12 Athletes Fans Are Always Defending

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers greets Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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As fans, we love our superstars. There's no doubt about that, as we'll spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars in order to see them play or wear their merchandise.

So when someone talks bad about them, we're quick to defend them. We assure the hater those players are not the people they might think they are, literally standing up for the athletes as if they were members of our own family.

And because criticism comes heavy on superstar players, these are the 12 athletes fans seem to always stand up for no matter the circumstance.

12. LeBron James

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Trust me, as a born and bred Northeastern Ohioan who graduated from high school the same year LeBron James did, I'm as guilty as anyone else for standing up and defending the guy more than most fans.

While my situation is a little different because of my hometown roots, those who didn't see James play in high school still feel as if they need to stick up for him anytime someone starts bashing him.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that, since the age of 15, LeBron has been in the public spotlight and has been talked about as being the next big thing.

It was first about how he couldn't win a title, then, deservedly, how he bolted from Cleveland in 2010, next it was how he couldn't win more than two titles, and now it's about how he's no longer the best basketball player in the world because he's old—at age 31—and in his 13th season.

There will always be criticism for a player like LeBron James, and there will always be those who defend him because his resume—on and off the court—speaks for itself.

11. Tiger Woods

Rob Brown/Associated Press

There might not have been too many fans coming to Tiger Woods' defense in 2009 when his infidelities and well-documented affair occurred, but these days, you'll still find plenty of people who support the 14-time major champ.

After dealing with injuries and inconsistency, as well as seemingly being overtaken as golf's biggest draw, Woods is no longer the player expected to win every tourney he tees it up in, although there are still fans who think he is.

Clearly affected by age and deteriorating skills, anytime there's a major that includes Tiger Woods, fans and media alike will ask if it's the time for his roaring return.

It has already been eight years since his last major victory—coming in stunning fashion during the 2008 U.S. Open—yet Woods continues to get the love from fans who grew up watching him dominate the PGA Tour.

10. Carmelo Anthony

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

At what point do fans just stop defending Carmelo Anthony as a superstar, admit he's a good, but not great, player and accept he'll never lead a team to an NBA title?

Based off what we've all seen since Melo entered the league in the famed 2003 draft class, none of the aforementioned presumptions will happen anytime soon, although people remain enamored with the New York Knicks forward.

Don't get me wrong, Anthony is a volume scorer, when healthy, but he's also an even higher volume shooter, unafraid to take almost any shot anytime he wants to.

No longer a max player—and he wasn't one when the Knicks made him one a couple of summers ago—Anthony remains the King of NYC hoops in fans' minds, but he's a shell of the player he used to be.

And, for whatever reason, people continue to defend this guy as if he'll magically turn things around and become the player we all want him to be.

9. Serena Williams

Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

She's a 21-time Grand Slam singles champ and, arguably, the most dominant women's tennis player anyone has ever seen, yet Serena Williams still has plenty of doubters.

Unfairly, most of those haters come from people who question Serena's commitment, although she competes at a higher level than most of her female peers. They see her as having a history of being smug, surly and uninterested in talking to the media, even noting she's had a couple of outbursts on the court.

Sports fans like to think of their superstars as heroes, and for whatever reason, even after all she has done to advance the sport of women's tennis, Serena has to prove herself every tournament she plays in.

Good thing fans are coming to her aid—which she has more than earned thanks to an illustrious playing career—when another person attempts to throw shade her way.

8. Peyton Manning

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Much like the aforementioned LeBron James, quarterback Peyton Manning has been in the limelight since he was a teenager, albeit before the rise of the Internet and social media.

Maybe that's why so many people feel like they need to attack the five-time NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl champ?

Or maybe it's because Manning's success on the field is unmatched by nearly anyone who has played the position before, as he holds pretty much every major individual passing record in NFL history, and he handles the success with class and grace.

No, Manning isn't perfect. Recent reports of an alleged harassment incident during college 20 years ago has overshadowed his recent Super Bowl victory. However, because he's witty, likable, successful and has proved to be the superstar everyone believed he would be when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998, most fans can't help but stand up for him when he's criticized.

7. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

One of the rare examples on this list where there are probably more haters than supporters, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has given plenty of reasons for sports fans to turn their backs on him, but they continue coming back to watch the show.

That's because everything Money does is a show, as he's constantly flaunting his wealth and superstardom on social media, allowing fans to get an all-access look at the millionaire-athlete lifestyle.

Undefeated at 49-0 during his boxing career, Mayweather has had run-ins with the law and will always be brash and full of himself, but for some odd reason, fans find themselves defending him.

It really is a mystery as to why that's the case, but it definitely happens. Maybe it's just because everyone knows he was just so good during his career.

6. Sidney Crosby

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Maybe it's because he hasn't become a multiple Stanley Cup winner—"only" winning one title in the 2009 season—or that he has a reputation for being a "crybaby," but the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby is still being criticized.

And while that's understandable for a player like Crosby—who carried the reputation as the next Wayne Gretzky when he first entered the league—it's more than just a little unfair.

A two-time league MVP and, when healthy, still a top-five player in the league, it seems fans outside of Pittsburgh like to taunt Crosby because he hasn't lived up to their expectations.

Regardless of the reason, most casual NHL fans will still list his name first when asked who they think is the league's best player, which is a testament to his success after such hype.

5. Bryce Harper

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Another athlete who seems to think he's entitled to something because of his talent and the praise he received at a young age, reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper gives a ton of reasons for fans to turn their backs on him—they just can't do it.

Whether that's because of his old-school playing style or electric personality is up for debate, but one thing's for sure. There's no denying Harper gets support from plenty of fans.

Personally speaking, it's because the guy is so freaking talented with a once-in-a-generation skill set we should all appreciate, even if he has fought with teammates in the dugout, shown up opposing players and may or may not be serious about a $400 million-plus contract—which some actually think he'll get.

4. Cristiano Ronaldo

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

Even as someone who's a Lionel Messi fan and supports FC Barcelona, it's hard not to praise the play of Cristiano Ronaldo, who, because of his goalscoring ability and polarizing personality, is often considered the rival to Messi in European soccer.

Known as a playboy who drives luxury cars, dates models and has never been one to turn down a selfie, CR7 picks up hate because of his lifestyle, leading many to dog the Real Madrid and Portugal star for reasons other than his soccer talent.

Playing with a flair and style that's absolutely jaw-dropping, regardless of which club you root for, it's silly not to admit Cristiano Ronaldo is, arguably, the "best player in the world"—he just does it his own way.

3. Kobe Bryant

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Similar to the aforementioned Tiger Woods, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has given us almost every reason in the book to dislike him, yet most of us just can't do it.

That's showing almost every night as Bryant continues his farewell tour in this, his last NBA season, as fans chant his name and give him standing ovations anytime he's in an arena.

Bryant is the best basketball player of his generation, carrying the league after Michael Jordan retired for good in 2003 and becoming an all-time great. And while there are people who can debate that or speak to his me-first attitude, aggressive competitiveness or off-the-court incidents, it's too hard for fans not to show Bryant the respect he has earned on the basketball court, which is why we're all quick to defend him.

2. Cam Newton

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

I honestly don't understand why people dislike Cam Newton.

Sure, he shares similar traits to others on this list in that he's cocky and successful, but isn't that part of the reason this year's NFL MVP is so good at what he does? Of course it is!

A freak of nature who absolutely loves the game of football—as evidenced by his giant smile anytime he's on the field—Newton has made mistakes in the past, but he has matured into one of the best leaders in the sports world, even if it is untraditional.

Look, I hate when Newton is going up against my favorite team, and I'm forced to watch him dab and celebrate, but as many have said before, if you don't like it, stop it.

The guy is an ultimate competitor, and while he still has plenty of room to grow, he has to be respected for the way he has revolutionized the quarterback position.

1. Tom Brady

Scott Roth/Associated Press

More than any other athlete on this list, four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady continues to get hate from plenty of fans because of his success, reputation alongside head coach Bill Belichick and, of course, being linked to things like SpyGate and Deflategate.

But, tell me, why no love for No. 12?

While I'm in no way, shape or form a New England Patriots fan, it's hard not to respect what Brady has achieved during his NFL career, becoming the modern-day Joe Montana, going from overlooked rookie to a future Hall of Famer.

Never has he gotten in trouble with the law or been accused of being a bad teammate, yet there are still those who can't stand the guy. Deal with it, though, because even in his most adverse year, he still earned praise.

Brady's success is what fuels so much hate coming his way, but it's also why fans outside the Boston area quickly come to his defense, if and when necessary.


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