By now we’ve all heard the news about Sean Payton and his unprecedented yearlong suspension for his role in “Bountygate”. While his actions, lead to this suspension, and it is absolutely warranted, it’s proven one thing, sports figures can’t get away with what they used to.
But did Sean Payton get off light? Or was his suspension too harsh? Join us as we look at some of the most notorious sports suspensions in history and compare:
When you think about famous sports incidents, whether they were on a field or on a court, one of the first names that has to come to mind is Kermit Washington. If the name of the man isn’t familiar to you, the moniker of the incident should be. It’s simply called “The Punch”. On December 9th, 1977, during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets, a scuffle broke out between players. What happened before the punch has been debated and mostly forgotten, what people do remember is that when Rudy Tomjanovich came in to help break it up, he was treated to vicious roundhouse sucker punch. One that broke his nose, broke his jaw, fractured his skull in a way that he was leaking spinal fluid into his oral cavity and he could taste it.
Even the most casual of sports fans have either seen the image, or the video of the punch. Seeing either doesn’t do the incident justice. It nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit’s career was never the same afterwards. He served a 60 day 26 game ban that, at the time, was the longest suspension the NBA ever handed out.
There were some at the time who felt that what Washington did was criminal and that he should have also paid the price for it in a court of law. For that incident there were no legal ramifications for Washington. The same can’t be said for our next two infamous sports bad boys.
Gilbert Arenas & Todd Bertuzzi:
Gilbert Arenas was always one of the streakiest shooters in the NBA, but on December 24, 2009 it was revealed that as a result of a disagreement between him and teammate Javaris Crittenton, Arenas placed two pistols in Crittenton’s locker with a note that simply said “pick one”. He later would say he meant it as a joke, but the NBA obviously wasn’t joking. Arenas was suspended indefinitely and this suspension turned out to be 50 games and Gilbert pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge and was sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house and two years of supervised probation.
Javaris Crittenton, in an unrelated incident after his playing days would go on to be accused of murder. He’s currently awaiting trial.
Todd Bertuzzi is a name that hockey fans are familiar with, and in much the same way history repeats itself, this too, involves a sucker punch. On February 16, 2004 Steve Moore had his neck broken and his career ended by a hit from behind from Todd Bertuzzi. Some say there may have been a bounty on Moore’s head but that was never proven. Immediately after that incident the NHL indefinitely suspended Bertuzzi. This happened to be before the infamous NHL lockout and his suspension ran through that. When Bertuzzi tried to play overseas as so many other players did during the lockout, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) upheld his suspension and it turned out he was away from the game for 17 months and lost over $500,000 in salary.
Bertuzzi faced assault charges in Canada and was found guilty and sentenced to one year probation and 80 hours of community service.
Sometimes though, an incident doesn’t have to involve an on-court/field/ice situation. Sometimes, the worst offenses can occur when no one from public view was able to see what happened. One such name comes to mind…
On December 1. 1997, during a private practice in Oakland, California for The Golden State Warriors Latrell Sprewell unexpectedly attacked and choked head coach P.J. Carlesimo for about 20 seconds before being separated by teammates. That would be bad enough except two hours later, Sprewell reportedly went back to the facility armed with a two by four and threatened to kill Carlesimo.
The Golden State Warriors voided Sprewell’s contract and the NBA suspended him for the remainder of the season which ended up being 68 games. Sprewell would later go on to famously say that he refused a multi-million dollar contract from the Minnesota Timberwolves because “he had a family to feed”. He was never offered another contract in the NBA.
The NFL has had their fair share of bad boy athletes, and most of the occupants of their longest suspensions list are the result of substance abuse (Darrell Russell) or the result of some off the field mischief (Pacman Jones) all are deserved punishments. When you look back at some of the most heinous events in sports that led to suspension, it may appear that the most innocuous of these was the bounty program, which many teams have admitted to doing for years, the Saints are just the first team to get caught.
When compared with some of the most notorious sports suspensions, Sean Payton’s suspension appears to be on par with all of those. It’s still shocking to see such a long ban befall a head coach, but an example had to be made, and it’s clear that sports figures don’t always learn their lesson.
With every incident, adjustments have been made. The NBA reacted swiftly to every major brawl in such a way that for the most part, players do think twice about swinging. The NHL takes better care of it’s players, and even before “Bountygate” the NFL has been on a tear educating the public about concussion prevention and treatment. It’s hard to witness events such as these, but it’s what we need sometimes to clean up the games. Sean Payton will be back, and hopefully he’ll back a little smarter.