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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    DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 19:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles calls the play in the huddle during the third quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 19, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The Eagles defeated the Lions 35-32.
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    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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    PHOENIX - JUNE 11:  Batting coach Mark McGwire #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals before the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 11, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Diamondbacks 5-2.  (Photo
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    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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    CANTON, OH - AUGUST 8: Terrell Owens #81 and Chad Ochocinco #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals look on against the Dallas Cowboys during the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium on August 8, 2010 in Cant
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    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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    CHICAGO - FEBRUARY 20: Allen Iverson #3 of the Philadelphia 76ers is slow to get up after being hit in the face during a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 122-90. NO
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    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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    MOTEGI, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 18:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy.com Dallara Honda prepares to drive during practice for the IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 on September 18, 2010 in Motegi, Japan.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    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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    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 5:  'Shoeless' Joe Jackson's bat stands on display during an auction preview at Sotheby's December 5, 2005 in New York City. The bat, called 'Black Betsy,' will be auctioned December 10 and was last purchased at a 2001 auction for $577
    Michael Nagle/Getty Images

    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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    BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 7:  Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown looks on as the Browns play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 7, 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 27-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    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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    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 03:  Diego Maradona head coach of Argentina shows his dejection as he suffers a massive defeat in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Quarter Final match between Argentina and Germany at Green Point Stadium on July 3, 2010
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    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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    GUANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 29:  (CHINA OUT) NBA player Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures during a meet and greet with fans at Jinan University on July 29, 2010 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.  (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
    AFP/Getty Images

    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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    ST. LOUIS - JULY 18: Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dugout against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 18, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Cardinals beat the Dodgers 5-4.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Imag
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    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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    DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 19:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles warms up prior to the start of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 19, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    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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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos practices prior to the NFL season opener game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 12, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Get
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    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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    MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings watches from the sidelines during the first half of the game against the Miami Dolphins on September 19, 2010 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Pho
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    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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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 25:  Announcer John McEnroe attends the Nike Tennis Primetime Knockout event at Pier 54 on August 25, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
    Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

    "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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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 21:  Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees rounds third base on a two run double hit by Robinson Cano in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 21, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    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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    CLEVELAND - JULY 8:  Police stand guard near a larger than life photograph of LeBron James after the announcement that James will play next season for the Miami Heat July 8, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. The two-time Most Valuable Player made the choice to pla
    J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

    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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    LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 05:  O.J. Simpson smiles as he arrives in court for his sentencing hearing at the Clark County Regional Justice Center December 5, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Simpson and co-defendant Clarence 'C.J.' Stewart were sentenced on 12 charge
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    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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    LAS VEGAS - JULY 31:  Former boxer Mike Tyson watches an undercard of the Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center July 31, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    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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    CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 11:  Pete Rose takes part in the ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of his breaking the career hit record of 4,192 on September 11, 2010 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rose was honored before the start of th
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    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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    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 07:  Baseball star Barry Bonds is seen during the Opening Cermonies prior to the start of The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course on October 7, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    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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    LEMONT, IL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the 18th green during the final round of the BMW Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club on September 12, 2010 in Lemont, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    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.