Over the last year or so, illegal hits and player safety have been the biggest stories in sports. How to address each seems to be a growing and evolving problem for the exceptionally physical NFL and NHL, with officials in both leagues struggling with the issues.
The NFL is still dealing with the never-ending nightmare known as "Bountygate," and the possibility of lawsuits from former players is looming large on the horizon. And the NHL playoffs have looked more like a cage match on ice than championship caliber hockey.
They aren't alone either. The NBA, MLB and MLS have all seen their share of recent problems.
The recent flagrant foul on the Thunder's James Harden courtesy of the Lakers' Metta World Peace, the NBA's one-time poster child for excessive violence, has again sparked debate about how the league should deal with repeat offenders.
This year has just been crazy, and there has been plenty of ugliness to go around. Let's take a look at 20 of the most flagrant fouls we've seen in sports over the last year.
You can count this flagrant foul as one that the Thunder's Russell Westbrook might come to regret down the line.
In a late season game against the Heat, Westbrook ran down LeBron James on a breakaway and fouled him.
LeBron walked away from the incident, but the awkward landing could have just as easily caused an injury for either player. The Thunder were leading at the time of the foul, but the Heat came back to win the game.
AC Milan's Gennaro Gattuso has never been accused of being a softie, but the headbutt he laid on Tottenham assistant coach Joe Jordan in early 2011 was pretty shocking stuff—even coming from him.
Tempers flared at the end of the game, and Gattuso admittedly lost control.
He did apologize for the incident and said there was "no excuse" for what he did. Gattuso received a four-match ban for the incident.
In a March 2012 matchup between Creighton and UNC, Creighton's Gregory Echenique shoved UNC's Tyler Zeller to the floor midway through the first half.
The unprovoked incident sure looked like a flagrant foul, but it didn't attract so much as a sideways glance from the officials. It was no surprise for most of us who have come to expect the abysmal basketball officiating that's polluting every level of the game.
The NCAA will review the play at official meetings in May and June. And a whole lot of good that will do.
Clippers superstar Blake Griffin has become a magnet for flagrant fouls, and the Suns' Robin Lopez is just the most recent offender.
It's becoming commonplace for opponents to completely forgo making a play on the ball, opting instead to take the head of the guy who just beat them to the basket. Lopez was ejected for the excessive force, but he wasn't really missed by the Suns.
After missing a few free throws and taking retaliation fouls, the damage had already been done for the Clippers, who went on to lose the game.
The Flyers recently upended the Penguins in Round 1 of the NHL playoffs, in what was one of the uglier series in recent memory.
Things never quite fell into place for the Pens, and their frustration was never more apparent than in Game 3.
After dropping the first two games, the Pens were clearly frustrated, and they decided if they couldn't win, they might as well crack some skulls.
Three different Pens actually earned suspensions in that game.
None was more deserving than the suspension Aaron Ashamed received for his violent cheapshot on Brayden Schenn. The hit looked uglier than it was at first glance, but there's no denying it was a malicious play with intent to injure.
In March 2011, Lakers big man Andrew Bynum was ejected for this brutal hit on Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley. Bynum struck Beasley in the chest with his elbow and sent him careening to the floor.
(Then) Lakers coach Phil Jackson defended Bynum's play, insisting it wasn't intentional and that it was simply the result of Bynum giving up up on the block out of frustration.
Maybe it wasn't entirely intentional, although it certainly looks like it was, but Jackson's description of the incident as "just a bump" was definitely not accurate.
In what was one of the ugliest plays of last season, Arkansas' freshman wide receiver Marquel Wade absolutely leveled Vanderbilt punt returner Jonathan Krause when the two teams met in late October.
Krause didn't even have a chance to field the punt before Wade crashed into him.
Krause laid on the field for several minutes before finally being helped up and walking to the sideline. Wade was seen celebrating after the hit before getting ejected from the game—he continued to taunt Vandy fans as he left the field and headed to the locker room.
Wade "apologized" for the embarrassment to the team, but hedefended the hit.
Fired coach Bobby Petrino said Wade made a poor decision but defended his intent on the play. The hit came in the third quarter when Vandy was up in the game, but Arkansas managed to squeak by in the end.
The March 2012 matchup between the Wizards and Trail Blazers became heated early on, and by the time the game ended, the teams had combined for an impressive (in a bad way) 42 personal fouls.
The game was ugly from start to finish, but that's to be expected anytime the Wizards are involved.
Though, it was Portland's Marcus Camby who was responsible for the ugliest play of the night—a flagrant foul 2 on Washington's Kevin Seraphin—which earned him an ejection.
Interesting note: Despite the constant barrage of fouls being called, neither team had a player foul out—way to spread the wealth, fellas.
In April 2011, the Major League Soccer Disciplinary Committee handed down a 10-game suspension to Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan.
The suspension was the result of Mullan's brutal tackle on Seattle Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani in an earlier match.
The tackle came in just the third minute of the game and resulted in a red card for Mullan and two broken bones in Zakuani's leg. The committee determined Mullan's actions were "reckless, egregious and showed utter disregard for the safety of his opponent."
In what many think could be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat and Bulls recently faced off in their last regular season game before the playoffs.
The Heat seemed eager to send a message with their physical play.
First, James Jones was ejected for delivering a blow to the skull of Joakim Noah, and then, Dwyane Wade got in on the action. Wade pushed Chicago's Richard Hamilton to the floor in the third in a strange and unprovoked attack.
They were both issued penalties for the shenanigans that ensued after the foul.
Kentucky's one-and-done superstar Anthony Davis might be on his way to the NBA, but he'll be haunting the nightmares of NCAA players for years to come.
The Davis-led Wildcats frustrated most of the teams they faced over the course of the season, and their late January matchup with LSU was no different—at least in terms of the final outcome.
The Tigers decided early on that if they couldn't beat them on the scoreboard, they were going to literally beat them.
Davis was smacked around throughout the game but suffered his biggest blows courtesy of LSU big man Malcom White. The pair battled all afternoon, but White was eventually ejected for this flagrant foul with 15:24 remaining.
For casual baseball fans, it's really hard to learn all the strange unwritten rules about the game. An exaggerated glance, the wrong base-running pace or bad blood dating back years can all be catalysts for a brawl.
That being said, even as a casual baseball fan, I know you're not supposed engage in those types of shenanigans during exhibition games. But that's just what happened between the Indians and Rockies in early April.
Jimenez offered no apologies for the event, insisting he had every right to charge because Tulo had been calling him "a chicken." Seriously, dude?
In retrospect, it seems that Predator Shea Weber's Game 1 face smash of the Red Wings'Henrik Zetterberg set the tone for the 2012 NHL playoffs.
The incident occurred after Weber failed to land a punch on Zetterberg, and instead he hit the glass. He rebounded by grabbing Zetterberg's helmet and slamming it into the glass.
Weber was fined $2,500 for the hit and did not receive a suspension.
In March 2012, Hornets forward Jason Smith challenged Clippers superstar Blake Griffin as he took a Chris Paul pass straight to the net.
Smith decided to forgo making a play for the ball in favor of delivering a brutal hip-check on Griffin.
Griffin's head met the floor, and Smith's flagrant foul was met with thunderous applause in New Orleans. To be fair though, they haven't had much to cheer about sports-wise recently.
I'm not sure if coaches are expected to "set an example" in professional sports; it's not like they're dealing with impressionable young children. This topic was debated widely in the aftermath of the Schwartz/Harbaugh handshake debacle in 2011.
No matter where you come down in that debate, we can all agree that Real Madrid coach José Mourinho's inexplicable eye-poking of Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova is way outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
Mourinho was suspended and fined a measly $800 for the offense.
In a rivalry game like Michigan and Michigan State, you can always expect emotions to be running high and play to be particularly physical.
But there is no rivalry heated enough to excuse the horrifying late hit MSU's William Gholston put on UM quarterback Denard Robinson in October 2011. MSU was leading in the third quarter when their defense brought down Robinson cleanly.
It wasn't until Robinson was on the ground and the play was clearly over that Gholston threw himself on top of him and blatantly twisted his neck and head.
It's been awhile since Metta World Peace grabbed headlines for doing something basketball related—so, I guess in a way this is actually a nice change of pace.
The Lakers recently faced off with the Thunder, and it seems M.W. Peace's emotions just got the better of him.
Or at least that was his explanation for the "accidental" elbow he delivered to the face of James Harden.
M.W. Peace "apologized" after the game, insisting "it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with the unintentional elbow." He really does live in his own world, doesn't he?
I'm not sure in what world that blow to the face would be interpreted as anything but intentional and malicious. Although that happens in basketball from time to time, my problem here is the ridiculous denial.
If you're man enough to hit someone in the face, you should be man enough to own it.
If you think the NFL has a problem on its hands with illegal hits and concussions, it's nothing compared to the NHL's brewing storm.
Let's just say Brendan Shanahan's first season as the league's discipline czar has been an eventful one, and he's going to be knee-deep in it for quite some time.
To date, almost one full round of the 2012 playoffs has been played. So far, there have been over a dozen fines and suspensions handed down, and countless other questionable hits have likely been near misses.
Coyotes repeat-offending-goon Raffi Torres egregiously violent hit on the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa is the worst of the worst.
Torres delivered a late hit to the head of Hossa in Game 3 of their series, and Hossa left on a stretcher. Torres was suspended 25 games by the league—the third longest in NHL history.
Obviously there's no love lost between Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and Heat superstar Dwyane Wade.
They are two of the most intense competitors in the NBA, so when you pit them against each other, it's not going to shock many people when one walks away with a broken nose.
Unless, of course, we're talking about the All-Star game, which aren't usually hard-hitting affairs.
Did you see the the 2012 Pro Bowl? That might has well have been a flag football game in a high school girl's gym class.
Apparently D-Wade didn't get the memo—he came down hard on Kobe late in the 2012 All-Star game, leaving him with a broken nose and a mild concussion.
There have been some questions surrounding the bruising style of play exhibited by Lions defensive star Ndamukong Suh.
Without getting into the whole "dirty player" debate, there's no question that his Thanksgiving Day stomp of the Packers Evan Dietrich-Smith was completely out of bounds.
If the stomp itself was out of bounds, I'm not sure how to describe Suh's feeble attempts to deny it was intentional.
Thankfully Dietrich-Smith wasn't injured and maybe Suh even learned something from the two-game suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Suppose only time will tell on the latter.