There's just something about the violence and competition of sports that brings out the worst in people. Maybe you want to throw a chair. Maybe you want to kill your emperor. Whatever darkness lurks inside you, nothing will bring it to the surface quite like organized athletics.
Nika Riots (532)
The most popular sport of ancient Rome was chariot racing. Teams were divided into four factions: Blues, Reds, Greens and Whites. Fans identified themselves by wearing their faction's color. These factions, however, become a regular part of daily life and politics. It was particularly beneficial to be a Blue or Green, the teams that wielded the most influence. Emperor Justinian himself was a Blue, an allegiance that would get him in a bit of trouble.
In 532, members of Blue and Green chariot teams were arrested in connection with murder. All but two were hanged. The survivors fled, taking sanctuary in a church. To remedy a delicate situation, Justinian reduced their sentences to imprisonment and declared that a chariot race between Green and Blue would take place later that January.
Justinian wasn't popular at the time due to high taxes, so he watched the race from his palace. But the crowd grew restless and began to chant “Conquer!” before straight-up assaulting the palace. The riot lasted for five days and destroyed nearly half of the city. Several senators plotted to take advantage of the opportunity to overthrow Justinian. The rioters declared Hypatius the new emperor in between burning shit and killing shit. Desperate, Justinian gambled on team loyalty: he sent someone to pay the Blues and remind them that Justinian supported them but that Hypatius was a Green. Taking the hint, the Blues left the stadium shortly before the imperial guards swept in and killed thirty-thousand rioters. Justinian reminded everyone that sometimes it's just better to shut up and enjoy the damn race.
10 Cent Beer Night (1974)
On June 4th, 1974, the Cleveland Indians thought it would be a good idea to offer beer to fans in attendance for their game against the Texas Rangers at the whopping price of ten cents, with absolutely no restriction on how much beer anyone person could purchase. Apparently the Indians hadn't been paying attention to their own sport, because a similar stunt less than a week before didn't go so well. But hey, when in Rome, right?
The stunt was intended to increase ticket sales, and to that end it was a success: over 25,000 tickets were sold while the most average (and presumably sober) games that season only sold 8,000. However, those in the stadium took full advantage of the cheap beer and took to heckling the players. Flashers, mooners and just general dicks took to the field to make their presence known and to ruin a perfectly good game of baseball.
Things turned ugly when a fan ran onto the field to steal Texas outfielder Jeff Burrough's hat. Burroughs fell, but his team assumed he had been attacked. So the entire Rangers team charged the field, some of them armed with bats, while the fans, armed with whatever the hell they could get a hold of, rushed on to the field. The Indians came to the Rangers' aid but no one was able to restore order until the riot police arrived. The riot caused thousands of dollars in damage and resulted in several thefts, including that of the bases. Cleveland had planned four more beer nights that season. After the riot that capped the cheap beer at four glasses.
Ball Night (1995)
Fans attending Dodgers Stadium on August 10, 1995 received souvenir baseballs with their ticket purchases. It's almost as though the MLB higher-ups have no foresight whatsoever, isn't it?
The Dodgers weren't faring so well against the Cardinals in the ninth inning. One Cardinals player had been ejected in the eighth inning by umpire Jim Quick. It only got worse when Raul Mondensi struck out. Mondensi (and quite a few other people) contested Quick's call of the second strike, and when Mondensi argued this point he was promptly ejected from the game. Coach Tommy Lasorda, not a man to take shit lying down, confronted Quick. He too was ejected.
Fans had had just about enough of the whole “eject everyone thing” and soon a hail of baseballs rained down on the field. Quick tried to call the Cardinals back onto the field, but that only provoked more fans to throw their memorabilia, so the umpires forfeited the game to the Cardinals, the first forfeit in over forty years.
We can't say that a lesson wasn't learned: after the event the MLB mandated that any promotions offering prizes to fan should only distribute said prizes after the game.
Richard Riot (1955)
Maurice Richard was a star player for the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL, so much so that other teams would regularly send players on the ice just to harass him. He was also a man not to be messed with, as he had become quite adept at handling such players with his fists.
During a 1955 game against the Boston Bruins, Richard was high-sticked by Hal Loyce. The ref called a delayed penalty. Richard, who needed some stitches to close the cut Loyce left him, waited until the play ended to get his revenge. He approached Loyce, who dropped his stick and gloves in anticipation of a fight, and proceeded to club him like a baby seal with his own stick. Players tried to pull him away but Richard managed to break free again and again until Loyce's face looked like a “broken tomato.”
After the game police came to arrest Richard but were assured by the NHL that the league would handle it. They did so by suspending Richard for the rest of the 45-55 season and playoffs. Then NHL president Clarence Campbell insisted that the suspension was just and, just to be a dick, announced he would be at the next Canadiens game against the Red Wings to take place at the Montreal Forum.
Things did not go off without a hitch. Some six-thousand fans protested outside before attempting (and failing) to crash the gate. Inside, once Campbell appeared in the stands fans, started to pelt him with whatever garbage they had until a smoke bomb went off in the stadium and everyone was evacuated for safety concerns. Then the riot actually started.
Chaos ensued within a fifteen mile radius of the Forum. Cars were over turned, newsstands burned, stores looted and pedestrians attacked because hey, why not? The riot only ended the next morning and police estimated that one-hundred thousand dollars of damage had been done and only one-hundred people were arrested.