Olympics Loser Fights his Horse (and 5 other Unlikely Sports Brawls)

Snooker players Quentin Hann and Mark Hicks.
Snooker players Quentin Hann and Mark Hicks.
Getty Images

While I usually don't pay much attention to the WNBA, it's hard to ignore what Candace Parker is doing to kick-start interest in the league.  She's dunking, she's rebounding, and on Tuesday night she went one step further and became embroiled in a melee during the Los Angeles Sparks' road game against the Detroit Shock.  If you sat down to make a list of "sporting events at which you're least likely to see a brawl," a WNBA game would have to be near the top, but was it the most unexpected throwdown of all time? Here are a few other notables you may have missed:

1. Stock Car Racing Goes Kung Fu

Before the event started, there was relatively little chance of the 2006 Glass City 200 at Toledo Speedway becoming an object of international fascination. After all, it wasn't even a NASCAR race; it was part of the ARCA series, a sort of minor league level of the sport.  All of that changed when Don Saint Denis spun out Michael Simko during the race. With the red flag up to stop the race, Simko decided it was time for some revenge. He hopped out of his car and ran full-steam towards Saint Denis' ride before giving it a flying Mortal-Kombat-style kick through the windshield. Simko then removed his helmet and started punching his foe through the driver's window. Saint Denis wasn't going to go down without a fight, though; he crawled out of the car and started defending himself.  The dustup was shown on television stations around the world and quickly became a YouTube classic; both riders drew suspensions for their actions. Here's video of the scrape:

2. NASCAR Fights Its Way National

The 1979 Daytona 500 is considered one of the most important races in the sport's history, but not completely because what drivers did behind the wheel. Although the race was the first of its length to be shown on live television in the U.S., what happened after the checkered flag dropped made it legendary. In the last lap of a tight race, Cale Yarborough tried a risky pass of leader Donnie Allison. Allison successfully blocked Yarborough's advance, but Yarborough hit the infield mud and lost control of his car.  The two drivers careened into the wall and ended up crashed in the infield as Richard Petty zipped past them to take the win. Allison and Yaborough got out of their cars and started arguing in the infield, and within a few seconds were throwing punches, as was Allison's brother Bobby. CBS broadcast the fight nationwide, and the story hit the front of the New York Times' sports section, which helped propel NASCAR to much greater national popularity.

3. Jockeys Throw Diminutive Blows

Jockey Eddie Taplin was a legendary ironman in the horseracing scene of the early 20th century. He ran over 9,000 races in a career that spanned over three decades before retiring in 1936.  He also wasn't afraid to shred some silks after a race was over. Taplin lost the 1910 Martinez Handicap to E. Martin, who was aboard the horse Binocular.  During the stretch run, though, Taplin had cracked Martin with his whip, which he claimed was justified since Martin crowded him. The two jockeys jawed about the contact after the race, and eventually Martin lost his temper and threw a punch.  Taplin may not have started the fight, but he ended it: he punched Martin hard enough that he dislocated two of his own fingers. The tiny pugilists eventually separated and received suspensions.

4. Man Fights Horse

Taplin and Martin's spat may not have been all that classy, but at least they attacked each other and not their horses, which is more than can be said for Hans-Jurgen Todt.  The West German modern pentathlete was competing at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics when his horse for the riding portion of the competition began giving him trouble. The horse, Ranchero, balked at three different obstacles, effectively killing Todt's chance at a medal. Todt then came unhinged and started attacking the horse. It took several teammates to eventually break up the one-sided fight, and Todt became a strange Olympic footnote as a sort of anti-Nietzsche.

5. Water Polo Gets Physical

Water polo is already a taxing game, but in one match early in the 20th century, it turned downright violent. Teams from New York and Chicago met in Pittsburgh for a preliminary match to crown a national champion in the sport, and things quickly turned rather gruesome. Early in the match a scrum broke out, and it escalated until four men were taken from the water unconscious. At that point, it probably seemed the fight was over, but Chicago's coach Joe Choynsky had a different idea. Choynsky, a former prizefighter, reignited the melee by delivering a picture-perfect blow to the jaw of New York player Joe Ruddy. According to Time magazine, a riot then broke out as female spectators yelled "Shame!" at the men. Following these antics, the Amateur Athletic Union dropped water polo from its program for over twenty years before picking it back up in 1934.

6. Snooker Players Take It Outside

Before he became a professional pool player, Australian Quinten Hann was a hotheaded pro snooker player known for his temperamental outbursts. One particularly notable incident occurred at the 2004 World Championships while he was playing Andy Hicks.  Throughout the match Hann taunted the unseeded Englishman, and after Hicks dropped Hann 10-4, Hann challenged Hicks to a fistfight outside. Match officials separated the players, but they eventually came to blows. After the fistfight, fellow snooker pro Mark King decided to take up Hicks' cause in a charity boxing match after the event. Hann apparently decided he was something of a pugilist after this win and scheduled another fight against Gaelic footballer Johnny Magee; Magee promptly broke Hann's nose in that bout.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Bo Knows Everything: Remembering Nike's Legendary Bo Jackson Ad Campaign

Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Mike Powell, Allsport/Getty Images

It may have been difficult for Nike to conceive of any athlete being able to do more for its company than Michael Jordan. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chicago Bulls star was omnipresent, helping turn their Air Jordan line of sneakers into a squeaky chorus in school hallways and gyms around the country. Even better, the company had scored big with “Just Do It,” an advertising slogan introduced in 1988 that became part of the public lexicon.

There was just one issue. In spite of Jordan’s growing popularity and their innovative advertising, Nike was still in second place behind Reebok. No other athlete on their roster could seemingly bridge the gap. Not even their new cross-training shoe endorsed by tennis pro John McEnroe was igniting excitement in the way the company had hoped.

In 1989, two major events changed all of that: An advertising copywriter was struck with inspiration, and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson slammed a first-inning home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The ad man’s idea was to portray Jackson as being able to do just about anything. Jackson went ahead and proved him right.

 

Bo Jackson was an ideal spokesperson for Nike's new line of cross-training sneakers. The Auburn University graduate was making waves as a rare two-sport pro athlete; he was playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football for the Los Angeles Raiders. Early commercials featured Jackson sampling other sporting activities like riding a bike. “Now, when’s that Tour de France?” he asked. In another, he dunked a basketball and pondered the potential of “Air Bo.”

At a Portland bar near Nike’s headquarters one evening, Nike vice president of marketing Tom Clarke and Jim Riswold of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy were pondering how best to use Jackson going forward. Clarke wanted to devote the majority of their budget for the cross-trainers to an ad campaign featuring the athlete. The two started lobbing ideas about other people named Bo—Bo Derek, Beau Brummell, Little Bo Peep, and Bo Diddley, among others.

The last one stuck with Riswold. He thought of a phrase—“Bo, you don’t know Diddley”—and went home to sleep on it. When he woke up the next morning, he was able to sketch out an entire commercial premise in minutes. Riswold envisioned a spot in which Jackson would try his hand at other sports, punctuating each with a “Bo Knows” proclamation. Jackson soon realizes the one thing he can’t do is play guitar with Bo Diddley, the legendary musician.

It took longer to shoot the commercial than to conceive of it. The spot was shot over the course of a month, with the crew going to California, Florida, and Kansas to film cameos with other athletes including Jordan, McEnroe, and Wayne Gretzky—all of whom Nike had under personal appearance contracts.

Fearing Jackson might hurt himself trying to skate, the production filmed him from the knees up sliding around in socks at a University of Kansas gymnasium rather than on ice. But not all attempts at caution were successful. When director Joe Pytka grew frustrated that Jackson kept running off-camera and implored him to move in a straight line, Jackson steamrolled both the equipment and Pytka, who had to tend to a bloody nose before continuing.

In portraying any other athlete this way, the campaign may have come off as stretching credulity. But Jackson had already been improving his game in all areas, hitting a 515-foot home run during a spring training win over the Boston Red Sox. In April, he hit .282 and tallied eight home runs. Even when he struck out, he still stood out: Jackson was prone to breaking his bat over his knee in frustration.

 

After Jackson was voted into the 1989 MLB All-Star Game in July, Nike decided the telecast would be the ideal place to debut their Bo Knows campaign. They handed out Bo Knows pennants for fans and even flew Bo Knows signs overhead. Bo Knows appeared in a full-page spot for USA Today. Even by Nike standards, this was big.

There was, of course, a chance Jackson would be in a bat-breaking mood, which might diminish the commercial’s impact. But in the very first inning, Jackson sent one into the stands off pitcher Rick Reuschel. With a little scrambling, Nike was able to get their ad moved up from the fourth inning, where it was originally scheduled to run. In the broadcast booth, announcer Vin Scully and special guest, former president Ronald Reagan, marveled at Jackson’s prowess. Scully reminded viewers that his pro football career was something Jackson once described as a “hobby.”

A Bo Jackson fan is pictured holding up a 'Bo Knows Baseball!' sign at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989
A Bo Jackson fan shows his support at the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. That summer and into the fall, Bo Knows was quickly moving up the ranks of the most pervasive commercial spots in memory, second only to Jordan’s memorable ads for Nike and McDonald’s. Jackson turned up in sequels, trying his hand at everything from surfing to soccer to cricket. Special effects artists created multiple Bo Jacksons, a seemingly supernatural explanation for why he excelled at everything.

It was a myth, but one rooted in reality. After 92 wins with the Royals as a left-fielder in 1989, Jackson reported for the NFL season that fall as a running back for the Raiders. In one three-game stretch, he ran for over 100 yards each. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in November, Jackson ran 92 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 950 rushing yards. That winter, he was named to the Pro Bowl, making him the only athlete to appear in two all-star games for two major North American sports in consecutive seasons.

Nike was staggered by the results of Bo Knows, which helped them leap over Reebok to become the top athletic shoe company. They eventually secured 80 percent of the cross-training shoe market, going from $40 million in sales to $400 million, a feat that executives attributed in large part to Jackson. Bo Knows, bolstered by Jackson’s demonstrated versatility, was the perfect marriage of concept and talent. His stature as a spokesperson rose, and he appeared in spots for AT&T and Mountain Dew Sport, earning a reported $2 million a year for endorsements. A viewer survey named him the most persuasive athlete in advertising. If that weren’t enough, Jackson also appeared in the popular Nintendo Entertainment System game Tecmo Bowl and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989.

 

In 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury during a Raiders game, one that permanently derailed his football career. He played three more seasons of baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring from sports in 1994.

Jackson's relationship with Nike was dissolved soon after, though the company never totally abandoned the concept of athletes wading into new territory. In 2004, a campaign depicted big names sampling other activities. Tennis great Andre Agassi suited up for the Boston Red Sox; cyclist Lance Armstrong was seen boxing; Serena Williams played beach volleyball. The Bo Knows DNA ran throughout.

Jackson still makes periodic references to the campaign, including in advertisements for his Bo Jackson Signature Foods. (“Bo Knows Meat,” the website proclaims.) In 2019, Jackson also appeared in a Sprint commercial that aimed for surrealism, with Jackson holding a mermaid playing a keytar and having a robot intone that “Bo does know” something about cell phone carriers.

The other key Bo—Diddley—never quite understood why the campaign worked. After seeing the commercial, he reportedly said that he was confused because it had nothing to do with shoes.