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Scandal didn't destroy Tiger Woods' popularity, but it sure left a mark.
A Harris Interactive poll has revealed that for the first time since 2006, Woods no longer holds the title of America's most popular sports star all by himself. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant moved into a statistical tie with Woods, up from fourth place last year. Woods' infidelity became worldwide news after a car accident last Thanksgiving, and Woods is yet to regain the form that made him the world's most celebrated athlete for more than a decade.
The poll of 2,227 adults was conducted online from June 14-21. Even before the debacle that was "The Decision," LeBron James had fallen in popularity from third to sixth. His controversial jump from Cleveland to Miami will almost certainly knock that ranking lower in future polls. Fellow NBA'er Michael Jordan dropped from second to seventh.
On the rise: Yankees star Derek Jeter (fourth to third) and annoyingly indecisive/possibly retired quarterback Brett Favre (up to third from ninth, inexplicably). Peyton Manning jumped from seventh to fifth, while his rival Tom Brady entered the rankings at No. 8. Drew Brees, fresh off a heartwarming Super Bowl win, ranked ninth, while NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in at 10th. Falling out of the top 10 were NASCAR's Jeff Gordon and the Cardinals' Albert Pujols.
On the female side of the equation, tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams took the top two spots with driver/spokesmodel Danica Patrick, former soccer star Mia Hamm, and tennis' Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova following. Rounding out the top 10 on the ladies' side: volleyball's Misty May-Treanor, gymnast Shawn Johnson, WNBA star Lisa Leslie, and tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova (who were tied for 10th). Falling out of the ladies' top 10 were the WNBA's Candace Parker, the LPGA's Annika Sorenstam, tennis legend Chris Evert and skater Michelle Kwan.
[Photos: See images of Lakers star Kobe Bryant]
What does this poll reveal? That we Americans are a fickle bunch. As Kobe's performance shows, winning solves most problems. Bryant has a checkered past of his own, but his recent titles with the Lakers have scrubbed the slate clean in the eyes of many sports fans. The lesson for Tiger, then, is clear — apologies are nice, but victory is the key to winning back public favor.
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