This isn’t Philadelphia; we don’t hate our athletes by default. In D.C., our fans may be a bit fair-weather but we want our teams to succeed and sometimes that means rooting for players we do not love. Nonetheless, every now and then a D.C. team acquires a player who is simply repugnant and it becomes impossible to root for them even when their failure will be a detriment to our team.
When Jonathan Papelbon put his hands around the throat of Bryce Harper, he choked our entire franchise, and immediately ascended to the upper echelon of Nats fans’ ire. That choke, and the organization’s botched handling of the fallout from the situation, may be the single-most obvious reason why free agents have classified our clubhouse as “toxic.”
I can’t recall a player beginning a season with as much pent-up animosity from our own fans, in any sport, let alone someone in a position as important as Closer. I really don’t care about the stupid shirt Papelbon was planning to wear to his 6-months-too-late apology conference. An athlete’s political statements don’t matter to me — what matters is the fact that this guy is a known jackass. It will never be just about the game with him — there will always be extracurricular activities and the media will be circling like sharks waiting for him to snap. He has the potential to sabotage the entire 2016 campaign and there is no reason to believe he won’t. Our fans booed Rafael Soriano and his only crime was being a shaky closer — what the hell do you think they will do when Papelbon blows a save or two?
We are heading into uncharted waters with Paps, but this isn’t the first time a key figure on one of our teams has been hated by the majority of fans. Here are your Power Rankings for the 10 most hated athletes to ever play for the Redskins, Nationals, Capitals or Wizards.
1) Albert Haynesworth – You really set the bar, fat man. Let’s hope no one ever tops Albert on this list. Haynesworth hasn’t played for the Redskins since 2010, and still he can set our fan base ablaze with one Tweet. He was overpaid, overweight, and disinterested during his time in Washington. He has spent the past 15 years racking up criminal charges and blaming the Redskins and the $100 Million they paid him for most of his failings. We hated Albert since the day he signed and he never did anything to prove us wrong.
2) Jonathan Papelbon – See above. The only reason he isn’t number one is because, unlike anyone else on this list, he has a chance at redemption. If he helps get us to October baseball I don’t care if he spends his weekends robbing old ladies and clubbing seals.
3) Jaromir Jagr – He played for the reviled Penguins for a decade, helped eliminate the Caps from the playoffs twice, and then in 2001, the Caps gave him the biggest contract in NHL history. He proceeded to play like a guy on the verge of retirement — he was uninspired, pedestrian, and restrained. The Caps were forced to trade him three years into a seven-year deal, only after agreeing to continue paying $4 million per year of his remaining contract. If he faded into oblivion after 2004 all would be forgotten by now, but somehow, 12 seasons later, this jabroni is still playing hockey at a high level. It’s like he’s been feeding off the blood of young Czech hockey players in the offseason. To this day, every Jagr goal hurts Caps fans. Our hate for him is the reason why Ovechkin’s bone-crushing open-ice hit in the 2010 Winter Olympics felt so good. It remains one of the most gratifying moments in Olympic hockey history, along with that USA team in 1980.
4) Kwame Brown – Arguably the worst No. 1 NBA draft pick of all-time. Kwame never got along with coaches, teammates, or fans and he was finally shipped to the Lakers after four injury-filled seasons. The most telling story of Brown’s time in D.C. was when he missed a playoff game due to a self-proclaimed “stomach bug” and was then seen at a Chinese restaurant DURING the game that same evening.
*HUGE DROPOFF – The first four guys on this list make up D.C.’s Mount Rushmore of self-loathing; the names that round out the top 10 are exponentially less evil, but atrocious nevertheless.*
5) Heath Shuler –A good way to endear yourself to the fans: be the third pick in the draft with a chance to start at quarterback your rookie year, hold out well into training camp, never learn the offense, and then realize you would prefer politics to football. In Shuler’s last game as a Redskin he was booed off the field after running the wrong play and fumbling. Women and children could be heard crying every time he dropped back to pass.
6) Deion Sanders – The consummate big name signing of the Snyder Era. Primetime was over-the-hill when he came to Washington, and though he played better than most expected, it was impossible for fans to embrace him as our own after watching him play for Dallas and San Francisco for years. The fact that the Redskins continued to pay him well into retirement just twisted the knife all the more. Has bringing in a player from your team’s rival ever worked out well?
7) Donovan McNabb – The Donovan McNabb Era lasted only 13 games, but it felt like a lifetime. It seemed like McNabb came here from Philly just to get the inside scoop on our incompetence for his memoirs. He was interviewing for media jobs before his Skins jersey could be laundered. It never felt right rooting for McNabb and his decision to badmouth the Redskins at every turn since retiring only justifies the fans’ disgust with him.
8) Christian Laettner – Did your therapist help you forget that this guy played for Wizards? You can’t spend your entire youth hating a guy with every fiber of being only to turn around and support him when he joins your favorite basketball team. The Laettner-Jordan Wizards years were probably the strangest seasons in Wizards history. The best player of all-time, laboring through the pain of old age and sharing the court with the likes of Brown, Laettner, Jerry Stackhouse and Tyronn Lue — truly a bizarre scene. Laettner must hold the record for least Wizards jerseys sold. I would rather own Popeye Jones’ jersey.
9) Jeff George – Who could forget a quarterback who told the media “leadership is overrated.” Anyone who says they were excited about the Redskins signing Jeff George is unstable. It was a terrible time to be alive. I can still see his disgusting turtleneck and that hideous form in my nightmares. Jeff George is the stepdad who goes out for a pack of smokes around Thanksgiving and never comes home.
10) Steve Spurrier – Okay, he isn’t a player. So what? Was anyone ever really rooting for this guy to succeed? He is the anti-Joe Gibbs. Gibbs slept in his office, Spurrier cut out of meetings early to play 18. If Haynesworth was the worst player Snyder ever signed, Spurrier was the worst coach — sorry, Zorn. When he ran up the score in his first exhibition game in Osaka it was clear that Spurrier had not paid attention to the NFL in three decades. I have never rooted against the Redskins, but watching Spurrier implode (see also… 5-11, not very good!) was the easiest it has ever been to stomach Skins loses. Happy retirement, old ball coach.
Follow Patrick on Twitter @RubGun and email your tips, takes, and topic suggestions to email@example.com