America's least wanted: Te'o joins Lance at the top


HOLD THE BACK PAGE:“America’s most disliked athlete” isn’t, perhaps, the kindest of survey for Nielsen/E-Poll to conduct, but conduct it they do. Having topped “most admired” polls for the bulk of his career, Lance Armstrong now finds himself tying with an American footballer with an imaginary girlfriend as his country’s least-loved athlete.

If his chat with Oprah Winfrey was designed to elicit some sympathy or respect for owning up to cheating, then it didn’t quite work for Armstrong. “The Oprah interview hurt him – he came off as pompous, arrogant and unapologetic,” as Stephen Master, senior vice-president of sports at Nielsen, put it.

Te’o, meanwhile, opted to confess all to ABC’s Katie Couric after it was revealed that his girlfriend-who-died-tragically-young never actually existed. For that, the Notre Dame footballer is now neck and neck with Armstrong in the unpopular stakes.

“Apparently the online girlfriend hoax wasn’t his idea, but most people figure he embellished the extent of the relationship for personal attention,” read the Nielsen blurb. “Te’o’s appeal rating went from 88 per cent to 15 per cent almost overnight.” That’s quite a plunge.

Tiger Woods, alas, is a regular in these polls, and despite largely avoiding trouble the past year, and not having to confess anything (new) to either Oprah or Katie, finds himself in the top three.

“His image hasn’t improved that much since his highly publicised infidelity problems of a few years ago, in part because he hasn’t won much,” said Nielsen.

The one consolation for Woods is that he was joint first in last year’s poll, so he’s heading in the right direction.

Quarterbacks against the wall

After that, there’s Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, LA Lakers basketball player Metta World Peace, the New York Yankees’ Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Nascar’s Kurt Busch, LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

No women, you’ll note, so that’s nice. Three quarterbacks, though, making them a decidedly unpopular sporting breed.

Their offences are varied, in most cases their personalities not helping a great deal, in some it’s just still a struggle to escape past misdemeanours – like Vick’s involvement in and subsequent jail sentence for an illegal dog-fighting ring.

He was tied with Woods as the most-disliked athlete last year, though, so maybe the image rehabilitation efforts are beginning to work.

World peace – and an elbow to the head

Ronald Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace in 2011.

“Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world,” he explained.

His publicist said of the choice of Metta, the Buddhist term meaning “loving kindness and friendliness towards other”, that “it took many years of research and soul-searching to find a first name that was both personally meaningful and inspirational”.

It wasn’t the wisest of moves for Mr World Peace to show very little loving kindness and friendliness towards Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden when he elbowed him in the head during a game last year, the memory of which, possibly, helped earn him joint fourth in the poll.

“NBA bad boy has been on good behaviour for a while now, but old images die hard,” said Nielsen. But choose a name like World Peace and you’d really need to be watching yours Ps and Qs – and elbows.

Still, being this unpopular isn’t exactly having a negative effect on the sportsmen’s bank balances – Woods and Bryant made the top six of the Forbes “World’s Richest Athletes” list last year, and the rest are unlikely to go hungry. Or sponsorless.

Notoriety, then, allied to a spot of talent, can actually be rather lucrative.

Matters of the hate Least-liked sports stars

1 Manti Te’o 15% appeal

1 Lance Armstrong 15%

3 Tiger Woods 19%

4 Jay Cutler 21%

4 Metta World Peace 21%

6 Alex Rodriguez 22%

7 Michael Vick 23%

8 Kurt Busch 27%

8 Kobe Bryant 27%

8 Tony Romo 27%

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