October 28, 2012
We often hear about sportsmanship being a key factor in athletics. When a losing opponent congratulates a winner, he or she is said to have good sportsmanship. When a winner snubs a loser or vice versa, we talk about a blatant lack of sportsmanship. This usually deals with the behavior of the athlete or the team involved after the event has taken place, not during it. Lately Reggie Bush had gotten into the mix with his comments about the Jets, while Ndamukong Suh’s stomping of a Green Bay offensive lineman on Thanksgiving last year is not easily forgotten. Suh got in the mix again on Monday night against the Bears with a hit on Jay Cutler, adding to an already superheated rivalry.
Too often we see sportsmanship get tied up with cheap shots, when players, either out of frustration, stupidity, or both, take runs at other players to attempt to injure them. We’ve seen plenty of superstars and star talent get wiped out by these sorts of incidents, and careers have been ended from issues like the ones we’ll discuss. So take a look at some of the most heinous cheap shots in the history of sports:
Dale Hunter, Washington Capitals: Hunter was known as a rough and tumble sort of player, as he is second in NHL history with 3565 penalty minutes. He also did have some offensive talent, as he amassed 1020 points in 1407 NHL contests spanning from 1980-1999. However, he is best remembered for one incident in particular.
In game six of the Patrick Division semifinals between the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders, Hunter flattened Isles C Pierre Turgeon with a violent cross check as Turgeon was celebrating a goal that would ultimately clinch the series for the Islanders. Turgeon sustained a separated shoulder, missed all of the second round series with the Penguins, and most of the conference finals with the eventual Cup winning Canadiens.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the league, suspended Hunter for the first 21 games of the 1993-94 season, at the time the longest suspension in league history. Hunter would try to say that he didn’t know Turgeon had scored, and didn’t see the light go on. Here is a clip of the incident:
Kermit Washington, Los Angeles Lakers: On December 9, 1977 in a game between the Houston Rockets and the Lakers, Washington drilled Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch. Rudy Tomjanovich only wanted to break up a fight between a teammate and Washington. He had run some distance to midcourt. Shadowy videotape of the moment shows Tomjanovich raising his hands in self-defense as he sees Washington’s punch coming. That, he doesn’t remember. He does remember asking the Rockets’ trainer: “What happened, Trick, did the scoreboard fall on me?”
Washington’s punch, a straight right, had landed square in Tomjanovich’s face. A doctor would explain that Tomjanovich’s injuries were those of a man who had been thrown through an automobile windshield at 50 mph. Abdul-Jabbar would say the sound of Washington’s fist against Tomjanovich’s face was that of “melon landing on concrete.”
As Tomjanovich lay unconscious, blood spread under his head. Facial bones were broken, his skull displaced. Worse, spinal fluid was leaking into the skull capsule. That night, December 9, 1977, he might have died on a basketball floor. Washington was suspended 25 games, while Tomjanovich missed the rest of the 77-78 season, spent two weeks in the hospital, had five surgeries to reconstruct his face, and was never the same player again, retiring due to injuries in 1981.
Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans: Haynesworth has become a beast at defensive tackle, helping anchor the Tennessee defense the past year or two. However, he does have an ugly incident in his own past: On October 1, 2006, in the third quarter of a game against the Cowboys, running back Julius Jones scored on a running play. Center Andre Gurode fell to the ground, and his helmet was removed by Haynesworth.
According to DallasCowboys.com columnist Mickey Spagnola, Haynesworth reached down and pulled off his helmet; in video evidence of the play, Haynesworth does indeed bend down towards Gurode prior to his helmet being off and prior to the stomps, although because the view is partially blocked by other players it cannot be seen whether he manually removes the helmet. However, most media outlets reported simply that Gurode’s helmet was off.
Haynesworth tried to stomp on Gurode’s head, but missed. A second stomp opened a severe wound on Gurode’s forehead, narrowly missing his right eye. Haynesworth was hit with a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. In the midst of his protest, he took off his helmet and threw it to the ground, which led to another 15-yard penalty and Haynesworth’s ejection from the game. Gurode later received 30 stitches just above and below his right eye. After the game, Titans coach Jeff Fisher apologized on behalf of the Titans organization to Cowboys coach Bill Parcells.
Haynesworth apologized after the game, saying words cannot describe how he felt. He was quoted as saying “What I did out there was disgusting.”
Haynesworth was suspended for five games, and forfeited nearly $190,000 in salary.
Dennis Rodman, Chicago Bulls: In just one of many potential Rodman incidents, this one stands out to me the most. On January 16, 1997, at the Target Center, in the third quarter of what would be a 112-102 Bulls win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rodman, after tumbling out of bounds, kicked cameraman Eugene Amos square in the groin. Due to the history of Rodman’s antics, he was suspended for a minimum of eleven games, fined 25,000 bucks and forfeited nearly a million bucks in salary. He also agreed to pay Amos $200,000 after the incident.
Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers: Hextall, known as an aggressive goaltender, reached the pinnacle of that with this cheap shot of Chris Chelios in the 89 Wales Conference Finals.
Hextall owns the league record for PIM by a goalie in a season with 113 in 1988-89. The background on the incident was this: In the closing minutes of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens that season, Hextall, his team already down 3 games to 2 and trailing 4-2 on the scoreboard, whacked his stick and blocker pad at Canadien defenseman Chris Chelios, apparently in retaliation for Chelios’ illegal, yet unpenalized, hit that left the Flyers’ Brian Propp with a concussion in Game 1. Hextall received a five-minute major and a match penalty for the incident, and was suspended for the first 12 games of the 1989-90 season.
Latrell Sprewell, Golden State Warriors: Though a four-time All-Star, Sprewell’s career has been permanently overshadowed by an incident on December 1, 1997, in which he attacked head coach P. J. Carlesimo during a Warriors practice. When Carlesimo yelled at Sprewell to make crisper passes (specifically asking him to “put a little mustard” on a pass), Sprewell responded that he was not in the mood for criticism and told the coach to keep his distance. When Carlesimo approached, Sprewell threatened to kill him and dragged him to the ground by his throat, choking him for 10-15 seconds before his teammates pulled Sprewell off his coach. Sprewell returned about 20 minutes later and landed a glancing blow at Carlesimo before being dragged away again.
Sprewell was suspended for 10 days without pay. The next day, in the wake of a public uproar, the Warriors voided the remainder of his contract, which included $23.7 million over three years, and the NBA expelled him from the league. Sprewell took the case to arbitration, and, as a result, the contract voiding was overturned and the league suspension was reduced to the remainder of the season. Sprewell did not play again until January 1999, after the Warriors traded him to the New York Knicks for John Starks, Chris Mills and Terry Cummings.
Tie Domi, Toronto Maple Leafs: Normally I would not single out a Leaf due to my affiliation with the franchise, but Domi would be an exception simply due to the fact that he was an aggressive player. Domi was the quintessential enforcer despite being undersized at 5’10, 200 pounds.
The incident I refer to here is known as “The Philadelphia Incident.” In the 2000-01 season in Philadelphia, during a game between the Leafs and Flyers, Domi, sitting in the penalty box, had sprayed a heckler with his water bottle, when an intoxicated Philadelphia Flyers fan begin yelling at him and banging on the glass. The glass panel gave way, and the fan fell into the box. The fan was not only pinned by Domi, but also took a few light punches from him. No formal charges were laid, but the fan was ejected from the building, and Domi was fined (but not suspended) by the NHL. Domi also took an eight game suspension in 1995 for sucker punching Rangers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson in the back of the head.
Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver Canucks: On February 16, 2004, during a Vancouver-Colorado game, Avalanche center Steve Moore injured Canucks team captain Markus Näslund by checking him in the head area while Näslund was reaching for a puck ahead of him with his head down. Näslund, the league’s leading scorer at the time, suffered a minor concussion and a bonechip in his elbow as a result of the hit, knocking him out of the lineup for three games. Referee Dan Marouelli did not call a penalty, which drew the ire of many Canucks, but the league ruled that Marouelli was correct in his judgment; it was ruled a legal hit bearing no punishment.
Canucks head coach Marc Crawford publicly criticized the non-call, claiming that Marouelli and his partner, Rob Martell, needed to show “respect” for the league’s leading scorer. General manager Brian Burke, the league’s former chief disciplinarian, called the play “a headhunting hit.” Canucks players issued a “bounty” on Moore’s head with Bertuzzi calling Moore “a piece of shit.”
During another Vancouver-Colorado game three weeks after the Naslund hit, on March 8, 2004, Moore fought Matt Cooke in the first period. Late in the third period, Bertuzzi began following Moore down the ice and tried to start a fight. When Moore ignored him, Bertuzzi grabbed hold of Moore’s jersey, and punched Moore in the side of the head. Moore, who was 45 pounds lighter than Bertuzzi, fell to the ice with Bertuzzi’s weight driving him headfirst into the ice.
At this point, Moore’s Colorado teammates retaliated against Bertuzzi, jumping on the prone Moore and Bertuzzi. Moore suffered three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a grade three concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, and facial cuts.
On 10 March 2004, Bertuzzi scheduled a press conference where he emotionally apologized to Moore and his family, as well as to Burke, Canucks owner John McCaw, the Canucks organization, his teammates, and the fans. “I’m truly sorry. I don’t play the game that way, I’m not a mean-spirited person. And I’m sorry for what happened.”
Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely by the NHL, and lost approximately US$500,000 in pay. The Vancouver Canucks were also fined US$250,000, on 11 March 2004 for “…failure to prevent the atmosphere that may have led to [the incident].”