The Intrigue of Sports Villainy


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Mug shot of man in drag with blue wig and feather boaWe love our sports heroes. Oh, do we LOVE our sports heroes! Babe Ruth, Joe Montana, Magic Johnson, Roger Federer, Mia Hamm, Cal Ripken, LeBron James, Peyton Manning – the “good guys” of sports are beloved by fans and marketers alike.

These stars win championships (or compete for them every year), donate money, work in the community, sponsor brands – they do everything heroes should do.

Heck, Drew Brees has helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with time, effort and money – and just last night brought the Super Bowl trophy to his adopted hometown. It didn’t complete the economic and social recovery, but it gave the city something wonderful to rally around.

But you know what?

Villains are much more intriguing than heroes.

Tiger Woods dominated the sports pages for over a decade for winning tournament after tournament after tournament – in dominating fashion, no less. But after salacious details of his personal life leaked out, he became a news and entertainment story, as well.

Boxers like Lennox Lewis ruled over their sport for years, but nobody ever garnered the attention of powerhouse “bad boy” Mike Tyson. Even after serving jail time for a rape conviction, the public could not get enough of him, in and out of the ring.

Exhibit A:

Enough said.

A quirky all-star who does a “heel turn,” to borrow from professional wrestling (when a good guy becomes a bad guy), by playing with guns in his workplace, all of the sudden becomes a national news story. Rumors of high-stakes locker-room gambling debts overtake the game-winning shots from the hands of one Gilbert Arenas. We identify him not with the play on the court, but what he confessed to in front of a judge.

My question to you is this: What is it about sports villains that make them so intriguing? Why does their villainy trump their heroics? And why do we allow them to stay relevant in the media?

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