40 most hated NFL players of all time: loudmouths, cheaters, criminals
Who is the most hated NFL player of all time? That has become an intense and increasingly difficult question to answer in today’s climate, because it’s impossible to weigh the reasons not to like a player. Sporting News set out to name the top 40, however, and made one significant caveat to the list.
Aaron Hernandez, Rae Carruth, O.J. Simpson and Ray Rice were left off. Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder before he died in prison, and Carruth was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Simpson’s transgressions came well after his playing career was over, and the Rice incident effectively ended his career. There’s no sense in debating those players’ place on this list.
Instead, we narrowed the focus to players who were hated while they were on the field. That hate could be for any number of reasons. It could be a dirty player. A selfish player. A greedy player. A player who had off-field issues. Or a player who simply annoyed us.
It’s all in here, and quite a few active players made the list. With that in mind, here’s a look at the 40 most hated NFL players of all time.
1 Marshawn Lynch
Lynch was arrested in 2008 and 2012 for separate incidents, but that’s not the reason he’s here. He became a heel late in his career with Seattle, whether it was a crotch-grab during a touchdown run or an outright refusal to speak to the media. Who could forget “I’m here so I won’t get fined” before Super Bowl XLIX? He’s one of the most physical runners in NFL history, even if he had a fair share of haters.
2 Rob Gronkowski
Gronk is the ultimate frat boy. He drinks. He dances. He directs his own party-boy cruises. He gets away with all of it because, well, “Who doesn’t love Gronk?” Give credit to Gronkowski. He doesn’t apologize for any of it, and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. For the haters, it’s just another reason to loathe the Patriots.
3 Rodney Harrison
Harrison developed a reputation as a dirty player while playing safety for the Chargers and Patriots, and that led to multiple fines that totaled more than $200,000. He was suspended for one game in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jerry Rice, and again in 2007 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He still finds ways to stir it up as an analyst.
4 Odell Beckham Jr.
It’s not so much the fans; Beckham’s highlight-reel catches are always worth second and third looks. It’s his reputation within the league as a complainer and instigator that has heated up after battles within the NFC East.
5 Lawrence Taylor
Taylor is arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history, but some of that was offset by his reckless behavior on and off the field during his career with the Giants. He served a 30-day suspension in 1988 after testing positive for cocaine, and he had substance abuse problems that led to multiple arrests after his career was over.
Taylor is more revered now, but it was a different story during his playing days.
6 Jim McMahon
Of all the personalities on the Chicago Bears’ teams of the 1980s, McMahon was the most controversial. He drank beer at press conferences. He sparred with Mike Ditka. He wore headbands in defiance of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. He mooned television cameras and always said what was on his mind, for better or worse. That was good enough to lead the 1985 Bears to one of the greatest seasons in NFL history.
7 Richard Sherman
Sherman is the heart of the “LOB,” and his interview with Erin Andrews after the 2014 NFC championship game gave his haters everything they needed. Sherman is consistent. He’ll go after Tom Brady on the field or Skip Bayless on national television. He’s honest and not afraid to express his opinions on football or social issues. That makes him an easy target for criticism.
8 Ricky Williams
Is hated the right word here? Williams, the player for whom New Orleans mortgaged an entire draft, was never fully understood in the NFL. Critics always wondered how much he cared. Williams became most closely associated with marijuana use after he failed three drug tests and was suspended for the 2004 season. Williams returned to the league and finished with 10,009 rushing yards. Still, if you’re a Saints fan ...
9 Keyshawn Johnson
When you have a book called “Just Give Me the Damn Ball,” you know you have an outspoken and controversial player. Johnson developed a reputation and a nickname — “Me-Shawn” — that followed him throughout his career. He was deactivated from Tampa Bay’s roster in 2003 after continuous fighting with Bucs coach Jon Gruden. Johnson finished his career with 814 catches and 10,571 yards.
10 Mark Gastineau
Gastineau was one of the NFL’s better pass rushers of the 1980s and was part of the “New York Sack Exchange.” He set the NFL record with 22 sacks in 1984, a record that stood until 2001. On the field, Gastineau’s sack dances led the league to prohibiting them after the ’84 season. Off the field, Gastineau had a highly-publicized relationship with Brigitte Nielsen. He used steroids throughout his career, and he had a history of legal troubles with domestic violence and drug abuse.
11 Bryan Cox
Cox played 12 seasons as a linebacker, but he was best known for the back-and-forth with the Buffalo Bills, in which he was ejected from one game for a fight with Carwell Gardner. He spit at the fans. He gave the fans a double-bird salute. Cox was a nasty player, but he finally got a Super Bowl ring late in his career when playing for the Patriots. He resurfaced on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” as Atlanta’s defensive line coach and didn’t disappoint there, either.
12 Vontaze Burfict
Burfict haters came into focus when Steelers players accused him of celebrating Le’Veon Bell’s season-ending injury in 2015. From there, Burfict’s beef with Pittsburgh continued, and a personal foul for a hit on Antonio Brown led to a three-game suspension for Burfict heading into 2016. He has developed a reputation because of too many personal fouls, which takes away from his tremendous talent on the field.
13 Hines Ward
Why would a Super Bowl MVP who played with a smile plastered on his face be on this list? He was one of the NFL’s best blocking receivers, but that led to some cheap shots, like the time he broke Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers’ jaw on a crack-back block. Ward was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player by his peers in his 2009. As far as AFC North opponents go, Ward is at or near the top of their most-hated lists.
14 Jack Tatum
Tatum was a hard-hitting safety known as “The Assassin,” and he became the poster child for the villainous Raiders teams of the 1970s. He was involved in two unforgettable big hits — one on the “Immaculate Reception,” and the other in a preseason game that left Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed. Those are two plays that overshadow everything else Tatum did on those nasty defenses.
15 Cortland Finnegan
Finnegan has been called everything from “dirty” to “crazy,” but the cornerback’s physical style has bothered opponents and fans since 2006. He’s best-remembered for a 2010 fight with Andre Johnson that resulted in helmets flying off and $25,000 fines for both players.
16 Chuck Cecil
Cecil continues the run of hard-hitting defensive backs that had a reputation in the NFL. Cecil was known for launching himself into players — he earned the nickname “Scud” — and was fined multiple times in his career for helmet-to-helmet hits. Cecil’s style of play was widely-criticized. Just check out this hit and judge for yourself.
17 Chad Johnson (Ochocinco)
Ochocinco isn’t for the “act like you’ve been there” crowd. What was your favorite — or least favorite — Ochocinco touchdown celebration? He enraged some by putting a fake Hall of Fame jacket on after one of those scores. Johnson became more a side show later in his career, and he has faced legal issues since his final season with the Patriots in 2011.
18 Brett Favre
You can’t put Favre much higher because he’s adored by just as many fans, especially in Green Bay. Yet those same Packers fans were tested when Favre played for the Jets, then the rival Vikings. The whole charade late in his career — from the constant waffling about retirement to the alleged texts to Jenn Sterger — cast Favre in a much different light. He became a parody fit for a Frank Caliendo impersonation. That’s why this spot feels about right.
19 Tim Tebow
We don’t think the haters hate Tebow himself. He’s a try-hard quarterback who led Denver on a memorable playoff run before he fizzled out in New York and New England. He does and says all the right things. The haters hate the Tebow hype, which started in college with “The Speech.” Tebow’s strong beliefs in God have also drawn out both sides. He has done nothing wrong, but perhaps no quarterback with nine career wins as a starter (including playoffs) has driven so many headlines with so much criticism behind it.
20 Cam Newton
Newton might have been more hated at Auburn. There’s been a carry-over into the NFL, especially in 2015. Newton’s end-zone celebration — or “dabbin'" — caught fire after a prolonged dance against the Titans. Newton then bolted early from a Super Bowl press conference, which created another fire-storm. He celebrates every first-down run, and that drives the old-school crowd crazy. The 2015 NFL MVP promises to be a lightning rod for both sides for years to come.
21 Deion Sanders
“Prime Time” had a flare for the dramatic. He once showed up for training camp riding a Mercedes-Benz golf cart. The high-stepping showboat you couldn’t keep your eyes off of, Sanders talked a lot of trash and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Perhaps no player had that kind of supreme confidence, and that, of course, attracted the haters.
Flipping between the 49ers and Cowboys at the height of that rivalry in the 1990s only added an extra layer.
22 Randy Moss
Moss is the greatest vertical-threat receiver in NFL history, but it came with side effects. Like the time he bumped a Minneapolis traffic cop with his vehicle, which spawned the catch-phrase, “Straight cash, homey.” Moss left the field early, squirted a ref with a water bottle and faux-mooned Packers fans. He knew how to piss people off — fans, teammates, coaches, anybody. Still, hell of a player that’s who is pretty good as an analyst on Sundays.
23 Richie Incognito
Incognito already was a highly-penalized offensive lineman and widely-regarded as a dirty player before a scandal broke in 2013. Incognito played a role in harassing teammate Jonathan Martin and allegedly sent messages with racial slurs. Incognito did not play in 2014 before signing with the Bills the following season.
24 Johnny Manziel
Manziel simply couldn’t ditch the Johnny Football image after he was drafted by the Browns. He partied and partied, then partied some more. He also was charged with one count of misdemeanor assault in an alleged incident with his girlfriend. That led to the Browns letting him go after just two seasons.
25 James Harrison
Harrison is one of the most talented (and nastiest) edge rushers to ever play the game. He was arrested in 2008 on simple assault charges, and in 2010, he was fined more than $100,000 for various dirty hits, the most notable a body slam of Titans quarterback Vince Young. Harrison has always played with a nasty disposition, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.
26 Conrad Dobler
Dobler was an interior offensive lineman for the Cardinals, Saints and Bills through the 1970s, and perhaps no offensive lineman played with a nastier edge. Dobler tried to hurt defensive linemen, and he let you know he was trying to hurt defensive linemen. Dobler’s unapologetic play made him one of that era’s most hated players on the field and by opposing fans.
27 Albert Haynesworth
Haynesworth should be remembered for his tremendous ability as a dominating defensive tackle, but that’s just not the case. He instead is best known for stomping on Dallas center Andre Gurode during a game in 2006, which led to a five-game suspension. He also signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with the Redskins, but spent most of those two seasons antagonizing the coaching staff.
28 Jay Cutler
Two words: "Don’t care!" Cutler is the type of guy who might give you the bird while walking his dog down the street. Wait ... that happened. Cutler’s body language and don’t-give-a-you-know-what attitude have been over-analyzed for more than a decade.
29 Michael Irvin
The '90s Cowboys were loved or loathed, and “The Playmaker” was at the front of all that. Irvin was arrested on charges of drug possession in 1996, and everybody remembers Irvin showing up for the hearing in a full-length mink coat.
Irvin became the go-to for guys who couldn’t wait for the Cowboys’ dynasty to fall, and Eagles fans booed Irvin when he was carted off the field after suffering a career-ending injury.
30 Adrian Peterson
Peterson faced charges of felony child abuse before he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless assault, and he was suspended for the remainder of the 2014 season as a result. Peterson returned in 2015 and rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the suspension was still fresh in mind.
31 Adam "Pacman" Jones
Jones was involved in numerous off-field incidents early in his career, and he was suspended for the 2007 season as a result. Jones re-invented his career in Dallas and Cincinnati, but he still finds his way into the headlines. He drew a $35,000 fine for slamming Amari Cooper’s head into the turf in 2015 and had a costly personal foul (and an even bigger reaction on Instagram) after Cincinnati's wild-card playoff loss to Pittsburgh that season.
32 Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger faced sexual assault allegations in 2008 and 2010, the latter of which prompted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hand down a four-game suspension. As a result, Big Ben inherited another unsavory nickname (you know what it is), and this hasn’t gone away. Cincinnati revived all that with a radio spot that targeted Roethlisberger.
33 Bill Romanowski
Romanowski managed to get into altercations with just about everybody. He kicked Larry Centers in the head. He spat in J.J. Stokes’ face. He threw a football at Bryan Cox. He punched teammate Marcus Williams in the face and was later implicated in the BALCO scandal. Despite all that, he played on four Super Bowl-winning teams through a 16-year career.
34 Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick, an outspoken quarterback on social media, has been an easy target for criticism for a while. He created a firestorm when he refused to stand up for the national anthem during a preseason game as a protest against police brutality, which caused an almost unprecedented reaction on social media and from former and current players in its aftermath. For his part, Kaepernick has not backed down in the face of that criticism.
35 Ray Lewis
Lewis' career was threatened when he was charged with murder in the death of two men who were attacked after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta in 2000. The charges were dropped in exchange for testimony, and Lewis would eventually go on to help Baltimore win two Super Bowls as a team leader until he retired in 2012. Lewis' critics, however, still exist to this day.
36 Tom Brady
Brady could be on a list of most loved players, too, but there are more haters given the controversy surrounding the five-time Super Bowl winner. The "Tuck Rule," SpyGate and Deflategate have all been part of his career, and he served a four-game suspension in 2016. A lot of the Brady hate comes as a result of all those wins, too, but even more comes from the controversies.
37 Greg Hardy
Hardy easily could be ranked No. 1 on this list, and perhaps he should be given the details surrounding the domestic violence incident that led to a 10-game suspension in 2015. Hardy then made several inappropriate comments and was a distraction while playing for the Cowboys. He showed no contrition in an interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter that offseason.
38 Ndamukong Suh
Suh can be dominant, but that’s overwhelmed by his reputation as a dirty player, and he has his own anthology of dirty plays. That includes kicking Green Bay’s Even Dietrich-Smith, stepping on Aaron Rodgers’ leg or flat-out body-slamming Jake Delhomme. He has paid a ton of fines and has shown no willingness to change. Suh hasn’t helped his image much in Miami.
39 Terrell Owens
Owens was a supremely talented receiver, but he also was a supremely selfish player who submarined multiple franchises during his playing career. Owens forced his way out of San Francisco only to have a two-year stint in Philadelphia that ended with him doing sit-ups in a driveway before being suspended by the team. Owens resurfaced in Dallas, and that ended badly, too. After stints in Buffalo and Cincinnati, Owens’ 15-year career ended with Hall of Fame numbers. But he is having to wait longer because of all that damage.
40 Michael Vick
Remember the protests? Vick went from one of the league’s more popular players to one of the most reviled for his role in a dog-fighting ring that eventually led to a federal prison sentence for the quarterback. Vick missed the 2007 and 2008 seasons before returning with the Eagles, and the protests continued. He has repaired his image, but no star player has ever faced that level of hatred during his playing career.
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