Sports Villains You Can't Help but Like
In the days of Twitter, blogs and the 24-hour news cycle, athletes are constantly pigeonholed into easily digestible personas. You have the good guys (read: Drew Brees), the goofballs (read: Ryan Lochte) and, of course, the villains.
In sports, villains are guys who endure constant vitriol from fans and seem to enjoy the attention. They're players whom, for a variety of reasons, are easy to root against.
But, as fans, we're not infallible. In fact, there's probably a little villain in all of us, which makes this whole good vs. evil thing pretty complicated. This list is about the power of the dark side and those diabolical athletes we can't help but like.
With the build of a bull moose and the uniform accessories of a robot alien, James Harrison is the most terrifying villain this side of Hannibal Lecter.
He's also an intensely subversive figure in the mostly Stepford Wife NFL. And, Harrison once publicly accosted his boss in a wildly reckless way, which is something many of us admire.
Bryce Harper demonstrates some of the behavioral and aesthetic qualities of your garden-variety bottle service d-bag.
That said, he plays the game of baseball like Pete Rose on a pharmacy's worth of greenies.
Paul Bissonnette's life is something to behold. If his daily routine is half as exciting as it seems on Instagram, then the guy has carte blanche to be an absolute goon on the ice.
When you're living the dream with Bissonnette's level of enthusiasm, it's impossible to be universally hated.
Brandon Marshall has seemingly changed more in the last two years than Miley Cyrus.
The once abhorred wide receiver is in the throes of a career renaissance, and not just with his on-the-field play.
Marshall's recent cascade of poignant and thoughtful sound bites is reminiscent of another villain-turned-protagonist, Mike Tyson.
As a volatile hockey player with a thick Russian accent—who plays in Washington D.C., no less!— Alexander Ovechkin is like a real-life Jonny Quest villain.
His over-the-top goal celebrations make him fodder for hatred as well.
But, for every old head who questions Ovie's theatrics, there are dozens more who find the 3x MVP's exuberance entertaining.
Metta World Peace
The business of professional sports makes relating to an athlete on a genuine level almost impossible.
Blanket commercialism and hypersensitive public relations have effectively turned a large number of potentially influential athletes into lifeless corporate shills.
Ron Artest, however, is such an unglued maniac that fans at the very least know that he is crazy. Professional sports are a black hole for authenticity, but Artest deserves (some) credit for being human.
Richard Sherman wants to be the most hated player in the NFL. And, if the Seattle Seahawks cornerback played for the Dallas Cowboys, he'd probably be received with the fondness of a Jean-Claude Van Damme kick to the groin.
Sure, he's an incessant trash talker and an unbearable instigator. But, Sherman's deferential Pacific Northwest roots make being a totally detestable malcontent almost impossible.
Oftentimes, athletes who experience enormous on-field success are pigeonholed as villains. The business of major sports is plot driven, and the underdog tale is an easily packaged story.
In Kobe Bryant's case, five NBA championships makes No. 24 basketball's de facto Darth Vader.
That said, Bryant is nearing the end of his career and enduring ceaseless plight like Rocky Balboa with a fadeaway jumper. Bryant is a case of 2002's most hated player becoming the feel-good story of 2015.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is an Internet comments section personified, which is to say unhinged and mostly incoherent, but thoroughly entertaining.
He is the insufferably braggadocios egotist that he represents himself to be, and that kind of unrepentant honesty is rarely seen in today's athlete.
If you're a fan of the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers or Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James is the physically imposing figure that will dash your championship dreams one earnest slam dunk at a time.
In sum, he's so good at basketball that it's categorically unfair, which is why many NBA fans bristle with anger at the sight of a Samsung Galaxy commercial.
But, with a pair of championship rings and the radioactivity of The Decision reduced to a faint cosmic background, James' counterforce of hairline-obsessed detractors gets smaller with every Miami Heat win.
Johnny Manziel is what happens when you mix the unrelenting hubris of Justin Bieber with the remorseless debauchery of a Dru Hill music video.
Like Elvis with an unstoppable spin move, Johnny Football's garnered a loyal following by repeatedly defying the establishment.
The square football blowhards can't stand Manziel, and that's what makes him so endearing.