Of all the most hated NFL players in history, is there one that you hate more than the others? Maybe one player that gave your favorite team the most trouble over the years? Or one that went against your personal beliefs? Don’t worry, it’s more common than you think.
Hate is a strong word, but it lives rent-free in the heads of football fans and players around the world. It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s at least one player in the NFL that you can’t stand to hear or talk about. Just the sound of their names will make you cringe without hesitation.
The most hated NFL players in history are often some of the best at their respective positions. We have no idea why it works out to be this way, but it goes to show you that even the greatest have haters and if you’re going to find success in this league, you have to swallow a lot of ‘haterade.’
Who Are the Most Hated NFL Players in History?
If you look around the league, you’ll find a wide range of unique personalities, talents, skill levels, and characters. It’s what makes the NFL one of the most interesting and exciting professional sports leagues in the entire world. You truly never know what you’re going to get each week.
Although hate is thrown around often in the NFL, there are some players that receive it more than others.
Some people hate these players due to their on-field antics, whether it be frequent dirty plays, constant trash talk, or simply the fact that they’re too good. Other people hate players due to their off-field antics, whether it be crimes they’ve committed or crimes they were accused of.
In fact, some players have received hate for doing the right thing and standing up for what’s right. At the end of the day, there are a million reasons why some players receive hate — sometimes it’s warranted and other times it’s not. Either way, there’s no avoiding it in the NFL.
Without further ado, let’s go through our top-20 list of the most hated NFL players in history — starting with some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions: Jack Tatum, Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson, Rodney Harrison, Tim Tebow, Tony Romo, Lyle Alzado, Warren Sapp, Steve Wisniewski, Brett Favre, Tiki Barber, and Albert Haynesworth
20. Cam Newton
Cam Newton entered the league in 2011 as a freak athlete and versatile quarterback that loved to entertain — and nothing has changed since. He has an iconic personality and never backs down from being himself. He’s a former MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, many players and fans aren’t impressed with the way he carries himself off the field — especially after his sexist comment towards a female reporter during a press conference. The hate runs even deeper now that he’s a free agent and has struggled when on the field.
He’ll likely find his way back on an NFL roster and while it remains to be seen if he’ll return to his MVP form, it’s clear that the hate isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
19. Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown was never expected to be the stat-sheet-stuffing player he eventually became. He was a sixth-round draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but it didn’t take long for him to gain explosive chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. He was the best receiver in the league for a while.
In his 9 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he totaled 837 receptions, 11,207 yards, 74 receiving touchdowns, and 4 punt return touchdowns. Unfortunately, his time in Pittsburgh grew extremely sour at the end of the 2017 season and he eventually requested a trade after the 2018 season.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse. He was constantly complaining, frequently fined, always facing a suspension, and became a nuisance everywhere he went. His lack of commitment and social media rants overshadowed his obvious talent and skill.
18. Ben Roethlisberger
Speaking of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s only right that we mention Ben Roethlisberger. Despite being one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he’s also one of the most hated players in history. Some hate him for his dominant play, while others hate him for more serious reasons.
In 2008, Roethlisberger was accused of rape by a Harrah’s hotel employee. He was accused of sexual assault again in 2010 by a college student. Although he was never charged for either incident, he still receives a great deal of hate from around the league — especially from females.
Roethlisberger remains in the league and is beloved by Steelers’ fans for his two Super Bowl victories, but it doesn’t change what he’s been accused of and that’s why he’s on this list.
17. Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders is one of the greatest cornerbacks ever, earning the nickname ‘Primetime’ over his 14-year career. While his play made opposing fans angry, it was his cocky attitude and electric personality that truly rubbed people the wrong way, no matter where he played.
He was known for his trash talk on the field and later in press conferences. His celebrations were uncalled for back in the day, which generally began by high-stepping before he entered the end zone. His fashion and love of hip-hop were also rare in the league back in the day.
Of course, moving from the San Francisco 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys at the heart of their rivalry won’t win many people over, either.
16. Johnny Manziel
The hate for Johnny Manziel started during his college days at Texas A&M, where he earned the nickname ‘Johnny Football.’ There’s no denying his talent and he garnered a lot of attention for his play, but he was quite the cocky player and wasn’t shy about speaking his mind.
While some players can get away with this, Manziel never found his footing in the NFL and was a true bust for the embarrassing Cleveland Browns. To make matters worse, he partied more than he practiced and struggled with drug and alcohol abuse during his time in the league.
If that wasn’t enough, his ex-girlfriend accused him of hitting her, which led to a misdemeanor defense. Although charges were dismissed, it didn’t sit well with NFL fans.
15. Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones
Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones was one of those NFL players that couldn’t stay out of trouble, no matter how hard he tried. He was the epitome of being at the wrong place at the wrong time frequently. The number of suspensions, fines, and off-the-field incidents he was involved in was crazy.
He was arrested in 2005 for assault and vandalism, was arrested three times in 2006, and involved in a fight that led to a shooting in 2007 — which resulted in a year-long suspension. Despite vowing to change his image, Jones was still featured in countless headlines.
After being traded to the Cowboys in hopes of resurrecting his career, he was involved in an alcohol-related incident just months later. Later in his career, he got into a scuffle with Amari Cooper, which led to a $35,000 fine. There seemed to be no end to his incidents.
14. James Harrison
Every now and then, a player enters the league that instills fear in every single opponent they line up against. James Harrison was one of those players. Known as one of the nastiest NFL linebackers ever, he was looking to land a vicious hit every time he stepped on the field.
Of course, that led to a wide variety of dirty plays, four of which came in the 2010 season and resulted in $100,000 in fines. One of those dirty plays included body slamming Vince Young into the ground during a sack. He also drew a $20,000 fine for a hit on Drew Brees in that season.
To make matters worse, there were accusations of him using performance-enhancing drugs and was also arrested in 2008 for domestic abuse against his girlfriend.
13. Josh Gordon
Josh Gordon entered the league in 2012 and quickly earned the nickname ‘Flash’ after posting 137 receptions, 2,451 yards, and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, his third season in the league began a long string of suspensions.
He was arrested for driving while impaired in 2014 and suspended for 10 games that season. After returning for five games, he was suspended by the team for the final game of that season. He was suspended for another year in 2015 after testing positive for alcohol use.
In 2016, he applied for reinstatement, but it was denied after a failed drug test. He applied again in 2017 but was denied until November of that year. After making a return, he was suspended and reinstated in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. It has been a never-ending cycle his entire career.
12. Michael Irvin
As a member of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s, it’s no wonder that Michael Irvin finds himself on this list. It was easy to hate the Cowboys during this era, but Irvin was at the center of it all and made it that much easier with his trash talk, cocky attitude, confidence, and personality.
He was hated so much that when he suffered a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury in 1999 against the Philadelphia Eagles, fans began to cheer at his misfortune. While injuries, especially career-ending ones, are never wished upon, things were different on that unfortunate day.
Of course, Irvin also had a history of drug possession, being indicted for cocaine and marijuana possession in 1996 — which didn’t win many fans over in the late-1990s.
11. Richie Incognito
Richie Incognito has a history of being a dirty player both on and off the field. For example, he was issued a $35,000 fine for violations made in a 2008 game. During the 2009 season, he was benched twice for losing composure, including headbutting players and confronting his coach.
After a 2012 season that resulted in him being named to his first Pro Bowl, things started taking a turn for the worse. In 2013, he was suspended for hazing and harassing his teammate, Jonathan Martin. He wouldn’t play the entire 2014 season and later signed with the Bills in 2015.
Although he resurrected his career in Buffalo, he was involved in several incidents, including being accused of making racial comments during a game in 2017. He was suspended again in 2019 due to violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
10. Ndamukong Suh
There aren’t many players that have been fined as much as Ndamukong Suh has. According to Spotrac, he has accrued a total of over $680,000 in fines — more than $600,000 of which came in his first five years in the league. It’s a large reason why Suh is labeled as a dirty player.
Those fines include body slamming Jake Delhomme, roughing up Jay Cutler, stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm, kicking Matt Schaub in the groin, stepping on Aaron Rodgers’ leg, and more. Despite being a dominant player on the defensive line, he certainly plays dirty often.
Although he has cleaned up his act over the past few years, he has been fined for roughing up Russell Wilson in 2018, a horse-collar tackle on Zach Zenner in 2018, and roughing up Baker Mayfield in 2019.
9. Conrad Dobler
Well before Ndamukong Suh entered the league, there was one man in-particular that made a name for himself as a dirty player — Conrad Dobler. In fact, Dobler was very transparent about his intentions to hurt anyone he lined up against. He did anything he could get away with.
This included, but wasn’t limited to eye-gouging, twisting his opponent’s face mask, biting, and tripping opposing players. Even worse, he wasn’t apologetic about it at all and called it ‘controlled violence.’ Despite being one of the best guards ever, there’s a reason they called him dirty.
Dobler wasn’t just one of the most hated NFL players in history, but he was one of the most feared. In fact, some players did their best to stay away from Dobler when on the same field as him.
8. Ray Rice
Ray Rice entered the league in 2008, but didn’t earn a consistent starting role until 2009. Once he did, he became one of the most consistent running backs in the league, posting four-straight 1,000+ yard seasons in a row from 2009-2012. He took a step back with just 660 yards in 2013.
Things took a turn for the worse in 2014 when he was arrested, charged, and released from jail after getting in a fight with his fiancee. Although described as a minor altercation at the time, a video was released and it was clearly much more than that — leading to widespread uproar.
It was later revealed that Ray Rice knocked his fiancee unconscious and dragged her across the floor. He was eventually released by the Ravens before the start of the season and Rice hasn’t been in the league since.
7. Colin Kaepernick
To some, Colin Kaepernick is revered for his ability to stand up for the things that matter most. To others, he is a disrespectful player that never did anything good for football. Whatever end of the spectrum you land on is up to you, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the most hated players.
In fact, hate for Colin Kaepernick started well before his social justice days. Many fans couldn’t stand his style of play and off-the-field ‘swag’ as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. And at the time, he was successful at it — which only made people hate him even more.
Things took a turn for the worse in 2016 when he decided to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of the police brutality sweeping across the nation. His actions led to so much hate that he has been blacklisted by the NFL and owners want nothing to do with him.
6. Greg Hardy
Greg Hardy entered the league in 2010, but it took him a few years to finally have that breakout season players always hope for. In 2013, he broke the Carolina Panthers’ all-time record for most sacks in a season with 15 and was named to his first and only Pro Bowl of his career.
The following season, Hardy was accused and found guilty of assaulting and communicating threats to his girlfriend. Although those charges were eventually dismissed and expunged from his record, the Panthers decided to cut ties with Hardy — as did most football fans.
Hardy showed no remorse for his actions and that didn’t help him win over any fans, either. He would later join the Cowboys, but was released due to inappropriate comments and being a bad influence to younger players. He’s now fighting in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
5. Tom Brady
Tom Brady is truly the only player on this list for all the right reasons. He’s the greatest quarterback to ever step foot on a football field, which comes with a great deal of hate. Of course, most of that hate stems from Buffalo Bills’ fans that got sick of losing to him.
If you’re a New England Patriots fan (or Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan), you have no bad blood with Tom Brady. If you’re a fan of any other team in the NFL, you hate Tom Brady with a passion. There’s no in-between. He has more championships himself than any NFL franchise.
The only negative against Tom Brady is the cheating allegations, but those are likely nothing more than fans trying to make an excuse as to why he keeps winning in this tough league.
4. Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis is arguably the greatest middle linebacker in the history of the NFL — one that was recently named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. He was a leader for the Baltimore Ravens throughout his 17-year career and was beloved by most of his teammates.
With that said, he was quite the pest to opposing fanbases, largely due to how dominant he was at the MLB position. And if you didn’t hate him for his play, you likely hated him for being accused of murder in 2000. Although he was found not guilty, many are wary of that decision.
Either way, he’s a player that many hate, even for his consistent and frequent religious comments. He was known for mentioning ‘God’ in almost every sentence he spoke.
3. Bill Romanowski
Nicknamed ‘Romo’ and ‘RomoCop,’ Bill Romanowski was another linebacker that was feared by many — both teammates and opponents. He was involved in numerous incidents throughout his career, leading to plenty of fines and suspensions. He wasn’t just dirty, he was filthy.
For example, he kicked Larry Centers in the head in 1995, spit in J.J. Stokes’ face in 1997, punched Tony Gonzalez in 1999, and crushed his own teammate’s eye socket in 2003 — forcing his teammate to retire. Romo also admitted to using steroids during his time in the NFL.
If that’s not enough to burn a bridge, Bill Romanowski was also accused of being racist throughout his career and even after retirement. It seems like there was always something to hate with RomoCop.
2. Michael Vick
In his prime, Michael Vick was one of the most versatile quarterbacks to ever play the game. He could throw the ball as very few quarterbacks could, but he had the added ability to outrun any player on the field. He was a joy to watch for the first six years of his NFL career.
Unfortunately, that all came to a screeching halt in 2007 when he was found guilty for his involvement in dogfighting. He ended up serving 21 months in federal prison and his NFL career was put on hold for two years. As you can imagine, this angered just about every fan.
Although he returned to football in 2009 and recorded career-bests in several different categories, his dogfighting involvement followed him the rest of the way.
1. Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens is one of the top-five greatest wide receivers of all time and could arguably be in the top three. He was able to do things not many could do at the wide receiver position, but that didn’t stop people from hating him from the moment he entered the league until he retired.
He had a big personality, was constantly involved in drama, was cocky, outspoken, selfish,, and was known for burning bridges everywhere he went. He was easy to dislike and made it known he didn’t care how others felt. He knew he was the best and that’s all that mattered.
Even the NFL showed a distaste for Terrell Owens by snubbing him from the Hall of Fame until 2018. Once he was finally inducted, he decided not to show up to the ceremony — which angered fans even more, despite not being in the league anymore.
Hate Still Reigns Supreme in the NFL Today
A majority of the players listed above are no longer in the NFL or are nearing the end of their careers, but that doesn’t mean modern-day players aren’t hated. In fact, there’s plenty of ‘haterade’ to go around and that’s something the NFL will experience for the rest of time.
For example, some of the most hated players today include Vontaze Burfict, Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Jalen Ramsey, Josh Norman, Richard Sherman, and Baker Mayfield — just to name a few. In fact, they could find themselves on the list of most hated NFL players in history.
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Only time will tell just how hated these new-age players will become. What we do know is they’re hated now and that’s something that’ll likely follow them the rest of their careers — much like it has for everyone else listed above, even the greatest players of all time.
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