Excelling in professional sports demands athletic ability, drive, and the ability to maintain performance under extreme pressure. However, sometimes the pressure becomes too much. As the outbursts below show, raw expressions of rage can be unleashed by reactions to bad calls, challenging situations, and the actions of other players.
10. Sergio Garcia’s Shoe Toss
Golf is generally thought of as a gentleman’s game, with a genteel atmosphere of hushed voices and verdant greens. Until it’s not. Throughout his career, Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia has had trouble keeping his cool when the game isn’t going his way. Perhaps his most famous tantrum came early in his career, at 1999’s World Match Play Wentworth tournament. He was only 19 at the time, but the rising golf star was playing at a high level. However, it didn’t take much to bring out his inner bratty teenager. After missing a shot that had bedeviled him all week, sending his ball off the tee of the 15th hole and into the trees in what was a very tight contest with Retief Goosen, Garcia’s rage bubbled over.
He took off one of his shoes and hurled it into a spectator area. When it was returned, courtesy of his manager, Garcia kicked the shoe, narrowly missing the head of match referee John Grant.
9. Roger Clemens Throws a Bat at Mike Piazza
Tensions were already high in Game 2 of the 2000 “subway series” World Series between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees, with the previous evening’s game having gone into extra innings, when Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza came up to bat in the first inning. Adding to the drama, earlier that summer, Roger Clemens had hit Piazza in the head with a fastball, resulting in a concussion that forced Piazza to skip the All-Star game. Piazza described that pitch, which could have caused even more serious injury, as “definitely intentional.”
As Piazza swung to hit the pitch, his bat shattered, sending wooden pieces toward the pitching mound. Clemens picked up a shard and threw it in the direction of Piazza, who was running for first base. While Clemens claimed, “there was no intent [to hit Piazza] there,” the benches emptied, and the moment would become one of the most memorable, and infamous, of the Subway Series, which the Yankees would go on to win.
8. Serena Williams Chews Out a Line Judge
The second set of the 2009 US Open womens’ semifinals was a hotly contested battle between defending champion Serena Williams and unseeded, unranked Kim Clijsters. Clijsters’ advance in the tournament had come as a bit of surprise. While she had won the 2005 US Open, the 2009 tournament was only her third since emerging from retirement. Nonetheless, Clijsters was off to a strong start, taking the first set 6-4.
The second set appeared to be leaning toward Clijsters as well, as Williams was serving at 5-6, 15-30. Williams faulted on her first serve. On the second serve, a line judge called a foot fault, making it a double-fault, a call rarely seen in tennis matches at this level. An angry Williams advanced toward the line judge, shaking the ball at her and unleashing an f-bomb laden rant, screaming, “I swear to God I’m [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat.” Williams was an assessed a code violation with a mandatory point penalty, and since this was match point, Clijsters won the match as a result. Williams, who apologized for her reaction but who also maintains that the call was a bad one, was fined $10,500 by the US Open for her outburst.
7. John McEnroe’s Swedish Meltdown
In 1984, John McEnroe was at the top of the tennis world, winning 78 out of 80 of the matches in which he competed. In addition to his spectacular record, his scrappy style (many tennis experts felt he lacked proper form) and angry demeanor, with several on-court outbursts, combined to make him a focal point in mens’ tennis.
While McEnroe’s explosive temper was demonstrated on numerous occasions, perhaps the most infamous display came at the 1984 Swedish Open. When the chair umpire calls McEnroe’s serve out, he approaches the judge and fumes, “That ball was right on the line, right on the line,” he yells. “You’ve made no mistakes in this match yet, right? No mistakes whatsoever?” When the umpire doesn’t respond, McEnroe continues, “Answer the question! The question jerk!” A few moments later, after losing his serve, McEnroe violently explodes, striking his tennis bag with his racket, swiping his racket across a table holding water before almost sitting down, then returning to strike the table, splashing spectators, which McEnroe claims included the King of Sweden, in the front row. McEnroe calls this tantrum his most embarrassing tennis moment, though he did ultimately win the tournament where it took place.
6. Jose Offerman’s Bat Attack
Exactly what happened during an infamous 2007 independent league baseball game between the Long Island Ducks and the Bridgeport Bluefish is still debated. Jose Offerman, a former All-Star in the latter stages of his baseball career, was hit by a pitch in the second inning. Bat in hand, Offerman charged the pitching mound. “I lost it for about 10 seconds,” Offerman would subsequently report.
Offerman claims that while he did charge the mound, he had a last minute change of heart and never swung his bat. John Nathans, catcher for the Bluefish, tells a different a different story. He says that when he ran to the mound to defend his pitcher, Offerman cracked him in the head with a baseball bat, causing postconcussion syndrome and ending Nathans’ professional baseball career. While the lack of video footage made determining the facts difficult, Offerman was arrested after the game based on witness statements. A jury later convicted him of assault (though found him not liable for battery), awarding Nathans $940,000 for his injuries.
5. Bobby Knight Throws a Chair
College basketball coach Bobby Knight was never known for his calm, detached demeanor during his team’s games. Angry pacing and aggressive yelling were the hallmarks of his coaching style. That’s how the 1985 game between Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue began as well. After one of Knight’s players, forward Daryl Thomas, was whistled for his second (questionable) foul of the game, Knight Knight exploded. Cursing audibly from the sideline, he was given a technical foul.
Continuing to the berate the referee, Knight furiously picks up a chair and chucks it across the court. The outburst would earn him a total of three technical fouls and ejection from the game. Knight departed to cheers from the crowd and the Indiana fight song, though the Hoosiers subsequently lost the game. Knight’s temper would eventually be his undoing; after being placed on “zero tolerance” probation after choking a student, Knight allegedly grabbed another student and lectured him about the need to show respect. IU President Myles Brand promptly fired Knight.
4. Mike Tyson Bites Evander Holyfield’s Ear
Boxing is, by nature, a violent sport. However, even boxing fans were shocked by what they witnessed in 1997’s World Boxing Association heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas, NV. The fight was a rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. The two fighters had last met in the ring the previous November, where Holyfield had badly beaten Tyson.
The match was not going Tyson’s way. In the first two rounds, all official cards showed Holyfield ahead. Tyson had sustained a gash over his eye and was angry that what he saw as head-butts from Holyfield (including the exchange that had produced the gash) were not addressed by the referee. Speaking about the fight subsequently, Tyson explained his anger, saying, “He butted me in the second round and he butted me again…nobody would help me. This is my career? What am I supposed to do?” Definitely not what he ended up doing: biting Holyfield in the ear, tearing out a portion. Warned by the referee, Tyson then bit Holyfield again and was disqualified. He exited the arena to boos and had to be restrained from confronting a fan who threw a bottle at him.
3. Izzy Alcantara’s Face Kick
One of baseball’s most infamous brawls occurred during a July 2001 minor league game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Red Sox player Izzy Alcantara, the league home run and batting average leader, came up to bat and became enraged when Red Barons pitcher Blas Cedeno brushed him back with an inside pitch.
While it’s not entirely unheard-of for batters to charge the mound after being hit by a pitch, Alcantara took his revenge to a whole new level. Alcantara did head toward the mound to take a swing at Cedeno, but not before karate kicking Red Barons catcher Jeremy Salazar in the facemask. A benches-clearing brawl ensued and 4 players, including Cedeno and Alcantara, received fines and suspensions for their participation in the melee.
2. Zenedine Zidane’s Headbutt
Zenedine Zidane had a long and distinguished professional football career, having been recognized for his unparalleled technical prowess as an attacking midfielder. His 2001 contract with Real Madrid, made him the most expensive footballer in the world at the time.
So when Zidane emerged from retirement to play for his native France in the 2006 World Cup, it seemed like the perfect capstone to his storied football career. The fairy tale ending appeared within reach as France advanced, eventually facing off with Italy in the finals. Zidane played admirably throughout the match, but regulation time ended with the fairly evenly matched teams tied at 1.
As the game moved into extra time, things started to go wrong for Zidane. Italian defender Marco Materazzi had dogged the French squad throughout the game with his persistent and aggressive style. After Zidane and Materazzi tangled just outside France’s 18 yard box, the trash talk between the two players escalated, with Materazzi allegedly insulting Zidane’s sister. Zidane lost it, leveling Materazzi with a headbutt to the chest. Zidane received a red card for his actions, ejected minutes before he could realize what he had no doubt envisioned as a triumphant end to his professional career. In his absence, France fell 5-3 to Italy on penalties.
1. Ron Artest and the “Malice at the Palace” Brawl
On November 19, 2004, the Detroit Pistons were on the cusp of losing to their division rivals, the Indiana Pacers. With less than a minute left, the Pistons were down by 15. Pistons center Ben Wallace headed for a layup, only to be bumped from behind by the Pacers’ Ron Artest (who now goes by “Metta World Peace”). Wallace responded by hitting Artest in the throat, sending him backwards. Though the situation seemed volatile, Artest had moved to the scorers’ table while the referees attempted to restore order.
That’s when the fans got involved, with one tossing a cup of beer that hit Artest. Furious, Artest, along with several other players, entered the stands, throwing punches and looking for retribution. The 90-second brawl that ensued would result in a total of 146 games worth of suspensions for nine players on both teams, with the toughest penalty falling on Artest, who was suspended for the rest of the season, missing out on 86 games and nearly $5 million in lost salary. Confronted with negative press, including video footage of the scary and volatile atmosphere of the incident that would be known as “Malice at the Palace,” the NBA implemented changes, increasing security, adding a new fan code of conduct, and restricting the sale of alcohol late in the game.