Last night's Marcus Smart incidenthas started a lot of discussion among sports fans and members of the media. Is there a limit on what paying fans can say to players? Is there anything that warrants a player confronting a fan in the stands? What should the punishments for Smart and fan Jeff Orr be?
Naturally, the incident also reminded us of a number of other events over the last few years, notably the "Malice in the Palace" during that fateful Pistons-Pacers game in 2004. Since 2001, we've seen a number of these ugly events occur in American sports. Here's a summary.
March 29, 2001 - Tie Domi and a fan fight in the penalty box:
Canadian hockey player Tie Domi spent 17 years in the NHL as one of the league's toughest enforcers, and during one game against the Philadelphia Flyers as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, things got ugly after he made it to the penalty box. While serving a penalty, Domi got into it with heckling Flyers fans, squirting water at them, when one fan leaned over the glass, shattered the barrier, and fell into the box with Domi. Both men were restrained and punished for the scene.
After the game, Domi spoke about defending himself in that situation: "It's my work, nobody's going to come in my work... if he wants to come in here, he's going to have to pay the price...I'm not going to let anybody swing at me. I don't care who it is."
September 19, 2002 - Fans run on the field and attack Tom Gamboa:
During a game in Chicago between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals, things turned ugly when two Sox fans ran onto the field and attacked unsuspecting Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa from behind. At first, the attacker, William Ligue Jr., stated that he and his son attacked because Gamboa had made a gesture towards them, but later retracted that story and admitted to having a drug problem.
October 11, 2003 - Nebraska's Kellen Huston knocks out a celebrating fan on the field:
Situations where fans rush the field or the court after a win are often thought of as dangerous, especially with tensions running high, and these worries became reality in 2003 after Missouri upset No. 21 Nebraska 41-24. After the game, Tigers fans stormed the field to celebrate, and things got ugly. Cornhuskers cornerback Kellen Huston punched Mizzou fan Matthew Scott, knocking him unconscious and breaking his nose.
Nebraska suspended Huston for a game, but Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson was sure to mention how "out of control" the field-storming became: "I was at the edge of the field, and I have never personally witnessed such an out-of-control situation. It may be easy to sit in your living room and watch what you think you see on television, but be careful to judge others too quickly."
September 13, 2004 - Frank Francisco throws a chair into the stands:
Responding to an argument between teammate Doug Brocail and a fan at a game between the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics, Texas reliever Frank Francisco emerged from the dug-out and whipped a metal folding chair into the stands, striking fan Jennifer Bueno, breaking her nose and leaving a deep cut which required stitches.
Francisco was arrested after the incident, suspended for the rest of the season, and had to take part in anger management classes as a result.
November 19, 2004 - Malice in the Palace:
This is probably the most famous incident between players and fans at a sporting event in the history of American sports. While a fight between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons had broken out on the court, Pacers forward Ron Artest attempted to recuse himself from the situation by lying on the scorer's table. He was then hit with a drink by a fan in the stands, and quickly jumped into the crowd, sparking a huge brawl between players and fans on national television.
Nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games after the incident, and five fans were charged with crimes and banned from Pistons games. Earlier this season, in reflecting back on his 30 years as NBA commissioner, David Stern referred to the Pacers-Pistons brawl as the "toughest" crisis he had to handle as commissioner.
April 14, 2005 - Gary Sheffield is swiped at by fan at Fenway Park:
The Ron Artest fight may have prevented one in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. During a game at Fenway Park, Gary Sheffield was swiped at by a Red Sox fan while fielding a ball by the wall. Sheffield yelled at the fan after knocking his hand away, and security helped calm the situation down. After the game, the outfielder admitted that things could have worse, wrote Mark Feinsand:
Sheffield's first reaction was to go after the fan who had just whacked him, but two words jumped out in the outfielder's mind that made him hold himself back: Ron Artest. "That's the first thing that came to my mind," Sheffield said. "Don't react. So that's what I did."
September 3, 2009 - LeGarrette Blount punches Boise State player after loss, restrained from taunting fans:
Following an early season loss at Boise State, star Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched Broncos linebacker Byron Hout in the face after Hout appeared to have taunted him. Blount then appeared unconscionable, fighting with teammates and having to be restrained as the Ducks left the field. At one point, it looked like Blount may try to go after Boise State fans.
After the game, according to an ESPN.com article by Ivan Maisel, Blount claimed that fans were threatening to hit him with a chair, and one punched him as he exited the field. Blount was suspended for ten games, and the despite being a top college running back, he went undrafted by the 32 NFL teams in 2010.