Despite success, Vick still NFL’s most disliked
Is Michael Vick(notes) back in the public’s good graces? Stories swirling during the summer harped on new endorsement deals he was scoring, including a reinstatement from Nike, the sports apparel powerhouse that had ditched him four years earlier during the height of his legal troubles.
But not so fast. Vick has clearly made some public reparations over the past two years with his strong play on the field and gentlemanly behavior off of it. But these things have a way of taking time. The latest public surveys from Nielsen and E-Poll Market Research, a tracker of public perceptions of athletes and other celebrities, show that Vick still stands as the least liked player in the NFL. According to the poll, a full 60 percent of respondents claim the Eagles quarterback as a player they “dislike,” “dislike somewhat,” or “dislike a lot.”
|In Pictures: The NFL’s most disliked players|
The E-Poll-Nielsen results were limited to active NFL players that record a minimum 10 percent awareness level with the public. Why the continued hostility toward Vick? Nielsen Sports VP Stephen Master chalks it up to the scientific sample that mirrors the entire U.S. population, not just hardcore football fans. Casual fans that know Vick’s name primarily through his dog fighting legal circus naturally tend to focus on the negative. Women, for example, view Vick negatively at a 70 percent clip, compared to 50 percent for men.
“If this were a poll of fantasy football players, you’d see a whole different result,” says Master. “They love him.” As for Vick’s endorsement comeback – it’s better not to read too much into that just yet. Nike chose the attention-challenged cusp of the July 4 weekend to announce Vick’s return. And while the company has him back in the endorsement fold, it’s not using him as a featured pitchman. Aside from Nike, Vick’s endorsements have mostly been limited to smaller companies looking for some buzz, such as nutritional supplement firm MusclePharm (which also signed up Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco(notes), another member of the least-liked list). “Blue chip advertisers haven’t touched Michael Vick yet,” says Master.
The top few vote-getters on the “dislike” meter show that few things get you there like legal trouble. Occupying the two spots immediately behind Vick: New York Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress(notes), fresh off prison time on a gun rap, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes), 20 months removed from being investigated (though never charged) for sexual assault.
Of course, running afoul of the law isn’t the only thing that turns off fans, most of whom tend to value athletes that show strong work ethics and team-first attitudes (there’s also talent, but those who lack it don’t spend much time in the spotlight in either a good or bad way.) Peyton Manning(notes), for instance, is seen as a guy who’s all about work, preparation and winning, sort of a Roethlisberger without the legal woes (albeit with even more talent).
Those perceived as prima donnas get punished in these kinds of polls. Hence, quarterbacks Carson Palmer(notes), Vince Young(notes) and Jay Cutler(notes) all make the cut. Young, now Vick’s backup in Philadelphia (yikes), found himself in the center of controversy in Tennessee, where coach Jeff Fisher didn’t want to play him despite management’s wishes to the contrary. Fisher, unhappy with Young’s antics in practice, was fired after 16 years on the job.
Palmer, who had a promising early career set back by injuries, had lost the confidence of his coaches and teammates in Cincinnati by refusing to suit up this year. The Bengals clearly did well to get a first-round pick for him from Oakland, a team desperate for a QB after an injury to Jason Campbell(notes).
As for Cutler, the current Chicago Bears quarterback, not only did he feud with some staff and teammates during his days in Denver, his image took a big hit after he removed himself from last year’s Bears-Packers NFC Championship game with a knee injury that some considered questionable. It may be patently unfair – only Cutler knows how badly his knee hurt – but the sight of him riding a stationary bike on the sideline didn’t fit the mold of a warrior who would do anything to be out there for such a big game. The episode even drew critical tweets from several NFL players. “There was a feeling Cutler quit on his team,” says Master, “He took a lot of abuse.”
Quitting on the team isn’t a crime, but the recovery period can be just as long.
The “top” five:
1. Michael Vick – Percent Dislike: 60%
2. Plaxico Burress – Percent Dislike: 56%
3. Ben Roethlisberger – Percent Dislike: 49%
4. Albert Haynesworth – Percent Dislike: 46%
5. Jay Cutler – Percent Dislike: 38%
• See more players
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