Professional athletes at the top of their sports aren’t just physically gifted. They possess personalities that make them want to touch greatness. It’s that fire and passion that sometimes gets players, from those who never make it in professional sports to those who go on to be legendary figures, in trouble.
This list starts with a Major League Baseball pitcher who has made a fool of himself on more than one occasion.
Here are 10 of the most memorable player meltdowns in sports.
10. Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza
One of the men involved in this notorious incident is a class act, one of the best to ever play his position. He unquestionably deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and there is zero legitimate proof outside of ridiculous and unsubstantiated speculation that the man in question ever used any performance-enhancing substances.
The other, of course, is Roger Clemens.
Clemens throwing a piece of a broken bat at Piazza during the 2000 World Series wasn’t merely an on-the-field meltdown. It was attempted assault. That the reputation of Clemens has plummeted over the past decade is poetic justice, for this incident and for a variety of other matters that will likely keep the pitcher out of the Hall of Fame for life.
9. Ryan Leaf vs. life
The life of former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf has been one big meltdown after another since 1998. Leaf, taken second in the ’98 NFL Draft behind Peyton Manning, had a big arm and the physical tools to excel in the league, but he lacked both the maturity and the work ethic necessary to develop into a star QB. One of his darker public moments as a player came in September of ’98 when, after a lackluster performance, he lashed out at a reporter.
While Leaf has become a punchline as it pertains to high draft picks, there is little that’s funny about what has happened in his life over the past decade. He struggled with drug problems, and he has been arrested on multiple occasions. Leaf is currently behind bars.
8. Serena Williams vs. US Open line judge
Long after the original “bad boy of tennis” (more on him later) had stopped playing in meaningful competitions, Ms. Williams had a rough day at the 2009 US Open. Williams is, for me, the greatest women’s player ever, and she, like other all-time greats, is also ultra-competitive. This led to her having a moment that you can be sure she regrets.
Williams, serving to stay in a match versus Kim Clijsters, was called for a double-fault, a decision she believed was incorrect. Her response was to threaten a line judge, an outburst that ultimately prevented Williams from rallying back. Don’t feel too bad for Serena, though, as she has since had plenty of better days.
7. John McEnroe vs. umpires
It would be a disservice to the all-time tennis legend, to this list, to readers and to humanity in general to narrow it down to just one of McEnroe‘s on-court tirades. His famous “You cannot be serious!” rant that still gets play on television to this day and is included in this clip which serves as a McEnroe Meltdown highlight film.
One has to give McEnroe credit for being able to laugh at himself. He has, over the years, partaken in several parodies that spotlighted his knack for losing it during matches. This, from Mr. Deeds, ranks right up there with the best of the best of them.
6. Dennis Rodman vs. cameraman
The Chicago Bulls knew what they were getting when they signed Rodman in the mid-90s. They were getting a player who would crash the boards, a tenacious rebound-hawk who could help the Bulls win multiple titles.
They were also getting a guy who often couldn’t stay out of trouble, as was the case in a 1997 contest.
Rodman tripped over a cameraman while attempting to retrieve a rebound. After the play ended, a frustrated Rodman kicked that same cameraman. That reaction cost Rodman 11 games and roughly $1 million in league fines and in a settlement with the cameraman.
5. Mikhail Youzhny vs. his racket
Those tennis players sure do have a difficult time keeping cool, don’t they? There was no major tournament title on the line Youzhny and Nicolas Almagro met at the Sony Ericsson Open back in 2008, and yet Youzhny took the competition very seriously. Following a long rally, he lost a point on an unforced error, and he responded as would any sane person.
He nailed himself in the forehead with his racket.
Youzhny paid dearly for his anger, as he cut himself open via the strikes. His night wasn’t completely lost, however, as he did, after receiving medical attention, go on to win the match.
4. Zinedine Zidane vs. Marco Materazzi
There are times in sports and in life when you can’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of another human being. The 2008 World Cup brought with it one of those moments. Materazzi and Zidane had engaged in some trash talk during the extra time period, and all of the talk came to an end when Zidane leaned back before thrusting his head into the chest of the Italian.
The infraction, not witnessed by the ref during play, eventually received help from his assistants. Zidane was deservedly shown a straight red card, and France went on to lose to Italy on penalties.
3. George Brett vs. pine tar
While no heads were used as weapons during this freakout, this does remain one of the most memorable meltdowns in the history of Major League Baseball and of North American professional sports. Brett and the Kansas City Royals were at the New York Yankees for a July 1983 regular season game when Brett hit what he thought to be a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth.
Not so fast, Mr. Brett. Yankees manager Billy Martin protested that the pine tar on Brett’s bat exceeded that allowed by MLB rules. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland agreed, and he called Brett out.
Brett did not take the news well.
2. Mike Tyson vs. cannibalism
One man bit a chunk of another man’s ear clean off. Think about that for a second. Tyson, a shell of his former self when facing off against Evander Holyfield in 1997, felt so lost on what to do during that boxing match that he bit Holyfield; not once, but TWICE.
After spending the better part of a decade dealing with numerous demons, Tyson has seemingly gotten his life together. He has starred in his own one-man show. Tyson had a part in the movie The Hangover, he has made numerous World Wrestling Entertainment appearances, and his book made it to the New York Times Best Seller list.
1. Pacers vs. fans
There are unwritten rules at sporting events. Fans don’t make any negative contact with players, and vice versa. Both of these were forgotten when the Indiana Pacers took on the Detroit Pistons back in 2004, and the result was an unforgettable brawl that changed the NBA and also arena policies around the country.
All parties involved were wrong. This includes the fan who threw a drink at Ron Artest, and also every player who ventured into the stands. The effects of the “Malice in the Palace” incident can be seen today in the way NBA players dress before and after games, and also in sideline policies that remain in place.