In athletics, being despised pays bad guys good money

OTHER VOICES

April 24, 2006|By JEMELE HILL | JEMELE HILL,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Hatred just isn't as powerful as it used to be.

GQ magazine released its list of the 10 most hated athletes in professional sports last week, and it was abound with the usual suspects - Terrell Owens, Barry Bonds, Kurt Busch and Kobe Bryant.

Being on such a list might have been considered a bad thing at one time, but hatred just doesn't have the staying power it did before.

Today's athletes no longer fear public scorn. In fact, they welcome it.

Being hated is good.

Better to be infamous than famous.

Liked is out, disliked is in.

Call it the pro-hate phenomenon.

Hating a sports star has become almost pointless. For one, the more we hate them, the more money they seem to earn, and the more second chances they seem to get.

Notice that some of the most reviled athletes in pro sports are also some of the richest.

Owens is considered the biggest jerk the sports world has ever seen. He's selfish, a loudmouth and what he did to the reputations of the Philadelphia Eagles and Donovan McNabb was downright criminal.

Owens sure suffered the consequences from that - a three-year, $25 million contract with the Cowboys, which includes a $5 million signing bonus.

Who knew just desserts could be so sweet? Kobe Bryant, fifth on GQ's most-hated list, is still booed heartily in arenas across the nation because of his feud with Shaquille O'Neal and a 2003 rape charge. The charge was later dropped, but not before Bryant admitted publicly he cheated on his wife with the woman who accused him.

And now he might be the NBA's Most Valuable Player this season, and sales of his jersey are among the top five in the NBA.

Bryant was one of the most image-conscious athletes before his fall from grace, but I'm sure even he sees how little being considered a bad boy has affected his bottom line.

Nike turned the hatred of Bryant into a catchy ad campaign. In a commercial, Bryant tells fans "love me or hate me," he doesn't really care.

And while you're at it, buy his gym shoes.

Look at where our hatred of Bonds has gotten us. No athlete on the planet is facing more public rage than Bonds, but he has yet to show an ounce of contrition for anything he's done.

He seems even more determined than ever to stay in baseball and break the home run record, the most cherished mark in all of sports.

Fans are throwing syringes at Bonds and both the government and Major League Baseball are investigating him.

The hate has been so good to Bonds, I'm sure he'll have his own sitcom by the end of the summer.

Rape charges, infidelity and cheating used to send athletes into exile. Now it just sends them straight to the bank.

Fans today hate athletes with their wallets wide-open. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or even Wilt Chamberlain wouldn't have made a cent if fans in their day couldn't stand them. But us modern folks have a weird way of showing tough love.

The same fan that swears Owens is an unprincipled fool gladly plops down $55 to see him play, or pays $3 to hear his awful rap song.

The same fan that has been unable to forgive Bryant for his treatment of Shaq watches the Lakers on TV whenever possible.

And the same fan that threw the syringe at Bonds - well, he did buy a ticket to do that, didn't he? If this is the fans' idea of hating a guy, all the most hated characters in sports will be billionaires by the time they're 50.

Jemele Hill writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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