Every Villain is the Hero of Their Own Story
A SUPER sized look at some modern sports "villains" and the comic book characters that represent them.
A few months ago, we took a look at some famous athletes who seemed to have some similarities to some famous superheroes. It stands to reason that we should take a look at some famous athletes who have some things in common with some famous super… villains. Before you assume that this is an insult, bear in mind that villains are often the best part of comics, movies and sports. In sports, villains are critical to our enjoyment. It is said that for many baseball fans, their second favorite team is whoever is playing the Yankees. We love to root against (or sometimes for) the bad guy(s). In comic books and movies, villains provide the catalyst for action. They often have agendas that are complex. They are also always the heroes of their own stories, and sometimes it can be unclear who the heroes really are. It’s often their methods of getting what they think is right that creates the problem. The best superhero movies are always the ones with the best villains. Let’s start off with a complicated character from a great movie.
Killmonger - Black Panther:
In the now legendary film Black Panther, the late Chadwick Boseman’s titular character faces a brutal and self-righteous enemy in Erik Killmonger. The, uh, lack of subtilty in the name belies a very complicated character who we find out may not be as far off track as it seems. Killmonger’s anger and resentment at Wakanda pulling away from the suffering of blacks in the world (including him) and hiding their resources, reflects the resentment of many now toward the wealthy. This plays out a lot in the real world, where those who have much often choose not to help the less fortunate (black or not). While this obviously doesn’t justify murder, it certainly hints at class warfare that exists right now in our country. This is obviously Colin Kaepernick.
His status here as a supervillain does not reflect my own personal feelings about him. Rather, it is a reflection of his complicated standing in society. For many, he is the hero of the story. For many others, he is pure evil. This is how this whole article works. Being a villain is in the eye of the beholder, and Colin’s campaign against police brutality has made him plenty of enemies and friends. Obviously Colin hasn’t murdered anyone (no one on this list has), but his place in society certainly matches that of Killmonger in his. His legacy is complex, and your initial reaction to seeing his name reveals just how relevant he still is. Killmonger’s legacy was Wakanda choosing to reach out and help those who were destitute beyond their borders (and, of course, the killing of people) and Colin’s legacy will be as a starting point for a lot of the social protests we see now.
Homelander - The Boys:
In the fairly new Amazon Prime show The Boys, based on the comic book by the same name, Homelander is the co-main character. Homelander is intended to be an evil parody of Superman. He has similar powers and invulnerability to Superman (he doesn’t even seem to have an actual kryptonite) and he leads what is supposed to be a Justice League like group called “The Seven”. However, despite wrapping himself in Americana and religiousness, he is a narcissist who has no conscience. While the politicizing of the show can be heavy-handed, the idea of corporate run superheroes and exploring the idea of Superman growing up without a mother is very interesting and the results are horrifying (among other things, he refuses to help a plane that is going down because it might lead to bad press). Dwight Howard is our Homelander.
Let’s start with the obvious you see above. Dwight loves superheroes, and he especially loves Superman. The problem is, he isn’t the first. Shaq famously called himself Superman as he lead his squads to title after title. As time has gone on, Dwight has seemed more and more of a parody than the real thing. While he was a great player at his pinnacle, he in no way was a perennial title contender. Outside of one trip to the NBA finals, his teams have routinely underachieved. He also has left an… impression… on his teammates. Dwight has come across as immature, selfish and disrespectful throughout his career. He also has terrible timing. His approach to… nutrition… could use some work. He also was/is willing to clothe himself in religiousness. Of course, Dwight might be a narcissist, but he is not a soulless monster. He has donated tons of time to charity, children, and has reinvented himself in his second chance with the Lakers as a role playing big who does what is needed. Still, this one is a little too on the nose.
Thanos - Marvel Universe Villain
Thanos is a true SUPERvillain. He has nearly infinite strength (especially when he is wielding that cool looking glove thing). He is a brilliant and strategic mastermind who effectively uses big faceless CGI armies and the occasional familial assassin to strike fear in the hearts of the masses. He is ruthless. He also has his reasons. In his mind he is doing the universe a big favor by fairly reducing the population through beat poetry (talking while snapping fingers). Of course, killing off half the universe sounds pretty villain-y, so most people seem to believe he is evil. He gets results though, and for him, that is what matters. Bill Belichick is Thanos.
Bill Belichick is a mastermind much like Thanos. Though his leadership, he has constructed the greatest dynasty in NFL history (and it isn’t close). He has routinely crushed the league year in an year out. He is so powerful, he seems to be able to wield his power no matter what players he has. Even Tom Brady’s departure hasn’t slowed this team much. With his disposable army of literal Patriots, he takes over the AFC East year after year, ruthlessly crushing those who oppose him. Even the occasional defector can’t stop him. Of course, his methods are a little bit shady. The Astros were like the Nickleback of cheating compared to the Patriots’ Led Zepplin. Let’s just say his legacy is going to be a little complicated: for some he is a genius, for others a cheater. Bill doesn’t care though. Bill just cares about the results. And boy did he and Thanos get some results.
Two-Face - Batman villain:
Two-Face is one of the most famous Batman villains. Two-Face was originally Batman’s friend. He was Harvey Dent, prosecutor of Gotham City who worked with Batman. Unfortunately a tragedy changed his personality dramatically. He become obsessed with chance and turned to a life of crime and revenge. Two-Face is about more than just his dual nature. He is more about how tragedy can change someone and how what we think we know about people can be wrong. There can be more there than we realize. Or less. Tiger Woods is Two-Face.
Tiger Woods is either the best or second best golfer ever (depending on your opinion of Jack Nicklaus). Tiger Woods is unquestionably the most famous golfer ever. Tiger represents a lot more than just great golf. He is golf's most famous pitchman. While he was not the first black golfer or the first good black golfer, his being black (he identifies as part black/asian) represented a changing of the guard that golf was integrating for a new generation. While there haven’t been many black golfers on the PGA tour since, he still stands out for his place as a trail blazer. He also stands out for his controversy. On top of being a ruthless competitor and very anti-social, Tiger set himself up as a bastion of pure corporate wholesomeness. As it turned out, he was not living the lifestyle he professed. He was found to be having multiple extra-marital affairs. This fall from grace also occurred around the time in his life his father died. It has become clear in the time since that his father’s passing was a catalyst for a number of odd choices in his life. Of course, since that time, Tiger has taken a number of steps to rebuild his image, and is still immensely popular. The story of Two-face is more of a tragedy, and it would seem, Tiger’s was as well at times.
Lex Luthor - Superman Villain
Lex Luthor is a powerful industrialist who uses his vast resources to fight what he believes to be the biggest threat to his power, Superman. Luthor’s own version of industrialism is fraught with evil schemes which makes Jessie Eisenberg’s choice to play both Luthor and Mark Zuckerberg hilarious in hindsight. Luthor controls the press, of course, and uses it to boost his image and cover up all of his misdeeds. He also uses his position to accrue vast accolades, wealth and success. He is simply a mortal man, but he balances things out with a chemical compound (kryptonite). Lex Luthor is Lance Armstrong.
Few athletes have achieved the height of popularity or the bottom of hatred quite like Lance Armstrong. Lance rose to popularity on the back of a seemingly too perfect story of recovering from cancer to be a better cyclist than before. So good, he was the best in the world. By a lot. Lance won 7 Tour De France titles and all the while wrapped himself in the American flag as the definitive sports version of American imperialism, as he dominated a sport that had seen very little American success before him. Of course, it was all a lie. He used massive quantities of steroids in an almost impressive covert scheme. His own success story of overcoming cancer was even tainted as it is highly possible the steroids caused his cancer to begin with. His indignity (and general awful behavior) at being called a cheater and his years of using his resources and controlling the press to crush those making accusations only made him into more of a heel at the reveal. In the years since, he has continued to lie, slowly revealing more and more honest facts here and there. The story has not gotten better. Strangely, it is his visage as American hero that drove the Livestrong campaign that raised millions to fight cancer. Of course, I am sure Luther Corp. had it’s charities too.
Harley Quinn - Batman Villain:
Harley Quinn is a wildcard who typically works for the Joker. Her obsession with him is what caused her to leave behind her life as a psychologist to become the Joker’s lackey. While she is not as demented as the Joker, she is still a violent criminal with the capacity to do a lot of bad. It is hard to know what to expect from her. At times, she has even thwarted evil (I’d say to check Suicide Squad, but don’t). Most of the time though, she is out there creating chaos, often on her own. Hope Solo is Harley Quinn.
There are not a lot of female villains in sports. For the most part, women seem to do a better job of not making asses of themselves. Part of this is probably the lesser scrutiny of women’s sports in general and the overall way female athletes tend to be presented (as either attractive or trail blazing heroes). Hope Solo is the biggest exception of my lifetime. Hope Solo was the immensely talented goalkeeper (now broadcaster) for the US Women’s National Soccer Team. Solo got off to a rough start when she lashed out over a benching in a World Cup title match. While she might have been right (the US was smoked in that match), the way she did it left her on the outs. Eventually she worked her way back, only to be haunted by a series of controversies including a domestic assault accusation. Even after her playing career ended, she still drums up controversy. Ultimately, her unusual approach to the limelight is probably at least partially caused by a very unusual upbringing that lead her to the intense competitiveness and grittiness that enveloped her career. Regardless of why, she is an outlier in women’s sports as a rare heel, who is a true wildcard.
The Joker - Batman Villain
Joker is perhaps the most iconic villain of all of comic books. His maddening behavior, unpredictability and truly vile essence make him the perfect foil for the calculating, careful, and noble minded Batman. Few villains are so perfectly balanced to their adversary. The Joker lacks any special power. While he is cunning, he is rarely working to an end as much as he is just sowing seeds of chaos. His very next action often negates his previous one. The joker has become something of a cultural landmark for those who also desire chaos and instability, making him a very popular character to emulate for some (occasionally with very bad consequences). Antonio Brown is the Joker.
Antonio Brown’s reputation has been in a deep and steady decline for several years now, so it is easy to forget just how good he was. With the Steelers, he was a top 3 receiver in the NFL for several years. His ability to make plays at all levels of the field, combined with Ben Roethlisberger’s willingness to target him constantly made him a potential HOF player. Then came 2018. He was traded by the only team he had ever known, after a sudden rift appeared between him and Roethlisberger. There had been small signs of issues before this, like the time he Facetimed the locker room post game against his coaches wishes. He had been actively campaigning for a raise. But the split still seemed surprising. His first training camp with the Raiders was such a disaster that he was cut by the team. Almost immediately following that, a series of criminal complaints was lodged against him by a number of parties, including claims of rape and sexual assault. He had a brief two week run with Pats, before being cut for good. He is working for reinstatement, but truthfully, that is not likely. Since this all started he has made a series of bizarre rants and tweets, showing no consistency from one minute to the next. I hesitate to label him as a bad person, mostly because it seems he has come completely unglued. As a player with a series of concussions in his career, it makes me wonder if mental illness is at play. It’s hard to know for sure. Of course, we know with the Joker mental illness is in play, and it certainly doesn’t serve as an excuse for his or Antonio Brown’s behavior, even as it serves as a possible explanation.