Davis, Vick top list of most disliked in sports
Al Davis has been linked to the Oakland Raiders since 1962, first as the coach and general manager, then as an owner. It’s been a largely successful but controversial ride, one that’s included highly publicized spats with the NFL, lawsuits against him from three California cities (Oakland, Los Angeles and Irwindale) as he moved his club up and down the West Coast, and calling out many of his coaches and star players.
Davis’ profile has dimmed in recent years, thanks mostly to the Raiders’ futility on the field from 2004 to 2009. But over the past couple of years, he’s fired coach Lane Kiffin after barely more than a season, then feuded with Kiffin’s successor, Tom Cable, who Davis also just fired even after he led the team to an improved 8-8 record this past season. All the while, there was Davis’ constant second-guessing of the coaching staff on who to start at quarterback after the flop of 2007 top draft pick JaMarcus Russell.
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At age 81 Davis can proudly look back on a career that’s included three Super Bowl titles and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also stands as the most disliked sports figure in America. According to the latest survey by E-Poll Market Research, 68 percent of the public gives Davis the thumbs down on likeability. The biggest adjective respondents apply to Davis: “creepy.” Basically, any softening of Davis’s image long after his prime maverick days in the 1980s and 1990s seems to have been washed away in the past couple of years.
“There are just certain guys that people just love to hate,” says E-Poll CEO Gerry Philpott. “A lot of news has come out of Oakland lately, none of it good. That’s not going to reflect well on the owner.”
E-Poll surveyed more than 1,000 adults on their attitudes toward sports figures currently active as players, coaches, owners or commentators. All were ranked on the combined percentages of respondents who answered “Dislike Somewhat,” “Dislike,” or “Dislike a Lot,” to each sports figure.
A big lesson from the poll: Image rehab takes time for players who have had brushes with the law or substance abuse. Michael Vick, last year’s most disliked sports figure, improved his combined “dislike” score to 56 percent from 69 percent – better, but only enough to push him to No. 2. After admitting to using steroids and returning to the Cardinals as a hitting coach, Mark McGwire’s dislike score mellowed to 43 percent from 48 percent, nudging him down to No. 8 from No. 6. Philpott says that, unlike a player who might carry a negative image based on poor play or not living up to expectations, a guy who digs his own hole with steroids or a criminal conviction is in for a longer haul.
“A psychological penance,” Philpott calls it. “The average consumer or casual fan doesn’t care what you did on the field, he just cares about what you did [off it].” Nonetheless, improved performance on the field can help, as Vick’s numbers demonstrate.
Tiger Woods’ lackluster performance since returning to the golf course has kept any possible public opinion bounce at arm’s length. Tiger essentially held steady from last year on our list, at No. 4 with a 52 percent dislike rate.
One guy who dropped off the list from a year ago: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after he was investigated for sexual assault. Big Ben’s dislike score dropped to 39 percent from 57 percent, still way above the 13 percent average for all athletes, but out of top 10 range. As Philpott notes, the fact that Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime helped him bounce back pretty quickly.
Also finishing in the top six: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (some people just don’t like outspoken owners), Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Manny Ramirez, whose fading bat no longer covers up for his aloof manner, and Cincinnati Bengals receiver/diva Terrell Owens, a polarizing player whose shtick is either loved or hated by most fans.
New to the list this year are Washington Redskins lineman Albert Haynesworth, a big-money player who clashed with coach Mike Shanahan after showing up for camp out of shape, plus legendary (and temperamental) former college basketball coach Bob Knight, who apparently still manages to get under some people’s skin as an ESPN analyst.
The “top” five: