The SQ Guide To Varsity Villainy: Grading The Most Nefarious Individuals In Pro Sports
by 31 December 2016, 11:45 AM
Who are the biggest villains in pro sports today? Here is the definitive breakdown.
This is the weirdest week of the calendar year, the six-day stretch between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. You’ve had enough eggnog for a lifetime, you’re ready for your extended family to leave, and you’re debating whether it’s socially acceptable to return all three sets of novelty socks your mother gave you. On the bright side, we (PJ Benasillo and Lucas Morel) are here to present a thorough investigation and analysis of villainous professional sports figures in each of your favorite pastimes: MLB, pro soccer, the NBA, and the NFL (sorry, hockey, maybe next year).
Thanks to the world’s funniest Spurs fan, Shea Serrano (formerly of Grantland, now writing over at The Ringer), we couldn’t resist the temptation to break down our picks for the biggest “villain” in each of these sports using metrics that could be described as, well, unconventional. Each of our picks will be assessed in three categories (Success, Dislikability, and Most Despicable Act) worth seven points each. These three ratings will then be combined into an Overall Villain Score that can range from 0 (Winnie the Pooh) to 21 (Voldemort). Without further ado, here is the definitive guide to the most distinguished villains in professional sports:
LM: Theo Epstein
Theo Epstein, evil genius. / © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
LM: Before every Cubs fan within the contiguous 48 starts driving to my house, I have my reasons. Yes, Theo Epstein appears to be the greatest personnel mastermind of the last century in Major League Baseball. Yes, he has facilitated the successful snapping of two of the most infamous championship droughts in all of professional sports (the Boston Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino” streak of 86 years, and the Chicago Cubs “Curse of the Billy Goat” streak of 71 years). Yes, he accomplished all this by the ripe old age of 42 (seriously, he’s younger than Jennifer Lopez). Forget all this. Don’t let his Hall-of-Fame resume distract you from the fact that he is secretly trying to tear the fabric of time and send the world as we know it into a never-ending maelstrom of chaos and disorder.
Think back to the late 1990s. These were times of stability in the baseball world. The American people could count on three things in life: death, taxes, and the Boston Red Sox’s divinely-ordained inability to win a World Series. Then, moving into the 21st century, everything goes haywire. Epstein begins working for the Sox in 2001, soon becoming their general manager, and in just three short years the team wins the World Series in 2004, completely voiding a cornerstone element of American life and leaving the nation in a shaken state of uncertainty that only worsened when they won again in 2007.
Fast forward to 2011. Epstein takes the job as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, and wins them a ring before the decade is even close to being up. I cannot in good conscience stand by silent. The man is a grade-A villain. No American institution is sacred in his eyes, and he must be stopped.
Also, “Theo” is from the Greek “Theos”, meaning “God.” Theo Epstein is trying to play God and we’re all just letting him do it.
Also, also, he’s a Yale grad. Of course he is.
PJ: Look I get it. Epstein has that frat-boy chic. He absolutely rocks a tailored Brooks Brother’s suit. He has wonderful salt-and-pepper hair. He has that dorky-tooth smile that makes you want to just jump off a bridge and take him with you. It’s easy to hate him. But you’re just hating the man for being damn good at his job.
I want to see how far we can push this Epstein thing. Can we put him as the GM for the Browns? Because I want to see the Browns win a title. What about the Sacramento Kings? Can Epstein #FreeBoogie? I just want to see where this phenomenon can go. And besides, if two cities needed a ‘W’ they were Boston and Chicago. Chicago is just a pitiful example of a “good midwestern city,” it’s 3rd rate New York. And Boston is the world’s largest college town. Those two facts are inherently pitiful. HAVE YOU NO EMPATHY?
LM: No. None.
PJ: Fair enough…but think about it. Theo Epstein, GM of the Sacramento Kings. It just sings.
LM: Sounds like this to me.
PJ: If it takes down LeBron, I’m game.
- Final Rating -
Success: 7 (Winning titles with two historic loser franchises is impressive)
Dislikability: 6 (Did you read the part about Yale?)
Most Despicable Act: 2 x 3 = 6 (Championships aren’t inherently evil, but breaking America’s grasp on reality is, and he did it twice)
Overall Villain Score: 19
Comparable Villain: Mark Zuckerberg
PJ: Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper plays with polarizing intensity / © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
PJ: Look, Bryce Harper is easy to hate. Many people hate him because he doesn’t play the game the “right way” in his pursuit of “making baseball fun again”™ . He’s a brash, cocky, successful 24-year-old. He also looks like his was carved in the likeness of a Greek demigod. He was featured on Sports Illustrated’s cover at just 16. He was hailed as baseball’s “chosen one,” and was the best teenage prospect in any sport since LeBron. Harper has basically been the model for effortless perfection since he first came across the public eye.
Every reason to hate the guy is based around the fact that he’s good and he knows it. He stunts on his home runs. He jaws at the pitchers he faces. Basically, Harper doesn’t only want to be better than you, he wants you to understand and acknowledge that he’s better than you.
Look at this clip right here. It’s poetry. Harper gives the pitcher a quick smooch after sending the poor guy’s pitch into the stratosphere. It’s probably something he does to girls whose heart he breaks into a million pieces….God, he’s the best.
It may seem like I am giving Harper a ton of backhanded compliments, and I mean honestly I am; he’s an attractive individual (please send my sincerest apologies to my girlfriend). But all of his talent and God-given looks come at a price. It all summons the worst bout of envy imaginable from just about anyone who isn’t from Washington D.C. I actually really like Harper. I think his pursuit to “make baseball fun again”™ is honestly, needed. But for the majority of America, Harper embodies the essence of that one kid you just hated growing up. I mean come on, his name is Bryce.
LM: You just penned the Magna Carta of Bryce Harper fan fiction. Failed to mention his .243 batting average last season, though. Can you really be a villain when you fly that close to the Mendoza line?
PJ: He’s truly one romantic dalliance with Gigi Hadid away from stealing my heart.
LM: That is definitely something a “Bryce” would do, I’ll give you that. Condolences to those christened as such.
- Final Rating -
Success: 5 (Being the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, NL ROY, and NL MVP all before 23 is pretty insane.)
Dislikability: 6 (While I may have an undying affection for him, he sucks)
Most Despicable Act: 4 (Blowing a kiss at a pitcher just to stunt on him is savage, but he hasn’t broken anyone’s will to live.)
Overall Villain Score: 15/21
Comparable Villain: Moriarty (With Mike Trout serving as his Sherlock)
PJ: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo exudes confience. Some say too much so. / 101greatgoals.com
PJ: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: preternatural talent from a young age steps onto the field and becomes an international superstar, insanely wealthy, and has a gorgeous physique. If this sounds similar to the last person I said I hated, there’s a reason why. The only difference is that I actually HATE Cristiano Ronaldo.
He was made in a lab designed to create the pinnacle of human athleticism. He was flashy and arrogant in his youth but now he’s attempting to become an elder statesman of sorts. He’s giving to charity, he’s doing fun commercials, but I’m not fooled. Ronaldo is the same petulant person he always was; he can just afford a better PR team now.
He dives like Tom Daley. He chastises referees when they ignore his antics. He expects to get calls simply because he’s Ronaldo and no one should dare cross him or his desires. His CR7 persona is a persona non grata in my mind. If I’m a company looking for a star to sponsor, I’ll take Lionel Messi or Kevin “The Belgian Waffle” De Bruyne.
LM: Everything you said is magnified by the fact that Messi is like the patron saint of humble sportsmen. If Ronaldo’s chief competitor wasn’t so likable, we might let him slide more on the whole melodramatic superstar act. I love to watch the guy play, but he’s certainly villain material.
PJ: He’s undeniably talented and a freakish athlete. The man can run the 100m dash in a time that would have placed him in the final heat at the Olympics. It’s fine if you’re good at everything, but it’s unacceptable to be gifted, dominant, and a jerk.
- Final Rating -
Success: 7 (Just read it)
Dislikability: 6 (Poor sportsman, unfairly attractive, and abusive to reporters)
Most Despicable Act: 4 (Collection of small acts that make him the worst kind of person)
Overall Villain Score: 17/21 (Shocked it’s this low, to be honest)
Comparable Villain: Draco Malfoy
LM: Diego Costa
Diego Costa is never one to back down … from anyone/ lebuzz.eurosport.co.uk
LM: Full disclosure, as an Arsenal fan it’s difficult for me to fully check my bias at the door here. However, I doubt many will disagree with me when I say that Diego Costa is the single most infuriating player in pro soccer at the moment. Full credit to him, the man’s a scoring machine. He’s bagged 13 goals in 17 Premier League games for Chelsea this season, which leads the league, and his performance is a big part of why the club has been coasting at the top of the table of late. Underachievers don’t make good villains, and Costa is hardly mediocre.
My real issue with Costa is his on-field demeanor, though. The guy goads his opposition incessantly, and looks for ways to get them carded or even sent off. He picks fights, he flops, he whines. Gamesmanship doesn’t begin to describe the shenanigans Costa engages in.
I think Costa thrives on the pure unadulterated hatred emanating from each and every one of his opponents. It’s like if Christian Laettner and Logan from Westworld joined forces to design their ideal Sims character. I mean, have you ever taken a good look at the guy? Throw on a handlebar mustache to that smug, perpetually angry visage and you’d have a villain ready-made for every silent film ever.
PJ: He’s just the worst. Please excuse me while I go pray for the redemption of his depraved soul.
LM: Go in peace.
Success: 5 (The man is good at his job, there’s no way around that)
Dislikability: 7+ (Off the charts)
Most Despicable Act: 5 (It’s like death by a million paper cuts with him)
Overall Villain Score: 17+/21
Comparable Villain: The Joker (But not Heath Ledger’s version. Costa’s not that cool)
LM: Draymond Green
Draymond Green (right) is Golden State’s resident instigator / © Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
LM: Draymond Green and Johnny Lawrence walk into a bar … nah I can’t even finish the joke. You know where I’m going with this. Even though he remains arguably the best player in any sport to come out of Michigan State since Magic Johnson, Green will forever be known as the guy who kicks people.
Yeah, you read that right, “K-I-C-K-S” , like with his feet. It’s not just the kicking though, he’s well-versed in various forms of unsportsmanlike conduct. Take a look at some of his greatest kicks (hits, whatever):
The man is a living, breathing 15-yard penalty and he doesn’t even play football.
Part of me thinks that Draymond is too goofy to be considered a villain, but then I think about his unbelievable lack of impulse control. He almost definitely is the first and only NBA player in history to start both a bar fight and a Snapchat scandal in the same summer. His impulse control slider must be set to ‘zero’. There’s no other explanation.
PJ: Draymond is the kid who growing up wanted to be taken seriously by all the other kids, so he played every sport like he was Taz saving the world from the Monstars. He’d be the jerk who would aim for headshots in dodgeball, and would deliberately peg kids for outs in kickball as opposed to simply touching the free base.
All of that being said, I just don’t think he’s a villain. The dude is a goober. He really tries to seem like the baddest beast on the block, but really he’s just got some unresolved anger. Go take some silly putty, knead out your stress Draymond.
LM: When the NBA mandates cup-wearing in 2018, he’ll be the reason why. Just saying.
PJ: Kicking someone in the family jewels may make your opponents start wearing steel-toed Jordans for payback but it doesn’t make you evil.
- Final Rating -
Success: 4 (He’s a title-winning power forward)
Dislikability: 3 (Boyish smirk saves him here)
Most Despicable Act: 6 (Three words: “below the belt”)
Overall Villain Score: 13/21
Comparable Non-”Karate Kid” Villain: Kronk
PJ: LeBron James
LeBron James is actually the NBA’s most overlooked villain / © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
PJ: Take a look at this incident and tell me what you see. You may see Draymond being Draymond. You may see a man quick to lose his temper, with an intense desire to prove himself night in and night out. I see something different. I see a cunning and calculated decision, by one of basketball’s quietest villains. LeBron chose to step over a man with the direct intent to goad him into a conflict.
It wasn’t an accident, it was a choice, a choice to draw Draymond into receiving a flagrant foul, and thus a suspension. LeBron wasn’t in danger of getting suspended, he’s the league’s golden boy, but he knew Draymond was. So in that game, which was for the most part already over, LeBron made his move.
I contend that “The Flagrant,” was the most nefarious act the NBA has ever seen (yes I am including the frozen envelopes). “The Flagrant” played a more pivotal role in last year’s finals than “The Block,” or “The Shot,” as it took Draymond out for Game 5, where the Warriors could have ended the series once and for all, as opposed to (and I’m sure you’re all aware) blowing a 3-1 lead.
The public at large may not see that LeBron is so evil and mischievous because everyone is blinded by his immaculate image. But, LeBron James, for all of his incredible talents, is the NBA’s greatest villain. Yes, he may have a phenomenal PR team who helps him craft memorable statements like his ESPY’s speech with D-Wade, Melo, and CP3. But LeBron is so polished that no one can tell he’s truly an evil mastermind. His billion-dollar contract with Nike is just a way to finance his latest malicious deeds. The world may not see it, but I do: LeBron Raymone James of Akron, Ohio is pure E-V-I-L.
Golden State blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals
PJ: He is part of the Illuminati, after all.
LM: *places tin foil hat securely on PJ’s head* Whatever you say, pal.
- Final Rating -
Success: 7 (Definite Hall of Famer)
Dislikability: 5 (Ring chasers get no love here *looks at Kevin Durant*)
Most Despicable Act: 7 (Bringing joy to the city of Cleveland is an atrocity of the highest order and magnitude)
Overall Villain Score: 19/21
Comparable Villain: Emperor Palpatine
PJ: Roger Goodell
Roger Goodell puts ‘the shield’ ahead of player safety and well-being on a regular basis / © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
PJ: This one is easy. Roger Goodell is just scum. Like surface of a pond that’s too warm in the summer so algae starts blooming and killing all the fish, scum. The man has completely mistaken priorities, and cares more about “protecting the shield,” than actually protecting his players. His list of transgressions includes:
Covering up the prevalence of concussions and lying to players.
Completely and fundamentally botching the Deflategate situation.
Penalizing and fining players for wearing fun cleats that go to support charities.
Refusing to let players celebrate touchdowns and other plays, making the NFL stand for the “No Fun League.”
Effectively ending Josh Gordon’s career because the league under his watch refuses to adjust its policies toward marijuana despite it being legal in some form in the majority of states.
Look at that list. Really let it sink in. That’s a list of transgressions that prove that Roger Goodell isn’t only completely inept at his job, but is also just a morally bankrupt person solely focused on money.
LM: I agree with this choice completely. There’s no excuse for the current lack of discussion about concussion issues throughout all levels of football, and it all starts at the top. It almost makes you forget about his terrible record of player discipline. I have literally nothing to add, you’ve captured his repugnance quite well.
- Final Rating -
Success: 7 (Somehow the NFL continues to be the most profitable sports league in the world, so I guess technically he’s good at his job, if you think his job consists solely of securing revenue for the league)
Dislikability: 7 (Look at his face)
Most Despicable Act: 7 (Which one?)
Overall Villain Score: 21/21
Comparable Villain: Martin Shkreli
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