LBJamesOriginally posted at the By Matt Haupert

Everything’s a lot more fun with a great villain.

How much would we care about Batman if the Joker wasn’t around? Who would read the Superman comics if there was no threat of Lex Luthor getting in the way? What would SpongeBob SquarePants be without Plankton? The same goes for sports—it’s the villain that makes things worth watching. It’s the villain that creates the drama. It’s the villain that turns the game into a story.

And yet sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and examine who it is we’ve chosen to be the villains. Do we sports fans hate the right people? Do all of the athletes on whom we focus most of our scorn and derision actually deserve it? Far too often, our hatred toward athletes has really no justification at all.

1. LeBron James

LeBron James is the face of antagonism in the NBA. While Michael Jordan was basketball’s great hero, LeBron James is its great villain. He’s hated with a fiery passion by virtually every fan living outside of South Beach. There are as many people who identify as “anti-Heat” or “anti-LeBron” as there are actual fans of most other teams. And for good reason. LeBron James did, after all…

What? Exceeded the impossible expectations that were forced upon him as a high school student? Brought Cleveland from the depths of the earth to the top of the NBA, including a trip to the NBA Finals? Stayed out of trouble off the court with the whole world watching his every move? Look, I get it. The Decision was a bad idea.

But LeBron didn’t flee Cleveland early, he finished out his contract. He took less money for a better chance at winning a title, which is what we’re always saying athletes are supposed to do. He made a poor decision as a 25-year-old kid. But who wouldn’t? The world made his decision the most important news story on earth, so why not make a TV special out of it and raise some cash for a good cause? LeBron James is going to go down as one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA. You can either resent it, or sit back and enjoy watching history every single night.

2. Tim Tebow

Never has a man who has done so little wrong been so hated by so many people in the history of sports. No, Tim Tebow is not a good NFL quarterback. He doesn’t have the skills to cut it, and he never will. But neither did Brady Quinn or Tim Couch or Akili Smith or Vince Young or David Carr or the other million first-round QBs who ended up being busts.

Tim Tebow is hated for being unhateable. He’s hated for being so loved. The media obsessed over Tebow, and sports fans did the same. Because of this, he became a polarizing character. Why is there a story on Tim Tebow throwing a pass in practice?! Why are people giving credit to Tim Tebow for winning that playoff game?! People seem to forget: Tebow didn’t ask for any of this. He went about his business, he never did anything remotely wrong, he played his hardest, and then he was gone. Don’t hate Tim Tebow. Hate the people who put him under a spotlight that he never should have been in.


3. Tony Romo

What do Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler all have in common? They all had a lower passer rating than Tony Romo’s 96.7, the product of another excellent season that included 31 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions and a whopping 3,828 passing yards. Not bad for a guy that every Dallas Cowboys fan in the nation would happily see beheaded.

Tony Romo has made a lot of mistakes. He’s made some pretty awful plays in the postseason and generally disappears once December rolls around. Tony Romo is also, however, one of the best quarterbacks the Cowboys have ever had. He’s never had a passer rating under 90.

He’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards in four of his seven complete seasons as a starter and tossed at least 25 touchdowns in six of them. The issue, of course, is his 1-3 playoff record. But how much of this should we really pin on Romo? And how much can we thank the QB for getting the Cowboys that far in the first place?

Check out the remaining 7 athletes at the