with no further relation to the Isiah), visited the Garden, the entire place erupted in boos every time he touched the ball.
He's that hated in New York.
17. Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa
Why We Love Them: Four years removed from a strike, in the year 1998, baseball was slowly starting to decline in popularity, and they desperately needed something to put them back on the map.
In 1998 they got just that when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa locked up in the greatest home run battle in the history of baseball.
The two went back and forth throughout the season and both ended up besting the previous record for home runs in a season.
Sosa finished with 66, and McGwire finished with a ridiculous 70. By the time the season had ended, everyone's interest in America's pastime had been restored thanks to one of the media-covered seasons in baseball history.
And even now that Sosa and McGwire have been outed for using steroids (and in Sosa's case, a corked bat) they are still beloved by many of baseball's biggest fans for saving the game.
Why We Hate Them: But Sosa and McGwire represent perhaps baseball's biggest line in the sand, because many of baseball's other biggest fans feel they ruined the game by making once-prestigious home run records mean nothing.
16. Tim Tebow
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Tim Tebow is a young man who does everything right. He never says the wrong thing, he always goes hard on the field and everybody who meets him loves him.
He loves his mom and he's an abstinent, devoted Christian. There's so many reasons to love him.
Tebow has never done anything but win, and he's at his most deadly late in games.
He won in high school, he won in college and now he's winning in the pros where nobody thought he could make the transition.
Which makes him even bigger. Tim now stands for every great college quarterback who was told he could never play in the pros, and really, he stands for every person who has ever been told they can't do something.
Why We Hate Him: There are people out there who will look for every reason to discount what Tebow does.
They'll credit his defense, call him lucky, insult his competition. Some people just don't want to get behind a quarterback who's biggest asset isn't his arm.
And then of course there's the people who think he's a big phony and there's a scandal out there somewhere waiting.
15. Shoeless Joe Jackson
Why We Love Him: Right up there with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and all the other greats of the early 20th Century in terms of skill and production, many people believe Shoeless Joe Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame.
His .356 career batting average (the third best of all-time) also pleads this case, but the one blemish on his resume is the equivalent of baseball murder—he was a member of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team that famously worked with gamblers to throw the World Series.
But for Shoeless Joe, there's a catch. He led both teams in the series with 12 hits, a .375 batting average and zero errors. Not exactly the numbers of a man who was betting against himself.
Despite admitting to participating to the fix at first under oath, Jackson later denied throwing the series to the death, and those who love him think his word and numbers are more than enough proof.
Why We Hate Him: Not everybody thinks Joe's numbers are enough to proclaim his innocence, many believe he hurt the team in ways that don't show up on the typical stat sheet.
Reports noted an unusual amount of triples hit to left field during the series, where Jackson lurked. Other fans will support that as long as he is banned by the MLB, that's proof enough for them that he was in on it.
14. Pete Rose
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Nobody played baseball with as much guts, intensity and passion as Pete Rose.
Charlie Hustle knew all there was to know about baseball, his passion for the game oozed straight through his jersey.
And to some people, that was enough. For some of us, he resembled how we thought we might play the game if we were in the MLB, with true grit and reckless abandon.
Not to mention he was pretty damn good. His 4,256 hits are the best in MLB history.
Why We Hate Him: For others, Rose was, much like Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man who committed one of sports cardinal sins—betting on the game. And then lied about it.
He begged for mercy and swore his innocence for years, until he decided to finally come clean to sell a book he wrote about the whole thing. And to some people, that characterized him as selfish.
13. O.J. Simpson
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: In his prime, O.J. Simpson was as explosive as Independence Day on the football field, a threat to break off a huge run at any time.
He rushed for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season and was the most popular guy around after he retired, thanks to a hilarious performance in The Naked Gun and a stint commentating Monday Night Football.
And that is the O.J. Simpson that some people will always remember whether it be because they can't stomach to remember where his life tumbled after that, or because they simply don't care.
Why We Hate Him: Those who remember the O.J. trials usually fall here.
He literally got away with murder, and that simply isn't right.
12. Alex Rodriguez
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: At his peak Alex Rodriguez was one of the greatest right-handed hitters in the history of baseball.
His numbers are off the charts, and he's got three MVP awards and a championship ring to his name.
And what some people really admire about A-Rod is that he tries so hard to be liked and to do everything right. He wants to be a role model to kids and he wants the Bleacher Creatures in Yankee Stadium to chant his name as much as he wants anything.
But the tabloids just won't let him. Every bad thing he does ends up on the back page of the paper, and some people truly feel for him and think he's not really the bad guy the public portrays him as.
Why We Hate Him: Some people hate A-Rod because he took steroids, even if he did come clean. Others hate him because they think he's a phony who begs for acceptance but doesn't deserve it. Then there's the people who simply can't respect a man who gets paid $30 million a year to hit a baseball.
Even more people will always unfairly compare him to superhuman Derek Jeter, and he'll just simply never measure up.
11. Allen Iverson
Mansoor Ahmed/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: There was never a faster and more explosive scorer in NBA history than Allen Iverson.
Nobody threw their body around like A.I. He was 6' on stilts and 160 pounds soaking wet, but he backed down from no man, and often made big men look silly.
He completely changed the game and ushered in an era where players wore dreads, baggy shorts and tattooed themselves up.
He didn't always go to practice but he always left it all on the floor, and to those who loved him, that was all that ever mattered.
He took an average 76ers team all the way to the NBA Finals single-handedly, and was a guy who defined swag.
Why We Hate Him: Not everybody appreciated the way A.I changed the game. Not all people wanted to see guys wearing shorts down to their ankles and putting ink all over their body.
Many people called him a ball-hog and his low shooting percentage surely didn't prove anyone wrong.
He feuded with coaches and front offices, and he was never shy about how he felt about practice.
Allen Iverson was like no man before him, and to many people that wasn't a good thing.
10. LeBron James
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: When he was on Cleveland, everybody loved this guy. The talent of LeBron James alone makes him one of the most exciting and explosive athletes in the history of sports.
And for those who still love him post-Decision, the fact that he is unstoppable and gushing with talent is enough.
The fact that this man can practically average a triple-double against the best basketball players in the world is all that matters for some people.
And then there's the people who feel bad for James and think he means well.
Why We Hate Him: But those who hate LeBron have similar reason, he's so good and talented that he should be able to win rings alone.
LeBron was smiled on by the basketball gods, and every time he misses or passes up a game-winning shot, it's like he's flipping them off. Where's his killer instinct?
He could have had his choice of what city he wanted to start his dynasty in, but instead, he picked one with two other superstars already on the roster, and many people can't get behind a guy who seemed like he was trying to take the easy way out.
His "Decision" special made a lot of people call him arrogant, and when he announced he was headed for Miami, it was the equivalent of leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers at the alter on national TV.
9. Kobe Bryant
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Nobody this side of MJ played basketball with as much intensity and will to win as Kobe Bryant.
And just when you're ready to call him selfish, or overrated, or anything else negative, he goes out there and hits a game-winning shot, or drops 81 points.
Kobe's toughness is off the charts, you'd have to run this guy over with a bus to make him sit out a game.
And those who love Kobe love him with a passion, Bryant-lovers stick by him through thick and thin.
Why We Hate Him: For a while post-Shaq, the prevailing wisdom about Kobe Bryant was that he was a ball-hog who could never win on his own.
And even now, his haters still cling to the former. And those who hate him will also mention his adulteress tendencies and the fact that the Lakers were a mediocre team when Bryant was their sole star.
As long as the game of basketball is being played there will always be Kobe lovers and haters. It's a never-ending debate.
8. Mike Tyson
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Mike Tyson grew up with no concept of right or wrong, with nobody ever giving him a fair chance. And for that many people pity him.
Some people don't see the kid who was arrested 38 times, but rather the kid who had his first fight because some bully ripped the head off his pigeon, the kid who spent much of his childhood fighting those who made fun of his lispy voice because nobody ever taught him how else to deal with it.
Many people see a guy that could have become the greatest heavyweight of all-time if he didn't have so many personal demons to fight off for much of his life.
His dad walked out on him when he was two and his mom died when he was 16. Of his mom Tyson said, "I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something: She only knew me as being a wild kid running the streets, coming home with new clothes that she knew I didn't pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. Professionally, it has no effect, but it's crushing emotionally and personally."
And to some people, the fact that a man can go through so much that he would say something like, "My whole life has been a waste – I've been a failure," makes us really pity a man who could have been so great.
Why We Hate Him: Not everybody feels bad for Tyson. And why should they? He's been given chance, after chance, after chance and he could just never get himself together.
Plenty of people can simply never feel remorse for a man who was convicted of rape, no matter what his back story was.
There's more than a minority of people who think he belongs in a mental institution after taking a bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear.
And others will point to the fact that he has eight different children with several women.
7. Barry Bonds
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Believe it or not, Barry Bonds has his supporters, especially in the Bay Area.
There are people who believe that with or without steroids, 73 home runs in one season is something that has to be respected.
Bonds has supporters who believe so long as he has more home runs than anyone else, he is the rightful home run king and the owner of one of sports' most prestigious records.
And they do and always will love him out in San Fran.
Why We Hate Him: Where do I start? The guy has been a graceless, classless guy with his teammates and the media his entire career, even pre-steroid allegations.
He's treated people as if he's doing them a favor by letting them stand within 100 feet of him his whole life.
And I know people who feel he deserves to be arrested for assault on baseball record books because of how much he tainted them.
6. Brett Favre
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: For his entire career up until 2009, Brett Favre was arguably the most universally beloved and respected player in the NFL.
His bond with the Green Bay fans was like none other. He was the toughest player in the league his entire career, playing through injury after injury to start nearly 300 games in a row.
And the way he went about playing football made him more fun to watch than everybody else. He made plays that most guys would have been benched just for trying.
Rolling right and throwing 50 yards downfield the other way, fitting balls into triple coverage, Favre never saw a throw he didn't like, and nobody ever made bad decisions look as good as him.
He played football like a kid in a candy store, always smiling and having the time of his life. He threw snowballs in snow games and carried his receivers over his head after touchdowns.
He holds every measurable QB record imaginable, and holds several sentimental records as well.
He played the best game of his life in front of the world on Monday Night Football one day after the death of his father. And that's the what made Favre beloved—he was just so humane and real. That's the Brett many folks will never forget.
Why We Hate Him: But there's another Brett some people will never forget, and that's the one who retired and un-retired three times and ended up playing for the Packers' bitter rivals, the Vikings.
This is the Favre who was heartbreakingly booed straight out of Lambeau Field as a Viking. The guy who reportedly sent out pictures of his junk.
This is the man who played past 40 and finally got knocked down one too many times, leading to the first missed start of his life.
This is the bad Favre, and sadly it's the one that some people will never forget.
5. George Steinbrenner
Why We Love Him: Like Rockefeller and Carnegie before him, George Steinbrenner was a damn good businessman and he tried to create a monopoly on Major League Baseball.
He shelled out $8.8 million to buy the Yankees in 1973 and by the time of his death they were worth more than $3 billion.
It was his commitment to winning and no-nonsense attitude that helped turn the Yankees from a team to a brand. If he didn't like a player, he'd trade him. If he didn't like a manager (he often didn't), he wouldn't hesitate to give them the boot.
And to some, his willingness to do whatever it took to win was reason enough to respect the guy.
Why We Hate Him: Not everybody was on board with The Boss' sometimes insane running of the team.
He fired and re-hired Billy Martin about three times a week, and he lacked patience and grace.
Many believe his willingness to pay players absurd amounts of money led us to where we are today with baseball inflation and small-market teams not standing a chance.
4. Michael Vick
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: To those who believe everyone deserves a second chance and those who are inspired by stories of redemption, Michael Vick is a prime example of how human beings truly can learn from and grow from their most fatal mistakes.
And although the whole dog-fighting incident was inexcusable, some people believe he's paid his dues and he's truly a better person now.
So when he burst onto the scene last year with the Eagles and had the best season of his career, it was an inspiring moment for those who are willing to forgive a man who made one giant mistake.
Why We Hate Him: But to some people, when you do something as terrible as Vick did, you deserve no pity.
And for as long as he plays in the NFL, no matter how spotless his resume remains for the rest of his career, the dog-fighting scandal will always cast a huge shadow on Vick.
3. Joe Paterno
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: In his nearly half a century as Penn State head coach, Joe Paterno did so much good and had so much class.
There wasn't a more respected coach in all of sports than JoePa. He got nothing but praise from anybody who went through Penn State as long as he was there.
Nobody could say a single bad word about him, but then it happened...
Why We Hate Him: I'm sure I don't need to refresh your memory about the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandals.
Paterno knew about it and although he didn't do anything illegal, he simply didn't do enough. And there will always be people who judge his 60 years in football on that one incident.
So, with all the good that he did over the years, whether you love or hate Paterno comes down to one simple question: Was his sin unforgivable?
2. Tiger Woods
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Why We Love Him: Before his personal life came to the forefront, there wasn't a single bad thing to say about Tiger Woods. You either loved to watch him play, or you respected how good he was.
Then came the cheating scandal and one by one, women identified themselves as Tiger Woods' mistresses. Soon after, he stopped winning.
Nobody knew what to make of Woods anymore, but with his life slowly unraveling in the public eye, a select few people began to actually feel bad for him.
There's also the camp that still loves Tiger for how great he was in his prime.
Why We Hate Him: Those who hate Tiger hate him because they felt cheated. They felt like he had been lying to them his entire career, like he had been playing a character in interviews and on the course this whole time.
What he did was inexcusable enough, but the fact that it came from a guy who was supposed to stand for everything that was right with athletes made it all the more heartbreaking and unforgivable.
1. Muhmmad Ali
Why We Love Him: Muhammad Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. He had so much charisma that even Will Smith couldn't match it in Ali.
Ali was a controversial political figure when he refused to fight in Vietnam after being drafted for the war, and this led to an eventual protest of the Vietnam War by many Americans.
He changed his name from Cassius Clay after converting to Islam.
Muhammad went to war with Joe Frazier three times in the 20th century, and fought in some of the greatest bouts of all time.
He talked trash better than anyone in the history of sports and he was so cocky that it was somehow endearing to many.
To this day, Ali remains as the biggest celebrity in the history of boxing and was named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the 20th Century."
Why We Hate Him: In his heyday there may not have been a more polarizing person in the world than Ali.
His refusal to go to war was met by many people with scorn and disbelief, and his conversion to Islam was controversial to say the least.
Ali was the type of guy you'd learn about in a U.S. history book because he was just as much a controversial activist as he was an athlete.