Tim Tebow and the 15 Most Divisive Athletes of All Time

Justin PedersenCorrespondent IIOctober 31, 2011

Tim Tebow and the 15 Most Divisive Athletes of All Time

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    As athletes, every waking move, utterance and action one takes is put under a microscope.

    Some handle this task smoothly, and others handle it questionably.

    Sports fans are infatuated with their heroes and are eager to know every detail pertaining to their lives on and off the field.

    Professional athletes have courted controversy before, and sometimes escape relatively unscathed. Please keep in mind that this instance is rare though.

    For most, the downfalls and perils of individuals cause a great divide between fans, especially when topics of race, religion, sex, criminal behavior and ego are the source of the issues.

    It is hard to shake these images once they are branded and for some, it completely alters their existence as a whole.

    Let’s observe the 15 most divisive athletes ever to grace the public eye.

Honorable Mentions

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    Tom Brady: Super Bowl winning quarterback who has just as much of a penchant for fashion, glamour and headlines as he does for throwing touchdowns.

    Marion Jones: Former Olympic medalist and sweetheart of America, her career and image took a devastating hit when she admitted to persistent doping.

    JaMarcus Russell: Considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history, the former LSU Tiger let distractions off the field derail his promising aspirations on the field.

    Diego Maradona/Pele: Both Maradona and Pele will forever be remembered as two of footy’s all time greats, but pride, banter and childish feuds have overcome the two South American legends since they both retired.

    Thierry Henry: Known as “Thierry the Cheat” throughout Ireland, his hand ball didn’t just allow France to advance to the 2010 World Cup in controversial fashion; it divided Europe and brought the many ethical issues with the world’s game to light.

15. Michael Vick

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    One of the most exciting and talented football players of his generation, a few poor choices early in his career had the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback dividing fans and teammates alike.

    Besides the whole dog fighting scandal, Vick’s inability to stay out of negative press began to overtake his performances on the field, and an untimely jail sentence looked to end his NFL tenure as quickly as it began.

    After serving his time and reinventing himself with the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick has urgently attempted to recover from his mistakes and soon landed his second $100 million contract, which was met with ire by most.

14. Tim Tebow

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    Currently the most talked about athlete in the country, the success, and more often, failures, of the former Florida Gator has the nation enthralled and voicing their opinions.

    After having so much success in college, Tebow has been consistently mocked and ridiculed since he entered the league.

    Even though so many people love his strong character and sound values, there are just as many people who are anxious to see Tebow fall flat on his face.

    And if he decides to play like he did on Sunday more often, I expect even more division among the NFL faithful.

13. LeBron James

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    Perhaps the most regrettable decision in LeBron James’ life was the arrogant television special known as “The Decision.”

    America felt for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who ignorantly thought they would re-sign their star baller and keep him in Dan Gilbert’s plans for life.

    Instead, the Cavs got a revealing glimpse into the real LeBron, who cowardly fled to South Beach.

    And while the Miami Heat fans love their newest acquisition, the rest of the NBA salivates at the idea of bringing the King back down to earth.

12. Kobe Bryant

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    If people dub you the next Michael Jordan, I expect plenty of divided attitudes. And while many have been given the unwanted comparison to Chicago’s legendary guard, Kobe Bryant comes closest to actually filling the bill.

    Since bursting onto the scene as a teenager with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe’s brash attitude and swagger have caught the attention of admirers and detractors.

    His character has been questioned by teammates, and even law enforcement, but there is no debating the fact he is one of the greatest players to grace the hardwood.

    Numerous titles, All-Star games and accolades ensure Kobe will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame one day—but it has come with a price.

11. Lance Armstrong

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    Lance Armstrong captured the hearts of the world during his prime, combining success in cycling with his public battle with cancer.

    He won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times, a feat unmatched, solidifying his dominance as a world-class athlete.

    Yet, his achievements were called into question when former teammates and journalists accused Armstrong of doping during his comeback.

    It is hard to side with anyone besides Armstrong in this circumstance, considering the odds he has overcome, but any time performance enhancers are brought up, the public will naturally divide.

10. Allen Iverson

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    A lethal scorer and adept dribbler, the prodigious player known as Allen Iverson had coaches, owners, teammates and fans scratching their heads whenever he opened his mouth.

    Iverson shot to prominence with the Philadelphia 76ers, who made him the number one overall draft pick in 1996.

    Although his career was full of highlights, his off-court life was turbulent and often created murky relations with just about everyone.

    He refuses to go away to this day, as news recently resurfaced of his desire to return to the NBA. He just has to find a squad that is willing to let him miss a few practices if he feels it is necessary.

9. Barry Bonds

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    As the poster boy for the modern-day steroid scandals, Barry Bonds’ ego and relentless denials are more memorable than his records on the diamond.

    Once touted as the greatest hitter ever to play baseball, he is now known as the biggest cheater and more humorously, the most delusional player to grace the game.

    Even with countless evidence piled against him, he still maintains he was a clean hitter that never took steroids.

    Many cite his charitable work and career endeavors as reasons to side with Bonds, but steroids have haunted baseball for quite some time and need to be eradicated from the game. The same can be said about Bonds.

8. Tiger Woods

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    All the money and success in the world cannot hide personal demons, and Tiger Woods will be the first one to admit this.

    Better than any other golfer of his generation by a long shot, Woods had the endorsements, victories and a trophy wife that would make any mortal man envious.

    It apparently wasn’t enough though, as dark insecurities emerged in the press and Woods’ decline was dramatic and alluring.

    Trying rigorously to repair the damage, Woods lost many fans due to his secret life, and it will take a long time for him to properly recuperate from his allegations.

7. Dennis Rodman

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    When Dennis Rodman was enshrined in the NBA’s Hall of Fame earlier this year, his colorful career had finally come full circle.

    Pivotal to the dominating Chicago Bulls teams of the 90s, his larger-than-life persona brought as much attention to him as his hustle did on the court.

    It became routine seeing Rodman embroiled in craziness, with the dyed hair, tattoos and piercings all contributing to the taboo attitude many refused to accept.

    In all honesty, Rodman personified what it meant to play with heart and he made a name for himself with the little natural talents he had. Just goes to show how motivating haters can truly be.

6. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Love him or hate him, the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo is a spectacle on the football pitch and his mannerisms invite division.

    Blessed with pace, trickery and a wicked free kick, CR7 has let his egotistical personality divide fans of footy.

    After receiving taunts from an away crowd earlier this year, he justified the reasoning for his boos with a very careless—albeit warranted—explanation.

    Ronaldo is quickly establishing himself in football folklore, but that doesn’t stop people from constantly criticizing the Portuguese striker, who could learn a thing or two from Lionel Messi when it comes to humility.

5. Paul Gascoigne

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    To some, Paul Gascoigne was an electrifying footballer who brought hope to English football.

    To a lot of others, he was a drunken addict who couldn’t find the will to change himself.

    Gazza’s playing days lasted over 20 years, and he has since influenced countless of England internationals who strive to put on their national kit. But his public battles with personal demons almost cost him his legacy and more dramatically, his life.

    He has since cleaned up a bit, but the name Paul Gascoigne will forever conjure up images of the selfish gratification that lost him many followers.

4. John McEnroe

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    And you thought tennis was strictly a game for the upscale.

    John McEnroe revolutionized the sport of tennis during the height of his career, and the former world No. 1 was known for his slick serving, ferocious volleying and volatile temper.

    His arguments with officials and umpires were nothing short of shocking, often landing himself in trouble for some choice words.

    Now retired and a pundit for tennis, many thought his style of play was not suitable for tennis at the time, but it was actually quite refreshing once you look back on it.

3. Muhammad Ali

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    Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali was cocky, brash and a poet for African-American athletes during a time where ignorance reigned.

    His confident demeanor led him to act out and take a stand against things he did not believe in.

    His supremacy in the ring spilled over into his personal life, and for the longest time, Ali was looked at with a speculative eye because he had the audacity to speak his mind.

    “The Greatest” is now considered one of the best and most influential athletes to ever step foot on earth.

    Equality and political justice were so important to Ali and he made it his duty to remain firm to his beliefs regardless of what people thought of him.

2. Pete Rose

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    The switch-hitting Pete Rose has many a baseball hitting record to his name, but people refuse to associate Charlie Hustle with any of those statistics.

    Having a strong passion for the game, but a stronger love for gambling, Rose vehemently denied ever betting on baseball for years; a claim he took with him even into retirement.

    It wasn’t until recently that he publicly admitted to such accusations, finally putting the accusations rest.

    Rose was no doubt one of the most consistent hitters ever, but his urges and temptations scarred his life, lost him a loyal following, and ultimately destroyed his chances of joining the Hall of Fame.

1. O. J. Simpson

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    The most divisive athlete of all time is easily O.J. Simpson, whose dazzling demise from elite running back to runaway criminal is the sort of story devised only out of Hollywood.

    The player known as Juice was the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, and the Hall of Famer indeed had an illustrious career on the gridiron.

    But multiple run-ins with the law, most notably the Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman murder case, has all but destroyed him and virtually all fans will never look at him the same again.

    Currently serving a jail sentence, the former running back has divided fans more radically than any other athlete, and has quickly become synonymous with criminal behavior rather than football.