Sports stars are true heroes, the best of the best, excelling both at their chosen sport and at the complicated and important job of being role models to the millions of people who admire them. At least, they usually are.
Yes, many star athletes are great role models and all-around genuinely nice people. Victor Cruz wrote “RIP Jack Pinto” and “My Hero” on his cleats for a 6-year-old who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, then he gave the cleats to Jack’s parents. Lamarr Woodley donated $60,000 to the public school system in his hometown after he found out kids there were being charged to participate in athletics. For every example of a sports star who acts like a jerk, there are hundreds of examples of sports stars being awesome and generous and kind, so we’d just like you to keep that in mind as you read through this list of nasty, awful star athletes who treated their fans like trash. These folks aren’t the norm.
Oh Barry, no one is buying it
If you remember much about Barry Bonds, you probably remember all the steroids and also all the being-a-total-jerk to everyone. Well, Bonds insists the jerkiness was all an act. “It wasn’t an image that I invented on purpose,” he has since said. Right. During Bonds’ career, he was openly hostile toward the media and he treated his fans with contempt. Once, a fan told him he’d been trying to get a Bonds autograph for four years and his reply was, “I want you to keep your streak active.” Another time, a 12-year-old fan handed him a card to sign, and he ripped it in two. But hey, it was all just pretend, right?
In 2016, 51-year-old Barry Bonds issued a heartfelt apology for his past bad behavior. “Me. It’s on me,” he told SportsOnEarth.com. “I’m to blame for the way I was [portrayed] because I was a dumbass. I was straight stupid, and I’ll be the first to admit it. … I’m not going to try to justify the way I acted toward people.”
Aww, thanks Barry. All is forgiven. Except we can all connect the dots: Heartfelt apology equals fans not hating you as much equals maybe getting elected to the Hall of Fame. Bonds’ 2016 words haven’t helped him so far — in February 2019, he failed to receive enough votes for Hall of Fame glory … again. Better keep apologizing, Barry.
Cam Newton is sexist and charges for autographs
We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but with a net worth of $45 million, it seems like maybe Cam Newton doesn’t really depend on income from autograph sales to keep bread on the table. According to ProFootballTalk, in 2012 Newton appeared at a North Carolina mall and charged fans $125 to sign photographs — the price went up to $150 for a football and $175 for a jersey. And if you wanted a personal message, that was another $50. Basically, that meant a lot of fans were priced out of an autograph of any kind.
At that point in Newton’s career, people were not too bothered by the move, and a lot of fans even defended him. After all, a lot of people are just planning on turning around and selling those autographed footballs and jerseys on eBay, anyway. But then in 2019 he got into an altercation with some opposition fans and asked a security guard to bring him a dustpan that one of the little kids in the group was holding — likely because the Saints had just “swept” Newton’s Panthers. Everyone probably thought, “Cool, he’s going to be a good sport and autograph it.” But instead, he threw it in the trash.
Newton has taken some heat for other sorts of bad behavior, too, like making sexist jabs at female reporters (“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes”), turning up the music in the locker room so reporters can’t interview other players, and being a sore loser.
Jose Canseco liked to threaten his fans and sometimes also their dogs
Jose Canseco was not only an unapologetic steroid user, he actually advocated for them. “Steroids, used correctly, will not only make you stronger and sexier, they will also make you healthier,” he said in his memoir. “Steroids will give you a better quality of life and also drastically slow down the aging process.”
When athletes use steroids it really is a big fat middle finger to their fans — it’s like saying integrity and fan opinions don’t matter as long as it all ends in a win. But that’s not the only thing Canseco did to his fans — he threatened them, he hurled profanities at them, and he charged kids for autographs, too, although sometimes he also sent his twin brother to pretend to be him at signings and other places. According to the New York Times, he once threatened to bash in a fan’s head. Canseco incorrectly thought the fan was making racial comments. (Other fans had evidently not been so kind.) And regardless, it’s sorta on you to not try to get into fights with your fans. During another incident, Canseco pointed to a heckling fan and challenged him to a fight.
And Canseco’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” is full of all kinds of stories about general nastiness, including rude, demanding behavior at restaurants, snubbing kids seeking autographs, and threatening to shoot his neighbor’s dog. So just a nice guy all around, that Canseco.
Metta World Peace doesn't really like peace that much
You’d think that someone named Metta World Peace would be into, like, peace or something, you know, on account of the name he gave himself. Too bad his parents didn’t name him that so he could have started thinking about it earlier in life.
According to the Orange County Register, Peace (then still going by his birth name, Ron Artest) was one of the primary instigators of the infamous “Malice at the Palace,” a November 2004 brawl that began when a fan threw a cup at him. The incident is one of the low points in NBA history — Artest lost his composure, ran into the stands, and tackled the offending fan. Nearby spectators tried to restrain him, and another player — Steven Jackson, who had followed Artest into the stands — threw a punch at another fan. Pretty soon a bunch of players were in the stands, fans were throwing bottles and punches, and the Pacers had to make a quick exit before outraged fans overwhelmed them.
Nine players were suspended for their behavior during the brawl, and Artest himself was suspended for the rest of the season. Since then, he’s calmed down a bit and it’s fair to point out that since Malice at the Palace happened before the name change, maybe his desire for world peace didn’t happen until after the 86-game suspension.
Tiger Woods is just an all-around jerk
Tiger Woods was the darling of golf, the guy everyone rooted for, heck, the guy that made people actually like golf — right up until everyone realized he was a total jerk.
Examples are too many to list, really — there was that one time Woods was so rude to the staff of a small private airport that one observer felt compelled to write a scathing letter of admonishment. And the time when he was a jerk to Bill Clinton during a round of golf. And that other time when the owner of a home that Woods and some other golfers were renting tried to introduce herself and Woods just walked right past her extended hand like she wasn’t there.
And there’s more general bad behavior, like the fact that he completely ignores his fans and answers tough questions from the media with an icy glare rather than thoughtful words. Following a back surgery and his life very publicly imploding, Woods might be trying a little harder, though. “Before this year, I had never seen him reciprocate any of the fist bumps or high-fives that children in the gallery offer him when he’s walking between holes,” one journalist wrote in April 2018. “And yet one can’t help but question whether these changes too are a product of the same old carefully constructed PR operation.”
Either way, though, it’s okay because ex-coach Hank Haney says Woods isn’t responsible for his own behavior. “He doesn’t try to be a jerk,” he said. “He just doesn’t get it.”
Brian Urlacher came right out and said he doesn't care about his fans
There are some athletes who hate their fans and the spotlight, but at least try to pretend like that’s not how they feel. And hey, it sure does beat the alternative — fake appreciation is better than open hostility. But some athletes are so arrogant, and so detached from reality (you know, the reality where they’d basically be no one without their fans and the media) that they don’t even bother to put on an act.
According to ProFootballTalk, in 2012, someone asked Brian Urlacher if fans and the media might be critical of coach Lovie Smith after a 21-13 loss to the Packers, and Urlacher got a little testy. “Two of the people I don’t care about: fans or media,” he said. “They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. … It does bother me. They don’t know what they’re talking about, obviously.”
To be fair, though, Urlacher was probably just speaking out of frustration. He certainly doesn’t have a lasting reputation as a fan-hater or a charges-for-autographs type of guy, although he was often less than gracious to the media. Still, saying you don’t care about your fans is kind of a major misstep for a big sports star, and it’s not something people are going to remember him kindly for.
John McEnroe hated everyone
Most star athletes are remembered for their game first, and their personality second. John McEnroe is one of the few athletes who is remembered like this: “Oh yeah, that guy was a jerk. What sport did he play again?”
Tennis star John McEnroe was known for his volatile temper, which he often directed at fans. In fact during his career, news stories about McEnroe dedicated almost as much time to his tantrums as to his game. According to Salon, in 2000 McEnroe questioned a lines call during a game, and when a heckler shouted, “C’mon, Mac, not already!” McEnroe turned around and replied, “You got an appointment to get to?” and then “What the f*ck do you care?”
That was tame compared to some of the things McEnroe said in the years leading up to that point, though. In 1987 during a match with German star Boris Becker, McEnroe insulted the French when a spectator shouted “you can’t trust a frog” to a French umpire and McEnroe replied, “You better believe it.” Then he insulted the Germans when he told a fan to “go eat some more sauerkraut,” and then he insulted people of African descent when he came at a black linesman with the words, “I didn’t know they had black Germans.” So the dude is not just a jerk to his fans, he’s also kinda racist. Nice.
Albert Belle threw things at his fans
Baseball star Albert Belle was also known for his volatile temper and contempt for fans — in 1991, a fan was heckling him about his alcohol problem when he threw a baseball at the guy, striking him in the chest. Okay, so Belle had recently finished up 10 weeks of rehab and the fact that the fan was heckling him about it was all kinds of Not Cool, but still, it was kind of on Belle to keep his emotions in check regardless of how obnoxious the fan’s behavior was.
Anyway, that was not the only incident where Belle’s temper was on display for all to see — according to ESPN, his bad behavior went all the way back to his college days when he was suspended for chasing a heckling fan through the stands. While playing in the minors, he trashed a bathroom after a disappointing game. In 1997 he was fined $5,000 for “making an obscene gesture” to fans. So sure, the dude was a jerk to his fans (and lots of other people, too), but hey, at least he was a consistent jerk.
Ty Cobb attacked one of his fans
Tyrus Cobb played for the Tigers way back in the early 1900s, an innocent time when racism and jerkish behavior were totally cool and being a dirty player was mostly something you could get away with. According to the Metro Times, one of Cobb’s most famous little quirks was his habit of sharpening his cleats and then aiming them at opposing players every time he slid into base. In his most famous incident of violence, he beat a heckler and stomped all over the poor guy with his sharpened cleats. Worse, his victim wasn’t able to defend himself because he’d lost one hand and most of the other in an industrial accident. When spectators shouted “that man has no hands!” Cobb’s reply was, “I don’t care if he got no feet!”
In those days, the media preferred to defend the star over the guy the star pummeled — the New York Tribune called it “a well-deserved beating,” which probably didn’t do anything to help Cobb learn the error of his ways and strive to become a better person.
Cobb did some other nasty stuff, too — his temper was legendary and the dude was also an unapologetic racist. In 1907 he attacked a black groundskeeper because he thought the guy’s friendly greeting was “too familiar.” So there really wasn’t much about him that was redeemable, anyway.
Floyd Mayweather is just not nice in general
Floyd Mayweather is a boxer, so beating people up is kind of his thing. But there are lines, Floyd, and the first is that you should not beat up people who are not other boxers.
According to the Undefeated, Mayweather has a reputation for beating up his romantic partners, though that hasn’t hurt his career much. “Everything has been allegations,” he told the Guardian in 2015. “Nothing has been proven. So that’s life.” Right, so life that happens behind closed doors is life that isn’t subject to consequences. Okay.
That’s just how he treats the people who are closest to him. He loves to say he appreciates his fans, but his actions say otherwise. For a start, there was that time when he defiantly dropped a fortune on Gucci stuff because everyone else was boycotting the company over a sweater that looked an awful lot like blackface. Then there was the time he said he’d never give money to an African charity because what had Africa ever done for him? In 2016 he was accused of threatening a fan who asked to take his photo at a pool party. “How would you like it if I asked to take a picture of you and your wife on vacation?” he reportedly said. Afterward, witnesses say he pumped his fists and said “I will f*ck him up!” Hey Floyd, the correct answer to that question is, “No, thank you, we’d prefer to be left alone.”
Michael Jordan hates being asked for photos, even by rap stars
Michael Jordan is an outsized star with an outsized ego — to know that, you just have to listen to his 2009 Hall of Fame acceptance speech, in which he spent 23 minutes mocking his family, airing past grievances, and throwing sarcasm at the Hall of Fame itself. His ego also appears to be a source of conflict with his fans, too. When Jordan met rapper Chamillionaire, who’d just spent $7,000 at a charity auction to buy one of Jordan’s jerseys, he was an especial jerk and didn’t seem to care how many people knew it.
According to Boombox, Chamillionaire approached Jordan at a party and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but Mike, I just wanted to know if I could get a picture,” and Jordan said, “I ain’t taking pictures with no n***a.” Chamillionaire then tried to diffuse the situation by explaining how he’d just bought one of Jordan’s jerseys for $7,000, and Jordan hit back with “You know what, I tell you what, you pay $15,000 right now for a jersey from me and I’ll take a picture with you.” So yeah, he’s that kind of jerk.
Lance Armstrong couldn't actually say the word “sorry”
No one has faced as much heckling as Lance Armstrong. Even though he now handles the heckling with a decent amount of grace, there’s kind of a good argument to be made that the guy deserves it. Everyone know about his big comeback and big wins and big doping. We all got over being let down by the doping a long time ago, but where Armstrong really let his fans down was in his unrepentant handling of the scandal.
“Lance Armstrong really is, in the truest sense of the word, a raging jerk,” Bleacher Report noted after Armstrong’s infamous confession on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Armstrong spent the entire session making excuses for himself. When Oprah asked if he had remorse about it all, he said, “Everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught.” And when he did apologize it didn’t come off as sincere. For example, a teammate’s wife had long accused him of doping and also thought that Armstrong had called her a “fat, crazy b*tch.” Oprah hinted that maybe he could revisit that. His response: “I called you crazy. I called you a b*tch. I called you a liar. But I never called you fat.”
What a great role model you are for the kids, Lance.
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