Top 5 Tuesday: Most Polarizing Athletes

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.

3. Barry Bonds

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.

* Photos Courtesy of Red Clear Sports, ESPNInquistr

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: College Football Playoff

The prayers of college football fans everywhere have now been answered. Beginning in 2014, an annual four-team playoff will determine college football’s national champion. The playoff is a drastic improvement over the controversial BCS system, but what if it had been agreed upon a decade earlier? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Playoff Picture

Using the final AP Poll of the regular season, we have predicted the playoff pictures of the past ten years:

2002 Semifinals: 1 Miami vs 4 Georgia     2 Ohio St. vs 3 Iowa

Final: 1 Miami vs 2 Ohio St.

Outcome: The playoff produces a similar result, but controversy is raised over the exclusion of the Pac-10 champion USC Trojans.

2003 Semifinals: 1 Oklahoma vs 4 Michigan     2 USC vs 3 LSU

Final: 1 Oklahoma vs 2 USC Trojans

Outcome: After a marquee semifinal matchup, USC’s potent offense emerges victorious, eliminating 2003’s split national title.

2004 Semifinals: 1 USC vs 4 California     2 Oklahoma vs 3 Auburn

Final: 1 USC  vs 3 Auburn

Outcome: The undefeated Auburn Tigers earn the postseason opportunity they rightfully deserved, but controversy is raised over the exclusion of undefeated Utah.

2005 Semifinals: 1 USC vs 4 Ohio St.     2 Texas vs 3 Penn St.

Final: 1 USC vs 2 Texas

Outcome: Fans are rewarded as the playoff still produces the decade’s most memorable title game.

2006 Semifinals: 1 Ohio St. vs 4 LSU     2 Florids vs 3 Michigan

Final: 1 Ohio St. vs 2 Florida

Outcome: The Chris Leak-led Gators dominate the Buckeyes to give Urban Meyer his first national title.

2007 Semifinals: 1 Ohio St. vs 4 Georgia     2 LSU vs 3 Oklahoma

Final: 1 Ohio St. vs 2 LSU

Outcome: With only one one-loss team, the committee faces difficult decisions to round out the top four, but LSU ultimately emerges victorious.

2008 Semifinals: 1 Oklahoma vs 4 Alabama     2 Florida vs 3 Texas

Final: 1 Oklahoma vs 2 Florida

Outcome: Tebow leads Florida over Oklahoma for his second national title, but undefeated Utah is snubbed yet again.

2009 Semifinals: 1 Alabama vs 4 Cincinnati     2 Texas vs 3 TCU 

Final: 1 Alabama vs 2 Texas

Outcome: Alabama emerges victorious, and TCU becomes the first mid-major to qualify, but the committee struggles to decide between five undefeated squads and one-loss Florida.

2010 Semifinals: 1 Auburn vs 4 Wisconsin     2 Oregon vs 3 TCU

Final: 1 Auburn vs 3 TCU

Outcome: With one year’s experience behind them, TCU makes a run to the finals before falling to Cam Newton’s Auburn Tigers.

2011 Semifinals: 1 Alabama vs 4 Oregon     2 LSU vs 3 Oklahoma St.

Final: 1 Alabama  vs 2 LSU

Outcome: In their third encounter this season, Alabama knocks off LSU to become the SEC’s sixth straight national champ.

* Photos Courtesy of The Smoking Section, CBS Sports, Zimbio, Arizona Foothills Magazine

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

NFL’s Least Improved Teams

In last week’s article, THE SPORTS DISPENCER took a look at the NFL’s most improved teams. Today, we turn the table and see who has done the least to better their squad this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers offseason consisted primarily of roster clearing. Pittsburgh bid adieu to former Super Bowl starters Hines Ward, Bryant McFadden, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior. The Steelers’ draft did bring in quality young talent. The additions of Mike Adams and David DeCastro will shore up the offensive line, but their aging lineup will struggle to keep pace in the highly competitive AFC North. Expect the surging Bengals to drop the Steelers to third in the division.

New York Jets

Rex Ryan lives on drama, so it does not come as a shock that the Jets would opt to bring in one of the league’s most polarizing players — Tim Tebow. The arrival of Tebow creates an instant quarterback controversy in the Big Apple. In a media hub like New York, incumbent QB Mark Sanchez will be scrutinized for every move he makes and play in fear that one poor performance will set off Tebow’s legion of devoted followers. Drama like this does not bode well for any team, especially one that stumbled to an 8-8 record in 2011.

Oakland Raiders

When judging a team’s offseason progress, analysts typically look first at draft success. Unfortunately for Oakland, the Raiders were without a pick until their compensatory selection in the late third round. The result of spending their first three picks to acquire quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders simply did not have enough picks to fill their many holes, and the incoming talent will not be enough to account for the losses of Michael Bush and Stanford Routt.

New Orleans Saints

In the wake of the now infamous bounty scandal, New Orleans has lost more than any  other team this offseason. Sanctions against the coaching and front-office staffs were levied March 21, and effective April 1, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012-13 season. The first ever suspension of its kind in modern NFL history. Then on May 2, the Saints lost linebacker John Vilma and defensive end Will Smith for their roles in the bounty program.  Any team facing these sort of sanctions is bound to struggle. Throw in Drew Brees’ holdout and the loss of guard Carl Nicks, and it could be a rough year for Who Dat nation.

* Photos Courtesy of ESPN, Washington Post

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.