The most disliked people in sports
Michael Vick will soon be playing football again, thanks to a decision by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to reinstate the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback effective in week six of the coming season.
But getting back to doing his thing on the field should be the easy part.
The tougher task for Vick, coming off an 18-month prison term for bankrolling a dog fighting business, will be rehabbing his image. Right now, more than seven in 10 people across the U.S. say they dislike him, according to the latest survey from E-Poll, an Encino, Calif.-based market research firm, making him the most disliked person in sports according to their data.
Not that he’s alone among big-time jocks. Some pro athletes just have a way of getting under people’s skin. Whether its brashness, perceived insincerity or crime, some guys can’t buy a break from the public.
|In Pictures: The 10 most disliked people in sports|
E-Poll’s latest numbers show that sports fans give their biggest thumbs down to those jocks they see as phony (Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant), selfish (Manny Ramirez, Terrell Owens) and criminal (Vick). The group garnered the most responses among those that fans “dislike some,” “dislike” or “dislike a lot,” according to E-Poll. E-Poll surveys are based a representative sample of 1,100 people weekly, ages 13 and over. The most disliked people in sports were chosen from those celebrities in the athlete, coach or sports broadcaster category with a minimum awareness level of 10 percent.
That Rodriguez and Ramirez recently became embroiled in baseball’s steroid controversy is only part of the story. Both have turned off large swaths of fans for years, A-Rod for his perceived phoniness, Ramirez for his aloofness and lack of hustle. Bryant’s reputation still suffers from a rape allegation he endured five years ago. He put the incident behind him after charges were dropped, but he still scores poorly with fans turned off by what they see as an act to curry public favor. Fair or not, Bryant just isn’t seen as genuine, according to E-Poll. Both he and Ramirez are beloved heroes in L.A., but a lot of fans across the country just haven’t warmed up to them.
“A lack of sincerity makes it tough to overcome these high dislike ratings,” says Gerry Philpott, E-Poll’s chief executive. “People have their perceptions.” Of course, to make the list at all you have to be good on the field. Few people know or care much about mediocre players or coaches to have strong feelings about them one way or another.
Even as he leads the list, Vick has a chance to turn his numbers around eventually. Vick, recently released from prison for his part in an illegal dog fighting ring, saw his stock plummet very suddenly over a single incident. Genuine remorse and good citizenship going forward can get him past his current image problem, as long as it’s done correctly. That means rehabbing his image in a low key way, the better to come across as sincere.
Animal volunteer work is great, “but do it without holding a press conference about it,” says Cindy Rakowitz, Los Angeles public relations consultant who specializes in crisis management. “A month later it’s in the paper, it’s a way to do it much more organically.”
And, points out Philpott, third party validation goes a long way. Humane Society officials have said that a reach out by Vick to do some work for them seems sincere. The key is whether that holds up long term. Meantime, just playing well and staying clear of trouble would turn him into a new man pretty quickly in people’s eyes. Americans have a way of rooting for second acts.
The top five: