Athletes have long transcended sports. As cultural icons, they are loved and hated, idolized and vilified. Many fit this description, but we here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s most polarizing figures.
5. Tim Tebow
As a college standout at Florida, Tebow was a member of two national title teams and became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. As a pro, he has proven his ability to win. Rooted in his strong evangelical faith, Tebow seems to do everything right. However, many sports fans simply cannot stand him. Overexposure has led many spectators to detract from his accomplishments. His atypical throwing motion and exuberant personality may deter common sports fans, but until he falters, we are left to conclude that Tebow is indeed God’s quarterback.
4. Shoeless Joe Jackson
With a .356 career batting average, Shoeless Joe’s career accomplishments rank him among the best of the early twentieth century. His talented play puts him in the same conversation as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and the other greats of baseball’s infancy, yet one of history’s finest will never have his name read at Cooperstown. Because of his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Shoeless Joe was banned from baseball. Jackson admits to early involvement but has refuted the idea that he helped throw the 1919 World Series. Many point to his twelve hits and .375 average as proof, but his poor fielding performance does not help his case. Even if he is acquitted by the MLB, it will be difficult for Jackson’s legacy to become disassociated with the scandal with which its long been intertwined.
With one swing of the bat, Barry Bonds launched a ball over the right-center field wall. The home run was his 756th, breaking Hank Aaron’s record for the most homers in baseball history. A fierce debate started soon thereafter. Many believed the Giants’ slugger had not broken the home record — he stole it. Bonds’ reported steroid use is up for heated discussion. He is a central figure in baseball’s steroid scandal, and his alleged involvement leaves many unwilling to recognize his accomplishments. In addition, his brash, insolent personality when dealing with both the media and his teammates leave few rooting for Bonds outside of the Bay area.
2. O.J. Simpson
At his peak, O.J. was a near unstoppable running back. At USC, Simpson won the Heisman by one of the largest margins in the award’s storied history. In the NFL, O.J. garnered six Pro Bowl selections and four NFL rushing titles, but perhaps his greatest feat was in 1983 when the Buffalo Bills back rushed for over 2,000 yards in a fourteen-game season. After he retired from football, Simpson remained in the public eye. He delighted audiences with his appearances on The Naked Gun and Monday Night Football, but in the summer of 1994, public perception quickly changed. O.J. was charged with deaths of his Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman but was later acquitted in part due to his marquee defense counsel anchored by Robert Kardashian. Since his acquittal, many have questioned O.J.’s innocence until 2007 when he was sentenced up to thirty-three years for his involvement in a Las Vegas robbery case.
1. Muhammad Ali
Perhaps the greatest athlete of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali is a true cultural icon. Long know for his unorthodox fighting style, Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee en route to becoming the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion. In 1967, however, the man formerly known as Cassius Clay made headlines with his refusal to be drafted into the United States military. His refusal to serve in Vietnam was well-documented. He notably remarked, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me n*****.” His statement echoed the sentiment of many at the time but his remark came before widespread Vietnam protests had begun. Ali’s stance on Vietnam exemplified his willingness to voice his mind. As a boxer, Ali was known for his profuse trash talk and unwillingness to back down from a challenge.
Now in his seventies, “The Louisville Lip” has picked up a different fight. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, Ali turned to the role of activist, spreading awareness of the affliction while remaining one of America’s most notable public figures.
What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.