When it comes to people that you don’t want to pick a fight with, you usually think of someone that’s built like a professional athlete. Some people, though, throw caution to the wind and not only start fights with people that are built like an athlete, but actually are athletes. Across all sports, there have been many incidents between players and fans when it gets beyond simple heckling.
Sometimes, the fan will come out onto the playing surface to start a fight, while other times it’s the athlete that leaps up into the stands. It makes for some great television, but it’s always dangerous to mix pro athletes with thousands of fans that might have had too much to drink. Many of these moments live in infamy, even if we didn’t have multiple high definition cameras pointed at the incidents like we do now.
So let’s take a look back at some of the more memorable incidents where athletes got into actual fist fights with fans. For this list, we excluded incidents where things were simply thrown (such as snowballs or chairs). Each of these brawls had at least one punch thrown, which sometimes is all that’s really needed. Here are 15 athletes who had actual fist fights with fans.
19 Sasha Lakovic
We end our list with the late Sasha Lakovic, who passed away on April 25, 2017 at just 45 years old from brain cancer. Lakovic didn’t have a long NHL career with just 37 games played and four points, but he did serve plenty of penalty minutes. The most notable happened on November 23, 1996 in a game between the Calgary Flames (Lakovic’s team) and the Edmonton Oilers.
A drunk fan was shouting at the Flames bench, and eventually leaned over the glass and poured his drink on coach Guy Lapointe’s head. Lakovic didn’t hesitate in getting retaliation, jumping over the glass and throwing punches into the stands. Teammates and coaches had to use all of their strength to pull Lakovic back into the bench, and the enforcer was suspended for two games.
18 Eran Zahavi
While you might not know your Israeli Premier League soccer that well, you might recall a recent incident from 2014 that happened while Zahavi was playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv. In an early November match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, a shirtless fan made his way onto the pitch and confronted Zahavi. The two started to exchange blows, including Zahavi getting in some kicks (which seems pretty natural).
The conflict resulted in the referee ejecting Zahavi from the contest, but it didn’t end there. With the teams coming to blows with each other, there would eventually be more fans that entered the playing field. With all of the fans that kept making their way down from the stands, the referees eventually called the rest of the game off in a suspension.
17 Tie Domi
Staying in the world of hockey, we fast forward to 2001 in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers. While sitting in the penalty box, Tie Domi started to get into a heated conversation with a Flyers fan sitting behind him. Unhappy with how the conversation was going, Domi sprayed the fan (Chris Falcone) with a water bottle.
This prompted the fan to react negatively, leaping over two rows of people to get at Domi, leaning over the glass. The glass would give way as Falcone spilled into the penalty box and the two went at it. Security rushed over to the scene to break it up, but not before Falcone had suffered some lacerations as a result of the incident. Domi would eventually be fined $1,000 while the fan was only fined $150.
16 Indiana Pacers
Perhaps the most infamous incident between players and fans took place at the Palace of Auburn Hills in a game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers. It was so famous, in fact, that the incident was dubbed the “Malice at the Palace.” With the game in hand as the Pacers were leading by 15 with less than a minute, the two teams started to get a little chippy at each other, leading to Ron Artest lying on the scorer’s table.
A fan tossed a beverage at Artest, prompting him to erupt and head into the stands, punching the fan that he presumed made the throw. Things would only escalate as many players became involved in the fray, leading to a huge slew of suspensions. There were a total of 146 games worth of suspensions for the players, with Artest missing the rest of the season while Stephen Jackson picked up 30 games.
15 Ty Cobb
Though many consider him to be the greatest baseball player to ever live, Ty Cobb certainly had his fair share of controversial moments. None of them, perhaps, were as big as when Cobb assaulted a handicapped fan. While playing at Hilltop Park in New York, Cobb was being heckled by a fan named Claude Lucker. Lucker only had two fingers after a printing accident, but wasn’t afraid of jeering the ballplayer.
Cobb got fed up and rushed into the stands, clearing a dozen rows to reach Lucker. Cobb brutally assaulted the fan and was subsequently suspended for his actions. At one point during the melee, Cobb was told by another fan that Lucker had no hands, to which he responded “I don’t care if he has no feet.”
14 Los Angeles Dodgers
In an afternoon game between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on May 17, 2000, things started to get testy between fans and the Dodgers bullpen. While Wrigley Field no longer has the bullpen on the field, the stadium did before the 2017 season. According to those on the Dodgers, they said that an intoxicated fan stole Chad Kreuter’s hat and hit him in the process.
Members of the Dodgers rushed into the stands, including Kreuter who was trying to get his hat back. Even manager Davey Johnson entered the scene, as fisticuffs and alcohol started spilling out in the stands. All in all, 19 players were penalized for the brawl that set a record for most suspensions in one fracas.
12 Charles Barkley
In the rare event of an athlete actually getting physical and punching a fan, it’s usually a one-off thing. That was not the case for NBA legend Charles Barkley, however. Barkley revealed that he has actually been arrested eight times for punching fans. Barkley made this admission on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” when discussing Johnny Manziel hurling a water bottle at a heckler.
Barkley didn’t look back on his fights with fans with any regret, either, saying that “every single one of them deserved it.” Barkley added that fans can be reckless, and that “Some of these people would spit on you if they could. Some of them don’t like you because you’re rich or successful; some of them don’t like you because you’re black. If they harass you, you have the human right to beat them down, plain and simple.”
10 Kansas City Royals
While you can argue whether or not certain fans deserved the attacks that they got from athletes, there is no doubt about this one. In the ninth inning of a September 2002 game between the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals, television crews were shocked when two men charged at Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. The 34 year old William Ligue and his son were the culprits in this situation, attacked Gamboa mercilessly.
What happened next was instant justice, as the entire Royals bench rushed to the scene and attacked the father-son duo back. Ligue said that Gamboa was heckling fans and flipping them the bird, but there was no evidence of that happening. Gamboa suffered from hearing damage and other minor injuries because of the assault, and showed why you don’t pick on one person that has a team of professional athletes ready to defend.
9 Vernon Maxwell
Needless to say, former Florida Gator Vernon Maxwell was not always everyone’s favorite player. Maxwell started his career with the Spurs before heading over to Houston to join the Rockets in 1990. 1995 would be a rough year for Maxwell, as his tenure with the Rockets came to an end because of a string of incidents. It all started in February, when Maxwell took out his anger on a fan in Portland.
The Rockets were losing by 27 in the fourth quarter when Maxwell went into the stands and punched a fan named Steve George, who said “Absolutely I’m pressing charges. He hit me square...I was hit by an NBA player in the face while I was sitting in Row L and I’m not happy.” Witnesses say that George simply said “Nice game” sarcastically about Maxwell having just five points.
8 Lincoln Kennedy
On November 22, 1999, the Denver Broncos won a home game in overtime against the rival Oakland Raiders, 27-21. The game was filled with wintry weather, with snow falling over the stadium. Some fans started to throw snowballs in the direction of the Raiders bench, which didn’t make the team too happy. Charles Woodson responded by throwing a snowball, hitting a woman in the face and getting charged for the incident.
The highlight of the incident, though, was when Lincoln Kennedy made his way into the stands and punched one of the fans that was tossing snowballs. Kennedy split the fan’s nose open after climbing over the six foot tall wall. Kennedy said that “I did something very unorthodox. I got hit by a number of snowballs and then got surrounded by a number of drunk fans and lost my temper.”
7 Terry O’Reilly
Apparently, people weren’t quite in the holiday spirit on December 23, 1979 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. After the contest between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers that ended in a 4-3 Bruins win, the two teams met at center ice with tempers flaring. Things were controlled while on the ice, but things would escalate quickly.
Fans started to heckle the Bruins as the players neared the glass. Terry O’Reilly would scale over the glass and start attacking a few of the fans, and many members of the Bruins joined him. The brawl spilled into several rows of seats as those that were hoping for some sort of sanity immediately left the section. Perhaps the best image is of the Rangers standing on the ice watching it all happen.
5 Rob Ray
Despite glass separating the crowd from the ice, it’s amazing how hockey has had some of the best athlete-fan fights. While Ray was playing for the Buffalo Sabres in an April 1992 game against the Quebec Nordiques, Ray had his most famous moment. A fan made his way onto the ice and headed toward the Sabres bench. Ray, who already had a reputation as being a bit of a hothead, responded.
Ray grabbed the fan and started going to town on him, throwing more than a dozen punches that didn’t miss the mark. Surprisingly, Ray didn’t get suspended for his actions by the NHL. Ray said that the fan “stared and looked around” and that the Sabres weren’t going to give him a chance to do anything, attacking the fan in a preemptive strike.
4 Reggie Smith
Dodgers outfielder Reggie Smith had his fair share of incidents with fans, including an altercation at Wrigley Field in 1978. The most notable fracas that Smith got into, however, came in September 1981. Smith was stretching in front of the dugout in the sixth inning when a fan started to heckle him. The fan, Michael Dooley, tossed a souvenir batting helmet at Smith that prompted a fight.
Smith ran up into the stands and started throwing punches at Dooley. The fight grew as more members of the Dodgers and more fans entered the mix. Smith was removed from the stadium while Dooley was sent to jail and then the hospital for injuries that he suffered. Dooley said that both the Dodgers and police officers were roughing him up, leading to those injuries. In a strange turn of fate, Smith would sign with the Giants to play his home games in the stadium where he had his infamous brawl.
3 Kellen Huston
In October 2003, the Nebraska Cornhuskers headed to Missouri in what was a Big 12 contest at the time. Missouri would come out on top, winning the game 41-24. The big win prompted many Missouri Tigers fans to make their way onto the playing field, which rubbed some Nebraska players the wrong way. That included cornerback Kellen Huston, who attacked a fan, knocking him down and running off to the locker room.
Matthew Scott was the fan in question, who ran toward Huston while pointing a finger at the football player. Video surfaced of the incident that Huston might have been able to get away with otherwise. There were many apologies issued on behalf of the Nebraska football program, and Huston was suspended for the next game.
2 Tony Phillips
While playing with the Chicago White Sox, Tony Phillips let his temper get the best of him on a Wednesday night game in Milwaukee. Phillips had been heckled by a 23 year old fan during the contest repeatedly. According to Phillips, the fan started to shout out racial slurs, as White Sox general manager Ron Schueler said that “It got to the point where it got awful personal.” Phillips said that he would see the fan after the game, but didn’t wait that long.
When Phillips was pulled in a substitution during the sixth inning, he headed over to the fan to confront him. Phillips got into a fist fight with the fan, which would eventually lead to a police investigation. An usher that was trying to break up the fight said that Phillips asked him not to intervene because he wasn’t done pummeling the fan.