The 7 Worst Positions to Play in Sports

As I was watching NFL games yesterday, I started to think about how awful one of the positions must be to play (more on that later). Then I started thinking about other awful positions across other sports and the players who have the unenviable task of filling them. Then I came home and wrote a blog post about it. And that’s how it’s done, folks. The definitive list below.

7. Soccer goalie on free kicks

There’s a reason that everyone gets excited when there is a shootout or a penalty kick in soccer. It means that there is probably a goal coming soon (there usually aren’t many of those during the other 90 minutes of the game). Why? Because a player gets to take a free kick at the goal from only 12 yards away. It is an extremely short distance for a ball to travel, meaning the goalie usually can only guess where the ball is going and leap that way to stop it. There have been studies done trying to provide goalies more insight on how they defend these free kicks, and some keep notes on a shooter’s tendencies. But it still doesn’t change the fact that the place where the ball is spotted is 12 yards away and footballers can kick the ball very hard.

It’s almost as if the soccer rules committee thought to themselves “Alright, goalie, we are giving you an unfair advantage through most of the game by allowing you touch the ball when no one else can, so we’re going to royally screw you on penalty kicks and in shootouts. You’re welcome.”

Visual illustration in the video below. How are you supposed to stop that? The sad part for the goalie is that he almost got bailed out by the crossbar, but nope, still gets royally screwed in the end.

6. Libero

Sorry, being able to take cool action shots like this does not want me to be a libero

What is a libero you ask? Obviously one of the worst positions in sports if you don’t know what it is. Invented only recently (1999), the libero is a defensive specialist in volleyball. They can’t attack and notch any kills, they can only sit back and wait to get a bunch of digs. And that’s awesome because digs are so much sexier than kills. OK, that’s a straight-up lie. It’s like preferring to ground into a fielder’s choice versus hitting a home run.

Liberos also have to wear different color jerseys than they teammates. Talk about being ostracized. Add in that you have to dive on a hard floor all night to play defense and you just have an all-around miserable position.

5. Left-handed relief pitcher

Baseball managers love guys like Hong-Chih Kuo and Hideki Okajima because they play a specialized role. These left-handed relief pitchers come into a game to get out power-hitting left handed bats like Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who is notoriously bad against lefties. The bad thing for lefty pitchers is that they only get to throw to one guy and then they get taken out. If they get that guy out, great, now take a seat. And if they give up a home run, well shucks, you’re still coming out without a chance to redeem yourself while watching your ERA balloon through the roof.

They hardly ever get to close, because that job almost always goes to the harder-throwing righties. And unappreciative fans get mad at them because they cause so much stoppage in game play. Anything to make baseball just a tad faster.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers kicker

Peter King once wrote Heinz Field, the home of the Steelers, is the Bermuda Triangle of kickers. It has an open side of the stadium that allows the wind to blow into the stadium from off the Allegheny River, plus the field is usually resodded late in the season because of the wintery conditions so it’s not exactly the most stable ground for kickers. Kicking in the NFL is a huge mental game, so even if it’s a beautiful day in Pittsburgh, Heinz Field’s reputation might still mess with your head. You know that when your kicker is destroying paper towel racks in bathrooms, your stadium is driving him crazy.

3. San Francisco Giants right fielder

Have you ever sat in the outfield of AT&T Park? It’s about a polar bear short of the North Pole since it’s right up against the frigid temperatures and biting winds of the San Francisco Bay. I can only cringe at the thought of having to stand out there and play baseball without the comforts of five jackets and three scarves.

"Be Like Rip" just isn't as cool. Neither is the facemask.

2. Chicago Bulls shooting guard

This gig sucks for an entirely different reason than the others. It’s because it’s you-know-who’s old job. Inferiority complex might soon be consuming newly signed Rip Hamilton.

1. NFL punt returner

And now the position that inspired this post. On first thought, you might think that this would be a glamour position since we glorify the likes of the Bears’ Devin Hester and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson for their ability to completely change the dynamic and outcomes of games. But there are several factors that make this an incredibly difficult job.

One, you are staring straight up at the sky while 10 guys (not sure punters can actually run) are beligning towards you with the aim of crushing your skull. And your soul. And instead of looking to the heavens to pray, you’re trying to catch an odd-shaped piece of leather.

Second, sometimes you have to make a split second decision whether you are going to catch the ball, and with the way a football bounces, it can make it impossible. Do you try to let it bounce into the end zone for a touchback? Do you fair catch it at your own 8-yard line because you think the coverage team might down it at the 1 otherwise? If you make the wrong call, you put your team in horribly bad field position or you turn the ball over.

Third, even if you do rip off a huge return, it usually gets called back by a holding penalty.

So while these jobs aren’t exactly the cream of the crop in the sports world, I’m sure the people who play them are still happy to be professional athletes making an exorbitant amount of money. Except for liberos, because I don’t think volleyball players get paid at any level.