7 Times Sports Fans Were The Absolute Worst
Sports fans have a reputation for being rowdy, unruly maniacs. From gladiator times all the up to soccer hooligans, people have watched athletic competitions while really going wild. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sports are entertainment: a means to blow off steam, have some beers and salty food, and bond with your neighbor about how you like the guys wearing the red shirts but not the guys wearing the blue shirts. Sometimes, though, fans cross a line—a fact that many athletes are starting to speak up against.
If you had any worries that you might not know how to act in public after the pandemic, well, fans in the stands have justified those fears as stadiums have opened back up. In the last couple of months, Washington Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook got popcorn dumped on his head, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving called Boston fans racist and Bostonians eagerly agreed with him, and a streaker at a Washington Nationals game tried to hide under the rain tarp. Naomi Osaka, the current best tennis player in the world, dropped out of two Grand Slams because tournament officials thought her public-facing obligations were more important than her tennis playing. But these recent incidents only scratch the surface of how horrible fans can be.
Philadelphia Eagles Fans Throw Snowballs At Santa
Let's start with something lighthearted, because ooh boy am I not looking forward to the next couple of entries (even though I thought this article up. Writing: a job for masochists!). Philadelphia sports fans are, to put it kindly, cartoonishly contrarian. To put it accurately, they are legendary assholes.
Picture in your head a completely uncontroversial human. Someone pure. No, not Mr. Rogers, the other guy. Someone whose entire existence is based around giving gifts and spreading joy at the most wonderful time of the year. Are you thinking Santa Claus? Of course you're thinking Santa Claus. I primed you with that "most wonderful time of the year" thing. Anyway, Eagles fans booed and threw snowballs at him.
It was December 1968, and the Eagles were 2-11. Anyone willing to sit outdoors in a Philadelphia December and watch a miserable team whose season was very over is someone to be feared. But surely Santa could lift people's spirits, right? Nah, dude. He just made them madder.
See, this was a replacement Santa. The guy who normally played Santa was stranded in New Jersey thanks to a snowstorm, but fortunately for the Eagles' entertainment team, a 20-year-old named Frank Olivo happened to be wearing a Santa suit to the stadium that day. As a joke. Like for laughs. But the staff asked Frank to be the halftime Santa in place of their regular guy, and Frank obliged. What a mistake Frank made that day.
When he went onto the field at halftime, the PA announcer literally said "let's give Santa Claus a rousing welcome, a Philadelphia welcome," and the crowd immediately started throwing snowballs. Beer cans soon followed, and because this is Philadelphia, they threw hoagies at him too. Did Olivo do something to offend, like come out wearing a Cowboys jersey over his Santa shirt? Maybe he was spraying Cheese Whiz all over everyone? Oh, I know! Was he flipping double birds and wagging his dick out of his big ol' Santa belt buckle?
No. He did none of those things. He walked out on the field to "Here Comes Santa Claus" and all the fans just started chucking shit at him. "You're trying to bring joy to a losing season in the aftermath of a miserable snowstorm? How bout you take a hoagie to the face, jerk" was the mood in the stadium that day. 11-year-old Matt Millen, who would grow up to play in the NFL and be a team executive, would later recount "that was the only fun part of the game." Philadelphia fans, man. Just not people to, like, have your kids around. Oh, you need more evidence?
Phillies Fan Intentionally Pukes On 11-Year-Old Girl
We're staying in Philadelphia for this entry, because again, legendary assholes. Nice in person, though, I should clarify. I was in Philly for exactly one night while I was touring with a band, and everyone was super nice. Even the sound guy was nice, and that never happens. The city is beautiful and has a bunch of cool historical stuff, and I also went to my first barcade and discovered the joys of drinking beer and playing NBA Jam at the same time. It was such a great experience. In further defense of the good people of Philadelphia, this guy was from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, so while he might be a Phillies supporter, he is clearly not indicative of the good character exhibited by the residents of the Greater Philadelphia municipality (when they are not at sports games).
Okay, now that I can go back to Philly without worrying about getting my throat slit, one of their asshole sports fans intentionally puked on an 11-year-old girl. Read that sentence back. I intentionally put the word "intentionally" before the phrase "puked on an 11-year-old girl" because that's a thing that happened.
Matthew Clemmens was 21-years-old at the time, which feels like an important detail, because dude could not handle his beer at this baseball game (I bet I could've beat him at NBA Jam, and I'm terrible at NBA Jam even when I'm not drinking). He and a friend were spilling beer, yelling swear words, and spitting a whole lot. Now, some people might call those things "time-honored baseball traditions," but those people are wrong, and commonly referred to as "Boston Red Sox fans." Clemmens and his friend's bubbly, Yuengling-and-hoagie-flavored spit started hitting the chairs and shirts of a 15-year-old and 11-year-old girl, as well as their father. The 15-year-old asked them to stop, and the dad reported them to stadium officials. Clemmens' friend was escorted out of the stadium, and that's when things got gross.
Clemmens put two fingers down his throat, leaned forward, and puked all over the dad and the 11-year-old. The 15-year-old apparently avoided getting hit as the desperate dad tried to shield both his daughters. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do when you realize someone is making themselves puke on you. The way I imagine it is like one of those slow motion incidents, where you realize too late that something horrible is happening and suddenly you're taking in every single detail and learning you're powerless to do anything about the impending disaster. But with vomit hitting you.
Unfortunately for Clemmens, the dad in this scenario was off-duty police captain Michael Vangelo, so he got arrested arrested. He copped a plea deal that only sentenced him to 30-90 days in jail, but he had to do 50 hours cleaning toilets and bathrooms at Citizens Bank Park. "Years in prison or 50 hours cleaning the bathrooms at a baseball stadium" is a question that's way harder to answer than it should be, but at least he got to resume normal life.
Hang on a second, wanna feel worse about everything after reading all of that terrible stuff? Clemmens had heart failure in 2014—just four years after the incident, making him 25—and died. And it sorta played out on Facebook and was announced by a sports betting website. God, this isn't even the worst entry on this list, and I'm already depressed. Let's make fun of some Cubs fans, that'll cheer me up.
Chicago Jagoffs Ruin Steve Bartman's Life Over Catching A Foul Ball
The Chicago Cubs did not win a World Series between the years 1908 and 2016. That's a really long time. People were born, lived long lives as Cubs fans, and then died without ever seeing them win a World Series. Nelson Algren, one of Chicago's greatest writers and lifetime White Sox fan despite being a Northsider (two things I'm trying to do with my life) lived from 1909-1981. That means he barely missed being alive for a Cubs championship, and then died a super long time before another one. You could probably chalk that up to the club being a poorly run organization who can't figure out how to succeed in America's third-largest market, or you could believe a goat cursed them. Most people choose the latter. Although, to be fair, if the price of a curse is Billy Goat cheeseburgers ... I mean ... they're really good goddamn cheeseburgers.
Anyway, the Cubs had championship hopes in 2003. Unfortunately, the 2003 playoffs happened before the 2016 playoffs, so you probably know how this turns out. Fate struck in Game 6 of the NLCS, where a win would send the Cubs to the World Series and a loss would force a Game 7.
Late in the game, leftfielder Moises Alou had a chance to catch a foul ball for an out, but a fan caught it instead. This was a missed opportunity—getting the out would've really helped the Cubs—but it shouldn't have been the end of the world. Alou was outraged, yelling at the fan and throwing his glove. It killed the Cubs' momentum or whatever, and they lost the game. The fan, Steve Bartman, had to have a police escort to get out of Wrigley Field. The clip was all over SportsCenter the next day (that's how things went viral in 2003), and people were pissed. Not at Alou for missing the fly ball, not at the Cubs for botching the game ... they were pissed at the guy trying to snag a souvenir.
Bartman subsequently became a national punch line, even inspiring an ESPN documentary, Catching Hell. He retreated to the suburbs and tried to keep a low profile, all while becoming the periodic subject of innumerable "what's that jagoff we can blame a playoff loss on up to now?" documentaries/articles/Cubs PR moves.
Something that happens a lot in sports is people blame success or failure on whatever happened at the last minute. But that's not entirely fair. Soccer and hockey matches can be decided on penalty shots, which are basically a crapshoot. Basketball games can be decided on a single buzzer-beating shot. Football games can be decided by the kicker, a guy who spends so much time not on the field he can be believably portrayed in a movie as a degenerate gambling drunk. Still, a lot happens in the lead up to these moments, and it's too simplistic to erase all the mistakes the losing team made because something dramatic happened at the last minute. It's kinda like Jessie Eisenberg saying "if you were going to invent Facebook, you would've invented Facebook" in The Social Network—if the Cubs were going to win the 2003 World Series, they would've won the 2003 World Series. That's why Bartman got a raw deal.
He was even the subject of this humiliating song.
Bartman has spent his life declining more interviews than you or I will ever get asked to do and having retrospectives and book chapters billed as prayers written about him. That seems like a really exhausting and annoying fate. Imagine the gotcha question in every job interview you have being "so ... how'd you handle the aftermath of catching that foul ball." Or the Best Man at your wedding be like "we all know Steve's made some mistakes, maybe ruined a World Series, but ... " It probably could've been way easier if Cubs fans just had more chill. That game didn't even decide the series. They could've won Game 7. But Wrigleyville on game day is basically a neighborhood-wide frat party, so "chill" is not in Cubs fans' vocabulary.
Arizona State Students Taunt Steve Kerr Because His Dad Was Assassinated
Steve Kerr is the most "dad" coach in the history of coaches, which is saying something. Watch the below clip of Kerr giving encouragement to Steph Curry—a two-time MVP and someone widely considered to have revolutionized an entire sport—and tell me you don't want to call your dad right now. Or, if you're a parent, maybe go hug your kid. There's something so dad about everything in his look, tone, and general sense of "let's keep the positive vibes up, but also stay focused."
Well, before he was a legendary dadcoach, he was a legendary basketball player, having clutch playoff moments with the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls and starring for the Arizona Wildcats in college.
Steve Kerr also had a dad, Dr. Malcolm Kerr, and Jesus Christ, I know I said things were going to get dark, but this cannot possibly be the pivot. It is? Okay ... Steve Kerr's dad was assassinated by terrorists in Beirut in 1984. He was a scholar and professor who specialized in Arabic studies, he'd been born in and spent most of his life in Beirut, and even became president of the American University of Beirut. Unfortunately, he became president during the Lebanese Civil War—not really regarded as "a stable time"—and two gunmen shot him in the back of the head in the hallway outside his office.
That's awful by itself, but don't worry, it gets way worse. Four years later, Kerr's Arizona team was facing off against rival Arizona State. ASU is a place so horrible that Eleanor Shellstrop went there, but the people in this story deserve more than The Bad Place: ASU fans chanted "PLO" and "your father's history" at Kerr during a game. As in, mocking his dad for getting assassinated, all in hopes of maybe making him miss a few shots so they could win a college basketball game. It's somehow more terrible when you consider that Dr. Kerr reads like one of the rare good dudes who wants to build cultural bridges and make connections with people. In the forward to an essay collection, Dr. Kerr wrote about how "the truly civilized man is marked by empathy," which is far better than literally every explorer you've ever heard of.
Racist Boston Fans Break Into Bill Russell's House And Do Horrible Shit (Literally)
Something a little strange about American sports is you don't have much control over where you live and work. Once you go pro in the NBA, the MLB, the NHL, and the NFL (that's the correct best-to-worst ranking of the major sports, btw), you have to be drafted by a team. Basically, you distinguish yourself as exemplary in your field, a bunch of people decide you have potential, and then one night, you are told you have to move to a certain city and be extremely loyal to a certain logo. That's pretty weird. Imagine being a line cook who loves Chili's, and your whole existence is consumed by dreams of one day making Baby Back Ribs and Chicken Crispers. Suddenly, the billionaire owner of Waffle House says you have to work for him and figure out how to perfectly scatter, smother, and cover hashbrowns, and you don't have a choice in the matter for another few years. Oh, and you also grew up in Oakland, but you have to move to Indianapolis.
A pretty shitty thing about America is that some places are simply safer/more pleasant for marginalized groups than other places. As ESPN's Bomani Jones put it, "the NBA has a problem, which is it's got some bad real estate. They put a lot of teams in places that young Black men don't necessarily want to live." Turns out that was suuuuuuuper true for Bill Russell, the best player for a Boston Celtics team that won 11 championships in 13 years. It's an incredible feat that will almost certainly never be replicated, and something that vaulted the Celtics into the conversation as one of the best NBA franchises in history. The only problem with Russell's reign as the best player in history was that it took place from 1956-1969, and also in Boston. Again: 1956-1969, Boston. You'd think that delivering all those titles would grant some goodwill, but that just means you're underestimating how racist Boston is.
The '60s produced a lot of legendary NBA players, and Russell was the best and most successful of them. "Greatest-of-all-time" lists are subjective and silly, but for one reasonably conventional example, take Bill Simmons' ranking. That link is slightly dated, but you can get a decent idea of basketball history from it. Seven of the top 20 players listed played in Russell's era, and Russell was the guy who won 11 championships. Russell's teams unequivocally annihilated the competition, and he was the engine behind it all. And he did it while fans hurled racial slurs at him. Imagine bringing that much prestige to a city's sports scene and still dealing with that bullshit. When he retired, Russell decamped to Seattle and basically never went back to Boston. Even his jersey retirement was a private ceremony he resisted until the last minute.
But we're not here simply because Jim Crow was bad. You don't need reminding of that ( ... right?) We're here because of one of the vilest, most disgusting incidents in sports history. So while almost every entry on this list should come with a Content Warning, I'm especially doing it for this one. CW: racism, hate speech, breaking and entering a home.
In the midst of all that title winning, one time, fans broke into his home. To quote ESPN's Rachel Nichols, "they spray-painted racist words on the walls of his family living room, smashed up his trophy case, and defecated in his bed." I keep saying "read that sentence back again" in this article, because so much of this is genuinely hard to reckon with.
I'm a huge sports fan. When I was ten years old, I begged my parents to take me to Chicago because Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Frank Thomas played for Chicago teams. Now I live in Chicago. Call me corny, call me cringe, but I genuinely can't imagine cheering for an athlete one minute and then breaking into their house the next minute.
Remember that Billy Goat Tavern place I mentioned earlier? Well I used to work on a dock across the street, and my coworkers and I would hit it up frequently for some after-work hangs. One night, there were some velvet ropes and red carpet and a big, tough dude standing outside the door. He said we couldn't go in because "a bunch of the '85 Bears and also Robert Horry are having a private party." Aside from that being a super weird combination and me not being alive for the 1985 Bears' Super Bowl run, that was enough for us to leave with no arguments. You don't interrupt the 1985 Bears when they're partying, you politely nod with reverence and go about your business. That's what being a sports fan is.
Not to these Bostonians in the '60s, though. The guy who was responsible for putting their city's name in lights happened to be black, so let's destroy his house and shit on his bed. Racism is a helluva drug, man. Horrific, unbelievably assholish behavior. Don't worry, the next entry involves racist slurs too:
Some Shithead Taunts Vernon Maxwell About His Stillborn Daughter; Gets The Most Deserved Punch
'90s NBA star Vernon Maxwell was known for having something of a temper during his playing days. Sportswriters even nicknamed him "Mad Max," because sportswriters are sometimes the corniest people on the entire planet. Look a little bit more in-depth, though, and you'll find Maxwell was often justifiably lashing out at racism and fan ugliness.
These days, Maxwell spends a lot of time trolling Utah Jazz fans on Twitter. It's become a whole bit. When asked why specifically Utah Jazz fans, he said they were the most racist fans he ever encountered, and even going so far as to spit on him. Jazz fans, for their part, have responded by getting angry at their best player for celebrating Juneteenth. Oh, and the best Jazz player in history impregnated a 13-year-old, the second-best is anti-COVID vaccine, and another one of their legends contributes to Fox News. So yeah, we're taking Mad Max's side when it comes to Utah basketball.
Maxwell's most infamous incident, though, was when he walked into the stands and punched a fan. At the time, it fed the "Mad Max" narrative. But as former player-turned-writer/activist Etan Thomas notes, the fan had not only yelled racist slurs the whole game, but had taunted Maxwell about his wife's miscarriage. The loss of his child. Some asshole actually used his vocal chords and mouth to form words that ridiculed a guy's wife for having a miscarriage.
Imagine that. Imagine being at your job, and someone you don't even know heckles you about a truly traumatic thing that doesn't even have anything to do with your job, which is the only reason they know who you are. You're telling me you're not punching that person? Maxwell was fined and suspended, but honestly, he should've been rewarded.
Hey, speaking of going into the stands and punching fans ...
We Need To Revisit A Couple Things About The Malice At The Palace
It's the biggest, most chaotic fight in modern American sports history. Fans throwing things at players, players going into the stands to fight fans, fans going down to the court to fight players. It very possibly affected the outcome of the 2005 NBA Championship, and forever altered the careers of at least two key players: Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest (later Metta World Peace, later The Panda's Friend, now Metta Sandiford-Artest, referred to here as "Artest" for brevity's sake). 16 years on, I think Artest and Jackson got super unfair treatment, and the fans involved got off super easy.
First off, the violence began because Pistons star Ben Wallace, an absolutely chiseled brick wall of a human, face-shoved Artest, wanted to keep fighting, and could not be calmed down. Try restraining a guy who has the kind of strength to regularly guard seven-footers despite being six inches shorter. Doesn't sound fun, right? Artest, never one to back down from a fight but maybe realizing what he'd gotten himself into, went to the scorer's table to calm down. Pretty heated, but ultimately innocuous, as far as NBA fights go.
Second, the fans started the actual mayhem. Artest was calming down when a fan threw a beer on him. Have you ever had a beer thrown on you? Wouldn't you want to punch that person? Artest did. Boy did he ever. Like hard punches. He actually punched the wrong person at first, which is really bad, but also really funny.
Jackson, for his part, is pretty sensitive to seeing one guy take on multiple people. His older brother/best friend was beaten to death in a dirty three-on-one fight in which two guys jumped him from the back and cracked a bottle over his skull. Jackson, understandably flashing back to that trauma, saw "one teammate against hundreds." So he ran into the stands and started throwing wilder punches than Artest. All he wanted to do was protect his teammate, which is perfectly reasonable. Wouldn't you go protect your friend? Jackson even claims he was going one row above Artest to try to grab him, but right at that moment, another fan threw another beer in Artest's face. That guy deserved a punch, he got it, and punching a fan is kinda like Pringles: once you pop, you keep popping people.
Then what about the drunk bros who rushed the court and squared up? Why do Artest and Jackson have violent reputations but we don't know those assholes' names? Those fans do not get enough credit for being completely horrible that night. Also, what kind of idiot is so high on their own supply that they think they, after a night of beer, popcorn, and sitting, can take a 6'8", 250-pound professional athlete in a fight? I'm not trying to say anyone (except Nazis) deserves to be punched, but sometimes you earn things.
Lastly, "hothead" reputations unfairly followed Artest and Jackson for their careers. That's shameful framing from the press. Sure, both guys are dudes who are a little on the odd side—Artest signed his first million-dollar contract and immediately applied to work at Circuit City so he could get an employee discount—but it shows just how poorly sportswriters understand mental health issues. It was a wild, nobody-is-thinking-straight incident, and the story was "these two violent dudes attacked a crowd." Artest couldn't process what had happened in real time, even asking teammates afterwards "do you think we're going to get in trouble?" It was the end of a tough game between developing rivals, a really high-pressure situation. That thrown beer would make anyone snap, but especially someone who already makes his living as a "tough guy" and is absolutely gassed up on adrenaline after an intense game.
Artest would go on to be a vocal advocate for better mental health services for players, becoming the first person to thank their psychiatrist during a championship celebration. He helped open the conversation about mental health in the NBA community, and that should be lauded. Sure, punching fans isn't like, a thing you should do, but I'm going on record saying the man who once called himself "The Panda's Friend" when he signed with a team in Sichuan and the man who said "it felt good to punch a fan one time" were net positives on the NBA.