When Sports Stars Attack: Five Times Athletes Lost Their Cool

  • A UK darts player was suspended this week for punching an opponent
  • Eric Cantona served an eight-month ban for kung-fu kicking a fan
  • A brawl during an NBA game led to five players receiving assault charges
  • Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during their rematch
  • Zinedine Zidane was sent off for a headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final
  • An NHL player was hit with lawsuits after punching a fan during a game
Eric Cantona kick
Many prominent sports stars have a reputation for being hotheads, with their tempers sometimes spilling over into violence.

Hot heads

Athletes can be very high-strung individuals, especially when things aren’t going their way. Every sport has certain characters with a reputation for losing their cool. Whether this results in smashed equipment, verbal confrontations, or even fights, there have been many jaw-dropping incidents over the years.

punched his opponent after losing in a small-scale county match

One of the most recent hot-headed moments involved professional darts player Adam Smith-Neale. Video footage circulating on social media shows the Englishman punching his opponent after losing a small-scale county match earlier this week:

The 30-year-old already didn’t have the best reputation, with former professional player Paul Nicholson saying last year that he is “universally unpopular” on the scene. The Darts Regulation Authority (DRA) has suspended the world number 82 following the latest incident.

After seeing this shocking footage, we began to think about other occasions when sports stars have lost their cool. Here are five of them:

Kung-fu Cantona

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona was always a maverick. However, manager Alex Ferguson famously let him do what he wanted as long as he kept performing on game days. That seemed to work well until he got tangled up in an unsavory incident with a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park.

he jumped into the crowd and kung-fu kicked one of the fans

United were on the hunt for a third consecutive English Premier League title when they came up against Palace in the 1994/1995 season. Referee Alan Wilkie sent off Cantona for kicking his marker and as the Frenchman made his way toward the tunnel, he jumped into the crowd and kung-fu kicked one of the fans:

Cantona then punched the man who had reportedly told him to “F*ck off back to France, you French b*stard.” The midfielder was facing a two-week prison sentence at one point before ultimately receiving an eight-month ban from professional soccer. The France national team manager also stripped him of the captaincy.

Malice at the Palace

In what was dubbed the most infamous brawl in NBA history, the Indiana Pacers were playing at the Detroit Piston’s home venue, The Palace, when a fight between the players broke out in the closing minute.

Artest proceeded to jump into the stands and throw punches at the wrong person

Pacers player Ron Artest, who was subsequently named Metta World Peace for a time, lay down on the scorer’s table as he waited for the officials to deal with the matter. That’s when a fan threw his drink at him, Artest proceeded to jump into the stands and throw punches at the wrong person:

This developed into a large brawl, with players fighting with fans on and off the court. The NBA suspended nine players, five of whom were also hit with assault charges.

Tyson takes a bite

While he is now fighting YouTubers like Jake Paul, Mike Tyson was once the most feared boxer in the land. He caused more than his fair share of controversy, whether it was starting brawls during press conferences, going to prison for three years on a rape conviction, or making unsavory comments to reporters.

chewing off a big chunk and spitting it onto the canvas

One of the most shocking incidents took place during his rematch with Evander Holyfield in June 1997. The two were battling it out for supremacy when Tyson began to grow frustrated at Holyfield’s headbutts. This led to him biting his opponent’s ear, which resulted in a two-point deduction. Not to be deterred, he went for the other ear shortly after, chewing off a big chunk and spitting it onto the canvas:

When the referee realized what happened, he disqualified Tyson and a brawl broke out in the arena. Tyson’s actions led to a $3m fine and he lost his Nevada State Athletic Commission license for over a year, which effectively meant he couldn’t box in the US during that time.

Zidane’s head butt

He may be known as one of the best soccer players to ever grace the field, but Frenchman Zinedine Zidane also had a reputation as a hothead.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be the swansong to his career before retiring. The stars seemed to align as he captained France all the way to the final and his team were favorite to beat Italy for the trophy. Normal time proved a cagey affair in which Zidane scored a penalty before Italy leveled.

planted a vicious headbutt on the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi

Extra time was underway when chaos erupted. Zidane was running back toward his own goal when he suddenly paused, turned around, and planted a vicious headbutt on the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi, who then hit the deck:

The referee immediately brandished a red card and Zidane walked down the tunnel past the World Cup trophy. His team went on to lose 5-3 on penalties and he never played professionaly again.

While many rumors did the rounds at the time, Materazzi supposedly said something about Zidane’s sister that led to the strong reaction.

Doni avoids suit

NHL players have a reputation for taking off their gloves and duking it out with one another. On one occasion, it was a fan who was on the receiving end.

Toronto Maple Leafs player Tie Domi was already having a bad night when he got into it with a fan during an NHL game in March 2001. He was playing against the Philadelphia Flyers when he ended up in the sin bin box. The notoriously chirpy Philadelphia fans began to taunt the player and he retaliated by squirting them with a water bottle.

Domi unleashed a series of haymakers on the concrete worker

One fan escalated matters by hitting the glass partition that separated the player from the crowd. The barrier fell down and Domi unleashed a series of haymakers on the concrete worker:

Domi didn’t receive any game suspensions for this incident. Instead, he had to pay a $1,000 fine, which was the biggest monetary penalty possible in the sport at the time.

The fan then sued the player, meaning he was facing six figures in legal fees. Domi requested the fan’s phone number and met up with him after a game in Philadelphia with security present. He offered to fly him to Toronto, pay for a hotel, and give him tickets for upcoming playoff games between the Flyers and Maple Leafs. This brought the legal action to an end.

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