On Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, Vancouver Canucks enforcer Rick Rypien was suspended for six games as a result of the NHL’s policy governing players’ conduct as it relates to interaction with fans.
During a game against Minnesota, Rypien, the cousin of former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, was involved in a fight with Minnesota’s Brad Staubitz. As a result of the fight, Rypien was leaving the bench for a 10 minute misconduct penalty when he grabbed applauding fan James Engquist. Engquist’s brother Peter grabbed him to prevent him from falling over the railing whilst Rypien’s teammate Manny Molhotra restrained Rypien. In addition to the six-game suspension received by Rypien, the Canucks were fined $75,000, as required by NHL rules. Rypien, who will not be paid during the suspension, will not be eligible to return to his team until Nov. 6, 2010, in a match against Detroit.
Rypien’s incident is just another in a recent rash of emotional outbursts by athletes that have impacted fans. On Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs threw his helmet into the stands after being upset about being removed from a blowout game against the Indianapolis Colts. The helmet flew 10 rows into the Indianapolis crowd. The Colts fan who ended up with the helmet initially refused to give it back to Colts officials and security and ultimately had it forcibly removed.
On Nov. 19, 2004, at an NBA game, the scene became brutal. Near the end of an Indiana Pacers versus Detroit Pistons game, a fight emerged between the two teams. Moments later, the fight spilled into the fans at The Palace arena in Detroit. The brawl was started by then-frustrated Piston Ben Wallace, who attacked players from the Pacers. Ron Artest was at the time a Pacers player and was walking away from the melee when a fan tossed and hit him with a drink. Artest and teammate Stephen Jackson then charged the stands and one of the ugliest scenes in sports history ensued. At the end of the brawl, six fans were treated for injuries, including one fan who had to be transported by ambulance to a nearby medical facility.
On Sept. 13, 2004, Texas Ranger pitcher Frank Francisco threw a steel chair at a woman. Francisco was in Oakland playing a game against the Athletics when a nearby fan began heckling Francisco. Francisco had recently endured the tragedy of having a stillborn infant child. The attacks became too personal when a fan near the woman began hurling insults directed at the tragedy. Francisco, having heard enough, picked up the chair and hurled it in the direction of the obnoxious fan. A woman near him was struck in the face and suffered a broken nose as a result of the incident. Francisco was charged with a felony.
Players must realize that when you become a sports figure, you not only represent yourself, but you also represent your team, teammates and city as a whole. In sports arenas, drinking is common place and will result in drunken fans. Although players are expected to give 100% of their emotions during games, they must learn to temper that when interacting with fans. Furthermore, stadiums need to do more to eliminate the over the top fans from going over the line. The situation with Rypien could have been far worse.