There are clear lines in the world of sports. Fans and athletes are sometimes like an unfriendly, snooping pair of neighbours. You stay on your side of the fence and I’ll stay on mine. But what happens when those lines are blurred or outright ignored? What happens when sports fans cross the proverbial or, more problematically, the literal fence into the realm of athletes? Conversely, what happens when athletes jump into the stands? Nothing good ever seems to come of it.
From vicious stabbings to uncontrollable brawls to beatings with one’s own shoes: sheer pandemonium ensues when the worlds of fans and athletes collide. Fans and athletes are not just strange bedfellows, they’re violent bedfellows. Moreover, fans and athletes don’t even have to interact in the physical realm for chaos to arise. The Internet, and specifically Twitter, has facilitated greater fan-athlete interaction, to mixed results. Sometimes it leads to joking, friendly wagers, sometimes to threats of lawsuits.
I must also admit that it is important to not let my cynical approach here overshadow all the good that athletes have done for their fans over the years: from visiting terminally ill children in the hospitals to donating much of their time and money to philanthropic efforts. That’s not to mention the multiple times athletes have rescued stranded fans along highways after big wins and losses. That said, perhaps it is time for sports fans to admit that they should simply leave athletes alone on their pedestal.
P.S. I do have to admit that I did leave out my personal favourite fan-athlete interaction of all time off this list. Sorry, Mr. Tie Domi, I couldn’t include your thrashing of a Flyers fan in lieu of Mr. Milbury’s footwear beating. As Domi stated at the time, “Nice to see the fans getting involved.”
10 The Tweet Heard around the “Center of the Hockey World”
Love triangles are dangerous. They have pointy edges, sharper than a skate’s blade. And they cut deep, especially fictional love triangles that are complicated by an interloper. During TSN’s annual trade centre broadcast, an offensive tweet was inadvertently aired from Leafs’ fan Anthony Adragna concerning Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf and his wife Elisha Cuthbert. Adragna and TSN were both forced into offering contrite apologies after the powerful and wealthy trio threatened legal action for defamation of character.
Adragna wrote, “I now realize that everything I post online is not just for a select few, but in fact, the entire world to see.”
He won’t be the first or the last to learn this lesson the hard way.
9 Never Tweet & Bet
A true friend always sticks by his friends in the good times, but especially during the bad. In 2012, Aaron Rodgers was simply defending his friend Ryan Braun, who had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, when things went awry. Enter Todd Sutton, hardly an Internet troll (he had never tweeted Rodgers before), who called Rodgers “delusional” for his unwavering support of Braun. Rodgers tweeted back that he was willing to put a year’s salary on Braun being exonerated- approximately $8.5 million. When Braun accepted his suspension, Rodgers was caught in the middle, and Sutton’s number of twitter followers exploded. Though Sutton called Rodgers response “arrogant”, he did let the QB off the hook (somewhat) by stating that he’d just take a “game check” (around $300 000).
8 Money & Milestones
When Derek Jeter smashed his 3000th hit into the stands at Yankee stadium, the baseball gods chose the perfect recipient to recover it: Christian Lopez of Highland Mills, New York. Instead of cashing in the ball for a windfall of around $250,000 (US), Lopez, who owed around $100,000 in student loans, returned the ball in exchange for Yankees’ tickets and game paraphernalia valued at $70,000.
“Mr. Jeter deserved it. Yeah, money is cool and all, but I’m only 23 years old. I have a lot of time to make that. His accomplishment is a milestone.” As to be expected, there was a certain level of wild pandemonium that ensued when the ball entered the stands. Luckily for Lopez, he had experience in these types of unrestrained scrums, having played defensive tackle in college, and was able to escape with the ball. “I’ve been on the bottom of the pile a few times, so it wasn’t really anything different. I’m just happy no one swung. But security was right there. In a second they were dragging me up the stairs.”
7 Green with Envy
Since 2009, if you were unlucky enough to be a member of an opposing team and you got sent to the penalty box in Vancouver, you more than earned your two minutes of punishment. The Green Men undoubtedly had many NHL players seeing red. With their wacky (attempts at) gymnastics, (half) witty signs and (far too) tight neon clothing, the Green Men became a fixture at Canucks home games. Their most memorable and hilarious moments involved Dustin Byfuglien, Jack Johnson and Mike Komisarek. Sadly, the Green Men are hanging up their, um, skates at the end of the 2014-15 season, in honour of the end of their favourite show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
6 Puck Karma
I don’t necessarily believe in karmic retribution. But after watching Steve Sullivan’s interactions with a Colorado fan in 2001, I might have to become a believer. After getting knicked with a high stick, Sullivan was mercilessly mocked by the fan and the two exchanged pleasantries as Sullivan was escorted to the dressing room for repairs.
This might have gone unnoticed had it not been for later in the game when a Patrick Roy clearing attempt drilled our polite friend the fan. Sullivan skated over and returned the favour, mocking the fan and leading to not one, but two hilarious reactions. The first was obviously from the fan, but the second was from his significant other who, after discovering that her boyfriend/husband had “just been cruelly mocked on national television by a professional athlete, does the only thing you could reasonably expect under the circumstances: She immediately sells her man out by haphazardly mashing a towel into his eyes while giving Sullivan an enthusiastic thumbs-up.” And, just to add insult to injury (literally), Sullivan scored two short-handed goals during the game.
5 Milbury’s Fury
Sometimes you beat a man with your words, sometimes with your fists and sometimes with his shoes. After taking down the Rangers 4-3 on the ice, all but one of the Boston Bruins players jumped off the ice and into the stands to pummel the fans. The melee ensued after Rangers fan John Kaptain whacked Bruins enforcer Stan Jonathan with a game program, drawing blood, and stole his stick. Jonathan’s teammate Terry O’Reilly later stated, “There was no way he was going to strike one of my teammates and steal his stick, wield it like a weapon and then disappear into the crowd and go to a local bar with a souvenir and a great story.”
Enter Milbury, who had already gone to the dressing room, but who “went from happy and content, and ready to go home for Christmas, to full combat mode in about 20 seconds.” Kaptain had managed to escape the fury of O’Reilly but he was captured a few rows up by Milbury. Three decades later, Milbury defended himself, stating, “If you watch the tape — and I can freely throw my teammates under the bus now after 30 years — people were throwing some serious shots down below us that were obscured by the fact that everybody was focusing on the idiot highest up in the stands hitting somebody with a shoe.”
Milbury was eventually suspended six games and O’Reilly was banned for eight even as the Bruins vociferously opposed both suspensions. The Kaptain family tried to sue the Bruins, though the suit was ultimately abandoned. No charges were ever laid against any players or fans and no one was seriously injured in the altercation. And they all lived happily ever after.
4 ‘The Luckiest Man on Earth’
It was Independence Day of 1939: war was brewing across the Atlantic as the Great Depression raged on. And yet all that outside sound and fury could not penetrate the faithful hearts at Yankee Stadium as they watched Lou Gehrig deliver ‘Baseball’s Gettysburg Address’. The naturally shy Gehrig was so moved by his ovation that he almost wasn’t able to speak. However, with the fans chanting his name, Lou received some last-minute encouragement from Yankees manager Joe McCarthy and approached home plate to address his adoring legions of fans.
Sportswriter Paul Gallico would write, "The clangy, iron echo of the Yankee stadium, picked up the sentence that poured from the loud speakers and hurled it forth into the world ... 'The luckiest man on the face of the earth ... luckiest man on the face of the earth ... luckiest man ..." While some could argue that there was very little actual interaction between fans and athletes here, I contend that the emotion and heartfelt sentiments that permeated the entire stadium that day more than justifies the Gehrig speech’s inclusion on this list.
3 Gunter Parche Stabs Monica Seles
On April 30th, 1993 tennis superstar Monica Seles was brutally stabbed by Gunter Parche, a mentally deranged man who was obsessed with Seles’ rival Steffi Graf. “The incident happened at a changeover as the then 19-year-old world number one was sitting in her seat. Parche reached over a three-foot high fence, plunging a boning knife between Seles’ shoulder blades to a depth of 1.5 centimeters. The teenager screamed, staggered forward and fell onto the court.”
As of 2013, Parche reportedly remains incapacitated at a German nursing home after suffering several strokes, though shockingly he was never sentenced to any jail time. Seles was never the same again, unable to return to tennis for two years and completely disenchanted with player security and the German legal system. “What people seem to be forgetting is that this man stabbed me intentionally and he did not serve any sort of punishment for it.”
2 The Malice at the Palace
No one was hit with a shoe in the Pacers-Pistons Brawl in 2004, but the NBA was definitely slapped in the face. While Milbury and company only received a combined twenty game suspension from the NHL, this brawl in Detroit eventually resulted in nine players being suspended a total of 149 games and cost them a combined eleven million dollars in lost salary. The stark disparity between the severity of the punishments is startling and while the Milbury incident occurred during a different era, there is no doubt that race was factor in the Detroit incident and, perhaps, influenced the resulting punishments.
“… The Palace incident was a culmination of what most people had come to expect from NBA players… You had young, black men making millions of dollars, unafraid to flaunt it with gaudy platinum chains and throwback jerseys -- an image the NBA attempted to dissolve by instituting a dress code a year after the Palace brawl.” The brawl was the beginning of a dark era between the players and fans and its echoes still reverberate today.
1 Steve Bartman
You’ve got to feel for the guy, he just wanted his chance at a little piece of history and, like any of us, he grasped for it when it landed right in front him. In October of 2003, Steve Bartman became the most infamous fan in the history of American sports after he interfered with Moises Alou’s attempt to catch a foul ball during Game Six of the NLCS. The Chicago Cubs were up by three and a mere five outs away from the their first World Series appearance in 58 years. Florida would come back to win the game and the series; Chicago has yet to win a playoff game since.
Bartman still lives in Chicago, but reportedly has yet to return to Wrigley Field, despite numerous overtures from the Cubs. He has turned down over 200 interview requests and hundreds of thousands of dollars in opportunities stemming from the incident. Despite the fact that he had to be disguised by security when leaving the game, most Chicagoans and Cubs fans express remarkable sympathy for Bartman. One lifelong fan, restaurateur Grant DePorter, paid $114,000 (US) for the Bartman ball, destroyed it in a seemingly futile attempt to banish the curse and used the scraps in a spaghetti sauce. Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes believes, “welcoming [Bartman] would be more appropriate after we win. You almost have to wait until you enjoy the pinnacle and then it’s like, let’s forgive this poor guy.”