A couple of months ago, ESPN’s ‘Head in the Game’ podcast called for fans to cast their votes to select who should be crowned as the Greatest Sporting Villain.
Argentinian Luis Suarez topped the poll with the top 10 dominated by footballers and footballing personalities.
It is no surprise that many of those named are also those who attract many to tune in to sports. It goes without saying that people love the bad boys.
Identifying sports teams or players as heroes and villains affects the way we enjoy sports. We love it when our idol wins and we equally enjoy it when those we detest fail.
ESPN conducted a similar poll back in 2011 to find out why fans tune in to watch the American League Championships Series (ALCS).
The statement that received the highest percentage of votes (32.5 percent) was “hate the Yankees.” An additional 14.1 percent indicated they “root against (but secretly admire) the Yankees.”
During the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup, eventual champions USA were the darling of the Americans but many outside were rooting for the team to fail. Many were not happy with the over the board celebrations of the American players during their 13-0 thumping of Thailand in their group matches.
Social media was afire with the “unsporting” nature of the American celebrations and it did drive many more television viewers to their matches, many hoping for them to falter.
Usian Bolt may be the fan’s favourite whenever he was in action but his doping tainted rival Justin Gaitlin also attracted many, hoping for him to be beaten by the former.
Mike Tyson may be one of the most notorious boxers, especially after his ear biting scandal against Evander Holyfield. Yet, his bouts were almost always sold out events.
Misbun Sidek, was one of this so called “bad boy”, with his antics both on and off the court during his heydays. But he was still adored by the Malaysian badminton fraternity.
In tennis, the good guys including the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal may have their own legion of fans. But, no one can deny how the likes of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase in the past and likes of Nick Krygios and Daniil Medvedev in the present have done as much to bring in thousands of followers to tennis.
In golf, the likes of Tiger Woods and John Daly may have their flaws, but they are able to attract both golfers and non-golfers to the sport.
Colourful sporting character like Dennis Rodman (basketball), Sebastien Chabel (rugby) and even Muhammad Ali all brought new dimensions to sports and in their own way elevated its status.
As much as sports fans need an idol to look up to, they also need some bad boys to stoke their insatiable appetite for rivalry in sports.