When it comes to turning off the public, Michael Vick and Al Davis are champions.
Michael Vick has been out of prison for almost a year. He's publicly apologized for his role in a dog-fighting ring that landed him behind bars for 21 months. He's got an uncontroversial year on the football field behind him as a part-timer for the Philadelphia Eagles, who have picked up his option for another season.
Yet Vick's image rehab is moving along at a snail's pace. For the second year in a row he tops our list of Most Disliked People in Sports, with 69% of those polled citing Vick as someone they "Dislike a lot," "Dislike," or "Dislike some" according to E-Poll Market Research.
The ASPCA turned down Vick's offer to work with them on animal cruelty prevention. Nonetheless, Vick still appears poised for a recovery with the public. Unlike some athletes whose main talent seems to be getting in trouble, Vick was a popular and dynamic player before the dog-fighting episode--all he must do is repent for the single episode that sent his stock dropping like lead.
But it takes time, especially when minimal playing time leaves few opportunities to draw enough media attention to match the nonstop coverage his criminal case drew last year.
"The general public largely still knows him for the dog fighting," says Gerry Philpott, E-Poll's CEO, citing his unusually high 54% awareness rating. "If you were to limit the responses to just NFL fans, Vick's number would probably skew lower."
To measure public opinion of sports figures, E-Poll surveyed 1,100 people nationwide, aged 13 or older. Forbes limited eligibility to those currently active in sports as a player, coach, manager, broadcaster, agent or owner. A 10% minimum awareness level was also a prerequisite (that eliminated drug-using cyclist Floyd Landis and money-grubbing baseball agent Scott Boros, both very much disliked by the few but anonymous to the many).
Right behind Vick in this year's poll: Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, a longtime maverick with a history of clashing with the NFL, coaches and politicians in northern and southern California over stadium deals that have led him to move the club twice. Also making the list is fellow renegade NFL owner Jerry Jones, who likes to run the Dallas Cowboys as more of a freestanding business than as part of a league.
Others making an appearance: baseball's steroid poster boys, Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire (McGwire's return to coaching this year made him eligible for the list), along with football wide receiver diva Terrell Owens and gun-wielding NBA star Gilbert Arenas.
The most significant new entries this year, unsurprisingly, are Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger, the latest pair making tabloid headlines for their extracurricular activities. Woods' infidelities have been well chronicled since last fall, with most crisis-management experts saying his public apology came too late. Now that he's back on the course, most think a tournament win or two, coupled with good behavior, should get him back on track. But as with Vick, it takes time.
Roethlisberger, though, has his work cut out for him. While accusations of sexual assault against him by a Georgia college student didn't lead to formal charges, the episode left the public with a picture of him as a 28-year-old frat boy.
The assault allegation "was bad, but the videos of Ben at the night club didn't help him either," says Cindy Rakowitz, a Los Angeles-based crisis management consultant. "His apology didn't seem sincere, nor did it get as much airplay as the video of him handing out shots and dancing to Miley Cyrus."
And, unlike Woods, he plays a team sport. The six-game suspension levied against him by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hurts the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. Fans can be tough when what they see as selfish behavior has consequences for the team. The fans' memo to Big Ben: Grow up.
(Tom Van Riper, Forbes.com)