I’m sure by now we’re all familiar with the incident involving Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman and linesman Don Henderson. While heading off for a line change, Wideman appeared to recklessly and intentionally cross-check Henderson to the ice. He didn’t even bother to look back to see if the official was alright before heading to the bench. Henderson spent the night in the hospital. The NHL promptly suspended Wideman and after a hearing with disciplinarian Colin Campbell, he was handed a 20 game ban.
There are several factors the league had to consider here. Firstly, prior to the incident, Wideman took a big hit from Nashville Predators forward Miikka Salomaki and according to the Flames he did suffer a concussion even though he remained in the game. So, it’s possible that Wideman wasn’t entirely aware of his actions at the time. However, the league can’t simply chalk this act up to a concussion and let him off scot-free. Even if Wideman was concussed, there’s simply no way to know exactly what symptoms he was displaying and what role they played in his actions.
The NHL also had to deal with the pressure of the NHL Officials Association who wanted them to come down hard on Wideman. Taking in all factors, Colin Campbell chose the easiest possible route and invoked rule 40.2 which calls for an automatic 20 game suspension for abuse of an official. Now Wideman will appeal the decision and we’ll wait to see if it gets reduced.
This was an incident like no other, but it was hardly the first confrontation between an athlete and a referee. Here is a look at the 20 worst, but we should warn you, some of these are quite gruesome and not for the faint of heart.
20. Rajon Rondo’s homophobic slur
Earlier this season, Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo was ejected from a game against the Boston Celtics and then directed a homophobic slur towards referee Bill Kennedy. Kennedy came out as gay a short time later. Rondo was suspended by the NBA for one game for the incident. He then took to Twitter to an offer a non-apology saying, “My actions during the game were out of frustration and emotion, period!… They absolutely do not reflect my feelings towards the LBGT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.”
After receiving severe backlash for failing to actually say he was sorry, Rondo issued a longer statement to clarify his comments and apologize, although he never apologized to Kennedy directly.
19. The Alex Burrows and Stephane Auger feud
During a January, 2010 game between the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators, the Predators scored the game-winning goal on the power play while Canucks agitator Alex Burrows was in the penalty box. After the game, Burrows complained that referee Stephane Auger had told him in the pre-game warm-up that he was going to get him back for embarrassing the referee in a previous game. The NHL investigated but Auger received no discipline while Burrows was fined $2,500.
After a few more questionable officiating decisions, Auger retired at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season at the age of 41, although it was suspected and all but confirmed by NHL director of officials, Terry Gregson, that the retirement was forced upon him.
18. Serena Williams threatens lineswoman
During her semi-final match against Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open, Serena Williams slammed her racquet on the ground after losing the first set and received a warning with the potential to incur a one point penalty for a second violation. After being called for a foot fault in the second set, a frustrated Williams then yelled profanity at the lineswoman and threatened to shove the tennis ball down her throat. As the linesewoman conferred with other officials, Williams could be heard on television yelling at her, “I didn’t say I would kill you! Are you serious?”
Williams received a one point penalty for her outburst, giving the match victory to Clijsters. The next day she was fined $10,000 and an additional $500 for slamming her racquet. She was later fined an additional $82,500 and put on probation for two years. Although she first refused, Williams eventually offered a half-hearted apology saying, “I just really wanted to apologize sincerely, because I’m a very prideful person and I’m a very intense person and a very emotional person. I wanted to offer my sincere apologies to anyone that I may have offended.”
17. Joey Crawford challenges Tim Duncan
During an April 2007 game against the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan was ejected by referee Joey Crawford for laughing on the bench. Crawford claimed that Duncan had sworn at him, while Duncan said that the official challenged him to a fight. “He looked at me and said, ‘Do you want to fight? Do you want to fight?’ If he wants to fight, we can fight. I don’t have any problem with him, but we can do it if he wants to. I have no reason why in the middle of a game he would yell at me, ‘Do you want to fight?”‘
Crawford was suspended by the league for the balance of the regular season and playoffs following the incident while Duncan was fined $25,000 for verbal abuse of an official.
16. Delmon Young throws bat at umpire
Delmon Young was once the top prospect in all of baseball coming up in the Tampa Bay Rays system, but he also had a bit of a temper. During a 2006 game with the Triple A Durham Bulls, Young was ejected for arguing a called third strike with the umpire. After leaving the batter’s box, Young threw his bat and struck the umpire in the arm. He was suspended for 50 games and ordered to do at least 50 hours of community service. Young later apologized saying, “I’d like to say I’m sorry for this incident. I do regret this situation. I’m going to get through it. Today is just a new day, I’m going to get started today.”
15. Roberto Alomar spits in John Hirschbeck’s face
While playing for the Baltimore Orioles in September, 1996, second baseman Roberto Alomar got into an argument over a third strike call with John Hirschbeck and spit in the umpire’s face. Alomar tried to rationalize his actions by bringing up Hirschbeck’s son who had died from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) saying, “He had a problem with his family when his son died–I know that’s something real tough in life–but after that he just changed, personality-wise. He just got real bitter.” Herschbeck was restrained from going after Alomar in the locker room the next day and did not officiate the game.
Alomar was suspended for five games, but appealed the decision so that he could serve the suspension at the beginning of the following season. The Umpires Association threatened to go on strike if he wasn’t suspended immediately. Alomar tried to appease them by agreeing to donate $50,000 to ALD research and the Orioles matched the donation, but the umpires insisted on striking until a federal court judge ruled that it would violate their CBA. Alomar served his suspension in 1997 and he and Hirschbeck apologized to each other and shook hands before a game in April that year.
14. Paul Holmgren punches Andy Van Hellemond
Former Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was playing for the Flyers during the 1981-82 season when he instigated a fight with Paul Baxter of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Holmgren became angry after being given a game misconduct and punched referee Andy Van Hellemond in the chest. He was suspended six games for the incident and fined $500. The punishment upset the NHL Officials Association which threatened to go on strike if the suspension wasn’t increased. The NHL satisfied the officials by promising to hand out harsher punishment in the future and putting together a panel of 15 men to look at league disciplinary procedures.
13. Terry O’Reilly punches Andy Van Hellemond
In the spring following the Holmgren incident, Andy Van Hellemond was officiating the seventh and deciding playoff game between the Boston Bruins and Quebec Nordiques when a fight broke out between Bruins enforcer Terry O’Reilly and the Nordiques’ Dale Hunter. Van Hellemond tried to break up the bout, grabbing O’Reilly who tried to get away from the official and punched him in the face. O’Reilly boycotted the initial hearing with the league over the incident because he was angry at how the Bruins-Nordiques series, which the Bruins lost, had been officiated.
He was suspended indefinitely until another hearing could take place. O’Reilly attended a second hearing and was suspended for the first 10 games of the 1982-83 season and fined $500.
12. Jose Offerman punches an umpire
Former Major League infielder Jose Offerman, who in 2007 attacked a minor league pitcher with a bat, was managing the Licey Tigers in a Dominican Republic Winter League game in January, 2010 when his team’s catcher was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Offerman came out of the dugout and argued with first base umpire D.J. Reyburn before hitting him with a right hook, knocking the umpire to the ground. Offerman was then escorted out of the stadium by security and taken to the local police station. The next day, the American crew of umpires who had officiated the game resigned from their positions in the Dominican Winter League and fled the country out of concern for their safety. Offerman received a lifetime ban from the league, but was reinstated in February, 2013.
11. Cuban taekwondo specialist kicks referee in the face
At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Cuban Angel Valodia Matos was disqualified from his bronze medal match in taekwondo against Aman Chilmanov of Kazakhstan for taking too long of a timeout for an injury. An angered Matos then kicked referee Chakir Chelbat in the face, a blow that required stitches to the official’s mouth. Matos’ coach, Leodis Gonzalez, blamed the attack on the referee for being too strict with the injury rule. Chilmanov said he thought the injury was likely a broken toe that would keep Matos from finishing the bout. Matos and Gonzalez both received a lifetime ban from the sport from the World Taekwondo Federation and the decision was upheld by the International Olympic Committee.
10. Referee punches player, gets tackled by trainer
During a Junior A hockey game between the London Lakers and the Kingsville Kings this past November several fights broke out. Once the players fell to the ice during the bouts, the referees jumped in to intervene. One Lakers player was helped to his feet by a referee before the referee punched him in the face and the player laid motionless on the ice for several minutes. A Lakers trainer immediately ran from the bench and tackled the referee to the ice. The referee received a lifetime ban from the league while the trainer was suspended indefinitely, but later resigned from his position.
9. Texas High School Football Players tackle referee
During a football game this past September in San Antonio, Texas, two defensive backs for John Jay High School targeted referee Robert Watts in a game against Marble Falls High School. After the snap, the first player charged at the official from behind, knocking him to the ground before the second player lunged on top of him. Both players, Michael Moreno and Victor Rojas, have said the tackle was ordered by assistant coach Mack Breed and that Watts had been using racial slurs during the game. Watts denied the latter claim. The pair were suspended from the team and the school and Breed was put on administrative leave, but later resigned after admitting he had indeed ordered the hit.
8. Croatian boxer knocks out referee
After losing a 2014 light-heavyweight bout to Lithuanian Algirdas Baniulis at the European youth championships in Zagreb, Croatian boxer Vido Loncar attacked referee Maciej Dziurgot. Loncar punched Dziurgot in the face and as he fell to the ground, Baniulis scurried out of the ring while Loncar continued to pummel the referee until a pair of ringside officials grabbed Loncar and yanked him out of the ring feet first. Loncar and his coaches received a lifetime ban from the International Boxing Association (AIBA) with president Ching-Kuo Wu saying, “AIBA and the entire boxing family have zero tolerance for this sort of behavior.”
7. Maurice Richard punches Cliff Thompson
Maurice “the Rocket” Richard may be one of hockey’s all-time greatest goal scorers, but he also had a violent temper. Richard was fined multiple times for on-ice incidents by NHL President Clarence Campbell who he openly criticized in a weekly newspaper column. Richard’s behavior reached its tipping point during a game against the Boston Bruins on March 13, 1955. Bruins defenseman Hal Laycoe slashed Richard in the head and Richard attempted to slash him back. When linesman Cliff Thompson tried to intervene, Richard punched him in the face and he began bleeding from the eye.
Campbell suspended Richard for the balance of the regular season and playoffs – a total of 15 games – for the incident. The suspension incited a riot in Montreal where they believed their Francophone hero had been unfairly treated by the Anglophone community. Without Richard, the Canadiens still reached the 1955 Stanley Cup Final, but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
6. Billy Coutu goes after two referees
Former Boston Bruins defenseman Billy Coutu had a reputation for his rough play. On one occasion he brawled with teammate Eddie Shore in practice and nearly cost Shore an entire ear. On another occasion he was suspended one game for tripping a referee. However, it was Coutu’s actions at the conclusion of the 1927 Stanley Cup Final that cost him his NHL career.
At the end of Game 4, which the Bruins lost to the Ottawa Senators, Coutu started a bench clearing brawl allegedly at the request of coach Art Ross. He pushed referees Jerry Laflamme and Billy Bell into a corridor where he laid out Laflamme and challenged Bell to fight him. The incident resulted in NHL President Frank Calder handing Coutu the only lifetime ban in NHL history. Coutu played four more seasons in the minors and had his ban lifted a year after his retirement.
5. George Moriarty fights four White Sox players
George Moriarty was a fierce third baseman who later became an umpire. After officiating a Memorial Day game in 1932, he walked off the field to heckles from members of the Chicago White Sox who believed a controversial ball three call cost them the game. Moriarty yelled back that he would fight the whole team and was attacked by players Milton Gaston, Charlie Berry, Frank Grube, and player-manager Lew Fonseca, but allegedly fought the foursome to a draw. Gaston received a ten day suspension for the incident and the other three players where fined, while Moriarty received a public reprimand. Owners of the American League teams wanted to fire Moriarty, but he saved his job after going on a tour, giving lectures and reading his poetry at schools, American Legion banquets and other events.
4. Ty Cobb fights Billy Evans
Legendary outfielder Ty Cobb was prone to his own fits of rage throughout his career. While managing the Detroit Tigers during a game in 1921, Cobb argued with umpire Billy Evans over a third strike call before telling him that if it wasn’t for the threat of a suspension, he would beat the umpire up right there. Evans told Cobb that he would give him the chance and the two met in the umpire’s locker room after the game before making their way beneath the stands. Surrounded by players, the two fought in a bloodbath with Cobb knocking Evans to the ground, getting on top of him, and banging his head off the ground.
A groundskeeper eventually stepped in to stop the bout and after Cobb and Evans got cleaned up, the two shook hands in the Tigers’ locker room. Although they tried to keep word of their fight quiet, AL President Ban Johnson found out and suspended Cobb for the final few games of the season.
3. A recreation soccer player’s lethal punch
During a June 29, 2014 recreational soccer game in Detroit, Bassel Saad received a yellow card from referee John Bieniewicz. Bieniewicz was about to hand out a second yellow card for verbal abuse, which would’ve ejected Saad from the game, when Saad punched the referee. The 44-year-old Bieniewicz died from the blow two days later. Saad was initially charged with second degree murder, but the 37-year-old auto mechanic agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with the possibility of parole after eight. At the sentencing hearing, Bieniewicz’s widow pulled out a red card and told the judge, “It’s murder. It will always be murder in my eyes.”
2. Slovakian hockey player murders a referee
On April 23, 2009 Slovakian hockey player and former Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ladislav Ščurko confessed to the murder of referee Marek Liptaj in 2008. He said that Liptaj had been living with him and lying about having cancer. The two got into an argument while driving and Scurko used a kitchen knife to stab Liptaj 14 times. He then buried the referee’s body in a nearby forest. Scurko later claimed that he had been tricked by police and recanted his confession.
Scurko was convicted of the murder in 2012, but because psychiatric evaluations had found that he committed the crime in a state of diminished sanity, he was sentenced to just eight years in prison.
1. Referee kills players, mob kills referee
You might be wondering how any confrontation between an athlete and a referee can be worse than the stabbing death of Marek Liptaj, but what happened during a Brazilian soccer match in 2013 greatly surpasses it. During the game, referee Octavio da Silva handed player Josenir dos Santos a red card, ejecting him from the game. The two got into an argument and da Silva ended up stabbing dos Santos to death. What happened next was extremely gruesome. An angry mob of fans stormed the field and attacked the referee. They stoned him to death and quartered him and reportedly put his head on a stake in the middle of the field.
Sports are supposed to be about fun and entertainment. Athletes and referees are supposed to respect each other. They both work incredibly hard. Sports are not supposed to leave you feeling horrified by the barbaric things that can happen when things get out of hand, which is the case in the worst athlete/referee confrontation in sports history.
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