Bengals cornerback Eli Apple has had a largely unspectacular career on the field, particularly for a top-10 draft pick. He’s spent time with four different teams in seven years, nearly falling out of the league in 2020 before a pair of resurgent seasons in Cincinnati.
Despite that, Apple’s name stays in the headlines. From draft night through last week’s divisional round win over the Bills, Apple has been one of the NFL’s most outspoken players and isn’t afraid to lean into some trash talk when things are going well.
Apple has made an enemy out of some high-profile players and undoubtedly a few fan bases as well.
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Here’s all you need to know about how Apple became one of the league’s most disliked players.
Why do people hate Eli Apple?
Apple has been a controversial figure from day one in the NFL, though he had a natural disadvantage when the Giants picked him earlier than expected in the 2016 Draft. Giants fans needed Apple to prove his worth, and he wasn’t able to do that in his two full seasons in New York.
Apple later said that he hated both the Giants and Saints fan bases, which gave both even more reason to villainize the cornerback.
The vitriol surrounding Apple goes well beyond just the fans, however. Apple has called out more than a few of his fellow players over the years, and he’s gotten it right back from those players.
His New York teammate Landon Collins called him a “cancer” in 2017, and the Giants suspended him for a violation of team rules in only his second season.
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Apple has also made enemies out of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, calling the pair out both before and after the Bengals’ AFC championship win over the Chiefs last season. Hill is no longer in Kansas City, but there’s no doubt there will be some bad blood between Apple and Hill’s former teammates when the Bengals and Chiefs face off again on Sunday.
Apple has some new adversaries, as he spent the past week calling out individual Bills players following the Bengals’ divisional round win in Buffalo. Apple wished Diggs “safe travels to Cabo,” and he ruffled some feathers in a separate tweet by using the heart-hands emoji that has come to symbolize Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s recovery from cardiac arrest.
Safe travels to Cabo fam ✈️ 🙏🏿 https://t.co/Xz2e7VEBz1
— Eli Apple (@EliApple) January 24, 2023
Apple clarified that he didn’t intend to disrespect Hamlin, but that’s about as close to an apology as you’ll get from the Bengals cornerback. He also called out Bills defender Shaq Lawson on Twitter, telling him to “enjoy Mexico.”
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Apple’s mother hasn’t helped her son’s case. Annie Apple has been active on Twitter since the draft process began, defending her son at every turn and calling out Giants owner John Mara when Eli was a rookie. Apple’s latest Twitter ventures, however, make Annie look tame in comparison.
If you’re keeping track, Apple has aggressively antagonized four different teams in the Giants, Saints, Chiefs, and Bills. He also didn’t pan out with the Panthers, struggling with injuries before a midseason release.
Eli Apple controversy timeline
April 2016: Annie Apple defends her son against anonymous draft critics on Twitter, telling evaluators to “stop playing with our name.”
October 2016: Annie Apple takes to social media to criticize Giants owner John Mara for his handling of domestic violence allegations against kicker Josh Brown.
Nov. 15, 2017: Apple threatens to walk out on the Giants during a film review session.
Dec. 26, 2017: Apple’s Giants teammate Landon Collins calls him a “cancer” during a radio interview.
Here’s the exact quote from Landon Collins on NY radio earlier today:
“There’s one corner that needs to grow up, and we all know who it is [Eli Apple]. That would be the only person I would change out of our secondary group…. That first pick, he’s a cancer.”
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 26, 2017
Dec. 27, 2017: Apple is suspended by the Giants for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The Giants entered the 2017 season with playoff expectations, but the year quickly went off the rails with disappointing play compounded by persistent drama.
Oct. 23, 2018: Despite new coach Pat Shurmur saying Apple has a “clean slate,” the Giants trade him to the cornerback-needy Saints midseason.
2019: Apple becomes a full-time starter in New Orleans but allows a passer rating of 100.9 and isn’t retained.
2020: Apple appears in only two games for the Panthers before his release in late October.
Jan. 23, 2022: After the Bengals advance to the AFC championship, Apple tweets that he’s not sure whether he hates the Saints or Giants fan base more.
Jan. 30, 2022: Minutes after the Bengals advance to Super Bowl 56, Apple calls Tyreek Hill “a baby” on Twitter and tells Mecole Hardman to call him if he wants Super Bowl tickets. Two weeks later, Hardman pinned Cincinnati’s loss to the Rams on Apple.
Aye @MecoleHardman4 @cheetah dm me yall number and I’ll hook yall up wit them super bowl tickets on me 🤞🏿
— Eli Apple (@EliApple) January 31, 2022
Jan. 24, 2023: Apple repeatedly antagonizes Stefon Diggs, Shaq Lawson, and even Josh Allen on Twitter, telling Diggs, “Cancun on three.”