They are the athletes we love to hate. The ones who drive us crazy, but also garner our respect. The ones who win with a smirk on their face or consistently manage to draw the ire of the opposition. The stars their fans adore, but everyone else cannot stand.
They are the villains.
Every great story has a villain and sports have a way of lending themselves to a narrative that includes one — good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath. But this isn’t the big screen. In real life, the villains win sometimes. Most of the names on this list actually appear because they’ve been so successful in their respective careers. Case in point …
Brady, 42, isn’t going anywhere just yet. He’s been quarterbacking the Patriots successfully (see: six Super Bowl titles and nine conference championships) with a swagger that has incensed opposing fanbases for nearly two decades.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy during the Super Bowl LIII championship parade through downtown Boston. (Photo: Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports)
Brady not only has a Hall of Fame-caliber resume, he also has a case for one of the NFL’s G.O.A.Ts. He also was suspended as part of the so-called Deflategate scandal. Add in that he’s married to a supermodel and it’s easy to hate the Patriots QB.
During a Wimbledon telecast, analyst John McEnroe — a former villain in his own right — said Kyrgios had enough skill to be a top player in the world. His lack of effort has turned tennis fans off, and his longstanding feud with Rafael Nadal that reared its ugly head at Wimbledon didn’t help.
McGregor is an athlete who has bought into the villain characterization. Between the grandiose press conference performances, the bravado he displays in humiliating opponents and his controversial incidents (chair-throwing, phone-smashing, attacking a bus and punching a man at a pub), McGregor’s villainous ways has helped keep UFC in the headlines for the right and wrong reasons.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Like McGregor, the boxer has his bombastic ways outside of the ring that garners plenty of attention. His undefeated mark (50-0) adds another dimension to his villain status. He’s also not afraid to flaunt his lavish lifestyle on social media. More seriously, his history of domestic violence qualifies him as a real-life villain.
The coach who consistently steals your favorite team’s five-star recruit, just to coach them for a few months before shipping them to the NBA as part of his college-to-pro pipeline is enough for Calipari to land here.
There have been recruiting violations and press conference dust-ups. The suit and gelled hair complete the villain look.
Every good villain needs a trademark wardrobe. For the Patriots coach, that’s a hoodie with cut-off sleeves. The hood has dominated the NFL with Brady as his field general. The only time a smile may crease his cheeks is while he’s hoisting another Lombardi Trophy. Belichick and the organization was also punished for its involvement in Spygate, where Jets coaches’ signals were illegally videotaped.
The soccer star who made a name for himself playing for the biggest clubs in Europe has always embraced the villain role. On E:60 last month, he said, “If you want me to be the bad guy, I’ll be the bad guy. If you want me to be the good guy, I’ll be the good guy. But I have no problem being both. Sometimes it’s better being the bad guy, because then you know what the people think of you.”
Said like a true villain himself.
Over the last 15 years, the WNBA star has nailed one clutch shot after another. Her inkling for rising to any occasion and playing well on the big stage has led to three titles, two Finals MVP awards, nine All-Star nods and countless broken hearts.
“That’s just the kindhearted asshole in me,” she told Slam in 2016. “I just love to play and these are the moments when you’re playing, you love to play in them. You just do. Either you’re scared to play in them or you love to play in them and I’ve never really been scared to play in these moments where it shrinks a lot of people.”
Allen’s appearance on this list isn’t a slip-up, er, trip. His penchant for sending opposing players to the floor became an issue at Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski, who stripped him of his captain’s title because of it. Allen found himself in the news again for his dirty play during Summer League this year.
Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) and Boston College Eagles guard Ky Bowman (0) battle for a loose ball during the first half at Silvio Conte Forum. (Photo: Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports)
The NFL Commissioner gets booed every time he steps near a microphone and fans are in the vicinity, whether it be at the Super Bowl or the draft. His salary, player discipline and protection of ownership does not necessarily endear himself to the common fan.
Similar to Goodell, the NHL Commissioner is on the receiving end of the boo-birds more often than he’d like to be. Hockey fans still harbor resentment over the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season, which occurred under Bettman’s watch.
Saban is another football coach who does it either his way or no way (ask the assistant coaches or student-athletes he can be seen screaming at on the sidelines). The results, however, speak for themselves — six national championships (five at Alabama) and two Associated Press Coach of the Year honors. He’s also a villain in NFL circles, departing the Miami Dolphins gig hardly two years on the job.
Dolan has a laundry list of grievances Knicks fans would like to air with him. However, challenging Dolan has proved costly, evidenced by his lifetime ban for a fan who told him this winter he should sell the team. He levied a similar penalty on fan-favorite Charles Oakley, who had to be escorted out of Madison Square Garden. He plays the kazoo in his band, while owning a franchise unable to land marquee free agents and watching those targets sign with the Brooklyn Nets.
New York Knicks executive chairman James Dolan watches during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden. (Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)
The Washington Redskins have floundered in mediocrity since Snyder purchased the team in 1999, going through eight coaches and a losing record. They have two playoff wins in that span. There’s been no shortage of controversy either — from suing season ticket holders to the political correctness of the team’s name. He also purchased a Lex Luther-like yacht during the offseason, which features the world’s first floating IMAX theater.