July 30, 2009
In general, I probably don't care any more about Forbes' list of the ten most-hated people in sports than Nick Saban does. (Although he was perfectly willing to pose for the magazine's cover when it named him the most powerful coach in sports last summer.) But a couple of things about the list, compiled by a California research firm, piqued my interest:
• Saban, at No. 9, is one of only two non-player hate objects in the top-10, joining Isiah Thomas. (What, no Matt Millen? I guess unemployment heals all wounds.)
• Though Thomas is warming up for his first season at Florida International, Saban is the only hated figure on the list most closely associated with amateur sports -- and even then his appearance seems to stem mainly from the infamous "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" speech shortly before he became the Alabama coach.
• And most interestingly, Saban is the highest-ranked white guy on the list. The top eight are all black (Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury) or Hispanic (Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez). Popular pitchman John McEnroe is No. 10. How a fair sample of the public could consider Owens or Bryant worse than, say, Jeremy Mayfield or Ben Roethlisberger, or Iverson worse than heavily tattooed malcontent Jeremy Shockey, I couldn't say.
But then, aside from a few fleeting moments of anger or frustration, my sports hate list is exactly one name long (Mike Martz), so I don't entirely grasp the concept, especially re: Saban, who may be a joyless mercenary and kind of a bully in press conferences but is enormously successful and hasn't been seriously accused of any crimes or breaking any major rules. He's never proclaimed himself a genius. He's never said anything particularly controversial. Enough teenagers like him to make him the best recruiter in America at the moment. Many, many coaches lie about their job prospects; in most jobs, actually, manipulation and deceit are just part of the process of accepting a new gig. From the perspective of a national poll, the number of people aware of his unprecedented oversigning on the current roster is infinitesimal, and the number of people who actually care much smaller. If Saban died tomorrow, Alabamans would keep his body preserved for public viewing at the end of a long, empty hall with a houndstooth carpet running down the center, flanked by marble and stained glass paintings by Daniel Moore. For everyone else, I don't know. Maybe it's because he's short. Or maybe it's in the eyes ... those black, miserable eyes.