Several days ago, a brawl erupted near the end of the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coincidentally, it occurred a week prior to the fifteenth anniversary of two other infamous sports brawls.
The first of such incidents was the Pacers-Pistons brawl, a.k.a. Malice at the Palace, which occurred on November 19, 2004 in Auburn Hills, Michigan during a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. The Pacers were up 97-82 with 45.9 seconds left in the game when Pistons center Ben Wallace was fouled from behind by Pacers small forward Ron Artest while attempting a layup. Wallace responded by shoving Artest, resulting in players and coaches intervening. While the players and coaches attempted to calm down Wallace, Artest laid down on the announcer’s table and spoke to one of the broadcasters. Wallace threw a towel at Artest, who stood up in an attempt to retaliate but was restrained by the coaches. Soon afterward, a Pistons fan named John Green threw a cup at Artest, who then ran into the stands and attacked another fan named Michael Ryan (whom he mistakenly thought had thrown the cup at him). Artest’s reaction set off a brawl among the Pacers, the Pistons, and the fans. Subsequent fights broke out, and the Pacers (who were awarded the victory) had to avoid being hit by various items thrown by the fans on the way back to the locker room.
In the aftermath, ten players (six Pacers and four Pistons) were suspended for a total of 146 games, resulting in them losing $11 million in salary. Artest was among them, being suspended for the rest of the season. Charges were brought against Green and various other fans, with punishments ranging from jail time to probation to being banned from Pistons games. Charges were also brought against several players, with the punishments consisting of probation, community
service, and fines.
Meanwhile, the sports media demonstrated bias by blaming the incident on the fans, even though it was clear that both the fans and the players were to blame.
The second incident took place the following day during a football game between Clemson University and the University of South Carolina. With 5:48 left in the game and Clemson leading 29-7, South Carolina’s quarterback Syvelle Newton was knocked to the ground after an incomplete pass. Several Clemson players then piled on top of him, thus preventing him from getting up. A bench-clearing brawl then broke out, and law enforcement intervened to help restore order. Play was suspended for several minutes, and Clemson went on to win the game.
In the aftermath, various players from both teams were suspended. In addition, South Carolina and Clemson (both of whom were bowl-eligible), imposed self-punishments by deciding not to participate in a bowl game for that season.
Meanwhile, it would also be the last game for South Carolina’s head coach Lou Holtz, who retired afterwards and was replaced by Steve Spurrier.
Both incidents were despicable, but hopefully they can serve as a reminder of the importance of good sportsmanship for the athletes, and for fans to conduct themselves with a great deal of class (something that Holtz once asked the fans to do when he was head coach at Notre Dame).