Fans in sports: The Good, The, Bad, and The Ugly

Part II The Bad

Stefan Collins, Staff

Welcome back to the second part of the three-part series looking at the all-time craziest fan and player interactions in the history of sports. In part I, we looked at the “good” side of the interactions, whereas today I will walk you through the three worst interactions between players and audience members throughout history.

#3. Malice at the Palace (National Basketball Association): November 19th, 2004, The palace of Auburn hills, MI

The Malice at the palace refers to an all-out brawl, that took place in a 2004 matchup between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. Ron Artest of the Pacers managed to infuriate his Piston opponent Ben Wallace over a hard-foul call, to the extent that he shoved Artest in the chest with all of his might, starting a conflict that resulted in both teams fighting.

Once the dispute had calmed down, a presumably drunken Pistons fan bet his friend $50 that he couldn’t hit Artest, who was lying on the scoring table at the time, with a cup full of beer. Surely enough his friend nailed the throw but instantly regretted it when Artest rose to his feet, knifed his way through the Pistons bench and dove into the stands to give the fan a fist full of fives.

Whilst Artest was about to knock the fan into next week, his friend pulled Artest away from him. A fellow spectator saw this as an opportunity to throw another cup of beer over him, inspiring teammates Steven Jackson, and Steve Wallace to jump into the crowd to defend Artest and in the process have physical altercations with Piston supporters. The fight reached a level unseen before. Audience members all over the arena were chucking bottles and glasses at the court to the extent that it was a danger to everybody there. After the two-minute incident, the game prematurely ended with 45 seconds remaining. The Pacers were ordered to return to their locker-room for the sake of their safety. They left Detroit with a 97-82 victory.

#2. The assault of Nancy Kerrigan (Olympic figure skating): January 6th, 1994, Detroit, MI

My knowledge of figure skating consists of Torvill and Dean killing it at the 1984 Olympics and taking home the gold for G.B., and the appalling incident that happened to Nancy Kerrigan. One of which was stunningly beautiful, the other, quite the opposite. In January of ’94, Kerrigan, an extraordinarily talented skater, who had won the silver medal at the 1992 world championships, was two days away from her trial for the U.S. Olympic team. The competition for places on the team was fierce and the final spot on the team was believed to be battled out between Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. After finishing practice at a Detroit Ice rink in front of a crowd of fans and a television film crew, Kerrigan was followed by an audience member on her way through the tunnel of the ice rink to do an interview. The audience member managed to sneak in a police officer’s baton, which he used to viscously smack Kerrigan in the back of her knee. He immediately fled the scene. The aftermath was caught on camera by ABC news, where the emotionally distraught Kerrigan cried out to a paramedic that, “Somebody had hit her with some hard-black stick,”.

Days later a confession to the FBI reveled that the attack had been carried out by a man named Shane Stant, a pawn in a conspiracy to eliminate Kerrigan from the Olympic tryout. At the top of the pyramid of conspirators was none other than Kerrigan’s nemesis Tonya Harding and her then husband, who had paid Stant and several others to sabotage the poor girls’ chances of making the team. Both Harding and Kerrigan ended up making the Olympic squad, but Kerrigan was out of action for the National Championships which took place in the same week. A competition that was won by Tonya Harding. According to an article from History (Formally known as the History channel) Harding faced with a lawsuit and, “pleaded guilty to conspiracy. She was fined $100,000 and sentenced to probation and 500 hours of community service,”.

The article also stated “At the Olympics, the competition between Harding and Kerrigan set ratings records. Harding’s performance was a drama in itself. She broke down crying after a lace on her skates broke. Even after being allowed a restart, Harding wasn’t able to pull herself together and finished eighth. Kerrigan took home the silver medal, and many thought she deserved the gold,”. Karma.

#1. The attempted assassination of Monica Seles (Tennis) The Citizen Cup: April 30th, 1993, Hamburg, Germany

In the early 90’s, women’s tennis had something special brewing. Two all-time greats, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were both playing in their prime at the same time. Steffi Graf is my all-time favorite female athlete and I think she is by far and away the greatest women’s tennis player of all time. As phenomenal as she was, she was not unbeatable. We found that out in January of 1993 when she lost to Monica Seles in the final of the Australian open. Whilst it was disappointing for Graff and her fans that Seles managed to get the best of her on that day, one of her obsessed fanatics, named Gunter Parche could not let it go. When Seles was playing in Parche’s home country of Germany, he attempted to make good on several people’s death threats towards Seles. Whilst on their drinks break, a man snuck up to the front of the stands and lunged towards her with a long, sharp blade and proceeded to stab Seles in the back. Thankfully, surrounding stewards and tennis fans dragged Parche away before any fatal damage was caused to the 19-year old tennis star.

According to an article in Tennis 365, Seles stated in her autobiography, “I remember sitting there, toweling off and then I leaned forward to take a sip of water… The cup had barely touched my lips when I felt a horrible pain in my back… my head whipped round towards where it hurt and I saw a man wearing a baseball cap with a sneer across his face, his arms were raised above his head and his hands were clutching a long knife,”. Seles managed to stand up but quickly collapsed to the ground and received the immediate medical attention she desperately required.

Parche was arrested and stated that he, “Did not want to kill Seles, only to injure her so she couldn’t play, and Steffi Graf could become number one again,”. I do not believe this for one second. He used a deadly weapon to stab her in the back! Not a club like Nancy Kerrigan’s attacker did, how anybody could see it differently is staggering! As a Graf fan myself, I’m sure I would have liked to have seen Steffi get back to world number one. I have no doubt that she would have done by beating Seles in their next meeting, but this man severely crossed the line. Thankfully, Seles made a full physical recovery and was able to come back and win the ’96 Australian open and appear in the ’95 and ’96 US open final, losing to Graf both times. Parche on the other hand was let of lightly since according to Tennis 365, “the attempted murder charges were dropped based on an assessment of his mental health,”. I imagine his lawyers were exceptionally good at their job to pull that off.

That’s all for this part, I really hope you might have learnt something interesting after reading this. As usual, I really appreciate you reading and I hope to see you all for the final part of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly saga.