What Makes a Good Sports Villain?

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2016

What Makes a Good Sports Villain?

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Villains in sports are rampant, in large part a realization of perspective more than anything else.

    LeBron James isn't such a dastardly villain anymore, but his timeline provides a pretty good example of the perspective angle.

    James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, and one could see the smoke from the burning jerseys from orbit. He won titles with the Miami Heat and decided to leave. Jerseys didn't burn much in Florida. Now he's a hero again after winning a title from Cleveland, and while astronauts could probably see smoke from orbit again, it wasn't his jersey ablaze.

    Then there are the villains who transcend perspective. The guys universally loathed, so damnable fans would likely get angry if their favorite team acquired them.

    These guys, these good sports villains, wrote the blueprint on the whole thing.

Dwight Howard

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Ditch a smaller team for the Lakers
    • Do so after backing your head coach. Burn bridge with Lakers

    Dwight Howard doesn't want to be a bad guy.

    The problem is, D12 just can't seem to help it and it makes his villain status one thing: amazing.

    Howard spent eight years with the Orlando Magic and then pulled a LeBron before LeBron pulled a LeBron and Kevin Durant copied it. He left, but before doing so took part in the single most awkward interview of all time.

    Not only that, Howard joined the Los Angeles Lakers and lasted all of one season there, not fitting well with Kobe Bryant and others before not fitting right with the Houston Rockets.

    There's hope left Howard can turn this into a LeBron. He joined his hometown Atlanta Hawks over the summer, and a Hollywood ending could be in sight. But every supervillain has the moments of heroism before returning to his or her ways. 

Bill Belichick

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Too many things ending in "gate"
    • Hoodies, sheer genius and an unwillingness to chat

    The evil genius in a hoodie, better known as Bill Belichick, doesn't make many friends while terrorizing the NFL as head coach of the New England Patriots.

    Make no mistake, Belichick is one of the best to ever hold his position. But shenanigans like Spygate and now Deflategate don't help matters. Interviews such as the "We're on to Cincinnati" debacle show an impatience for conversation with those outside of his circle. 

    Circle, meaning team and all involved. Those who have played under Belichick adore him, but it's not just fans who can't stand Belichick, as the rest of the NFL doesn't much like him either.

    Winning amid controversy has a way of making someone a villain. Belichick does so with an edge, the concoction of success and a cloud of suspicion forming the most lethal dose in the NFL.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Spurn a smaller team for the Yankees
    • Earn a year-long suspension. When on the field, act like one of the most polarizing players to ever step into the box

    Alex Rodriguez took a look at the villain checklist, smirked, crumpled it up and wrote a new one.

    Rodriguez left the Texas Rangers via a trade to the New York Yankees despite a crazy offer from the team that drafted him. Keep in mind he joined the MLB as a teenager.

    From there, it's all about keywords. Slapping Bronson Arroyo's glove. Free agency in 2007 to get a 10-year deal. Year-long suspension for the Biogenesis report. Return, playing a season and a half.

    Really, Rodriguez was personality in baseball before there was such a thing. He was loved or hated for his mannerisms and play, and everyone seems to have an opinion one way or another on performance enhancing drugs in baseball.

    Rodriguez did this for the Yankees, by the way, making him one of the best ever not just on the field, but as a villain.

Kevin Durant

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Join the team that whipped yours in the playoffs
    • Join the greatest regular-season team of all time

    Kevin Durant has replaced LeBron and did so in a display of one-upmanship.

    Durant didn't ditch his hometown team. No, he ditched his small-market team to join a team that not only won the most games in history but beat his small-market team in the playoffs after clawing back from a 3-1 deficit.

    Even worse, Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne one of the reasons he thinks Durant joined the Warriors, and boy is it villain material.

    "When you come into town as the villain like Kobe, everybody's focused on him because he was the best player. But when Golden State comes in, they're not going to just focus on one guy," Boeheim said.

    It appears Durant took the easy way out. It appears Durant doesn't want or can't handle the spotlight. And that, folks, is enough.

Terrell Owens

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Endless touchdown celebrations
    • Situps in driveway
    • Next Question

    If one were to list all of Terrell Owens' transgressions leading to his villain status, we'd be here all day.

    Owens was an incredible wideout for the San Francisco 49ers before joining the Philadelphia Eagles for an odd two-year stint.

    That ended with him throwing his own quarterback under the bus, a controversial Desperate Housewives skit and doing sit-ups in his driveway for the media while notorious agent Drew Rosenhaus stood slamming his gavel at the podium like Judge Judy.

    Owens bounced around the league after, stopping in Dallas where he had infamously stepped on the star in the middle of the field in the past. He also had stints in Buffalo and Cincinnati before basically getting blackballed.

    The term "diva" to describe a wide receiver came from somewhere, folks. Owens didn't do it on his own, but it sure felt like it for a few years there.

Dan Snyder

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Controversial team name
    • Run a team like it's fantasy football

    Dan Snyder bought the Washington Redskins in 1999, and it's been chaos ever since.

    Snyder insists he won't change the name of the team. Regardless, it's a controversial name to many, and it's clear with the stance that marketing is more important than finding something that isn't offensive to anyone.

    Which isn't so surprising for a guy who made his team the first in NFL history to charge fans to attend training camp.

    None of this even mentions the on-field stuff. Washington has been notorious for years for spending wild cash in free agency in hopes of competing for a title, only for it to never work out.

    Seriously, Snyder is a villain and a good one because he's like the guy playing the video game who controls a team and immediately jacks up the prices on hot dogs before splurging on all the big free agents.

Barry Bonds

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Smash Hank Aaron's home run record...
    • ...With an attitude while cheating

    Barry Bonds wasn't a power hitter for the first seven or so years of his career.

    Then he exploded for 40-homer seasons regularly, transforming into one of the key figures in the BALCO scandal that started in 2003. Despite this, he slammed through Hank Aaron's 755-homer mark.

    A simple test proves Bonds' status as a villain. Ask a sports fan where they were when Bonds shattered one of the most prestigious records ever. Heck, ask them what the new number is.


    Bonds himself? He told Terence Moore of Sports on Earth he regretted the way he acted throughout his career, even saying "I was a dumbass."

    A villain who is self-aware of his status, shattered records and was involved in cheating scandals? That's a recipe if there ever was one.

James Harrison

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    James Harrison didn't want to just be a villain. He made himself into one and embraced it.

    Harrison was the poster boy for the NFL's transition away from hits delivered with the crown of a helmet. He didn't care much either, as he once told Alan Robinson of the Associated Press (via the San Diego Union-Tribune).

    "I don't want to injure anybody," Harrison said. "There's a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people."

    In response to briefly knocking out Cleveland Browns wideout Joshua Cribbs? The following: "I thought Cribbs was asleep," Harrison said. "A hit like that geeks you up, especially when you find out the guy is not really hurt, he's just sleeping. He's knocked out but he's going to be OK." 

    Well alrighty then.

    These days, Harrison spends his time enshrouded in controversy as one of four players the NFL wants to interview regarding a report about performance enhancing drugs.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    John Salangsang/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • The nickname "Money"
    • Seemingly waiting on big matches

    There are few bigger villains in sports than Floyd "Money" Mayweather, the guy who waited to fight Manny Pacquiao for years because of a weird hiccup between promoters. 

    This not only rubbed people the wrong way but seemed like Mayweather waited until he could keep his record perfect. The most anticipated fight in boxing's history was a farce, a blowout in favor of Money.

    Speaking of money, the dude rakes in copious amounts of cash despite fighting a style many would describe as boring. That in itself doesn't make it masterful and doesn't stop Mayweather from being one of the best ever, but boring to the eye is boring to the eye.

    This is especially the case for a guy who seems like a WWE character brought to life. He doesn't bring it in the ring, he avoids it. This all goes without mentioning his serious out-of-ring mishaps, all the trash talking, lighting money on fire for fun, etc.

    Mayweather is a lifetime heel with no return in sight, which is just what his persona crafted.

Tom Brady

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Recipe:

    • Champion involved in various shady scandals
    • Supermodel wife and odd fashion sense

    Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the villain to end all villains. This guy is so universally loathed he trumps another gargantuan of the sporting realm—the underdog.

    Brady was an underdog, in case you hadn't heard, a former sixth-round pick who won the starting job and went on to win four Super Bowls and marry Gisele Bundchen.

    Seriously, Hollywood could hardly pen a better tear-jerker of a script for an underdog movie, yet Brady has slammed the door on most any good will. There was Spygate and now Deflategate and off the field, the weird fashion sense that even has reporters bagging on him.

    A masterful act by Brady, really. Best of all, this isn't a cliche case of folks painting a legend as a villain merely because of his success.

    All that's left is for Brady to embrace it.


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