Teams that Play the Dirtiest

September 30, 2019 by Grant Suneson

All professional athletes have one aspect in common — competitiveness. It is impossible to make it in pro sports without having a strong desire to compete and succeed with your teammates. While this aggressiveness gives many players their edge, it can sometimes go too far. 

Players can use their physicality to their advantage in contact sports, but there is a fine line between playing hard and playing dirty. Players can use contact as an excuse to level an excessive hit on their opponent — often endangering their own safety, especially with hits to the head. These are the greatest athletic careers ruined by injury.

Other athletes go outside the rules to gain a competitive edge, taking performance-enhancing drugs. These events are, thankfully, rare. But some teams seem to have a penchant for playing outside the rules.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the four major U.S. sports leagues regarding recent fines and suspensions for flagrant in-game misconduct and performance-enhancing drug use to determine the dirtiest teams in sports in the last complete season. The data comes from several sources, including Fox Sports, Spotrac, and more.

If a team is committing many hard fouls, that may mean that the team lacks discipline. Flagrant or personal fouls can result in harsh penalties in the game as well as future suspensions. Good teams rarely commit many fouls like this, as good coaches are able to impress upon their players the need to stay focused during the game and not do anything to hurt the team. Subpar coaches may not be able to get their message across, or even encourage such behavior. These are the teams that always fire their coaches.

Click here to see the dirtiest teams in sports

21. Golden State Warriors
> Flagrant fouls: 5
> Games suspended: 0 games
> League: NBA

A defensive stalwart, Draymond Green is known for physically challenging his opponents. He is also known to cross the line, sometimes fighting and even kicking opponents. He is one of just a handful of NBA players last season to have multiple flagrant fouls, with two. He wasn’t the only member of the Warriors to cross the line — the team had five flagrant fouls, tied for the third most in the league.

Source: Drew Hallowell / Getty Images

20. Edmonton Oilers
> Major penalties: 16
> Games suspended: 4 games
> League: NHL

Few NHL teams were as heavily penalized as the Edmonton Oilers last season. Players spent 754 minutes in the penalty box during the 2018-2019 campaign, one of the highest totals. While penalties are a part of hockey, Oilers players crossed the line several times. Star center Connor McDavid was suspended two games for checking an opponent’s head, while Jujhar Khaira also missed a pair for a cross-check.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

19. Phoenix Suns
> Flagrant fouls: 5
> Games suspended: 0 games
> League: NBA

For the Phoenix Suns, things often got heated last NBA season. The team finished ranked in the top three among all NBA teams in terms of fouls, technical fouls, ejections, disqualifications, and flagrant fouls.

Source: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

18. Minnesota Twins
> Games suspended: 60 games
> League: MLB

Though the Minnesota Twins made the playoffs in 2019, there was a bit of a damper on the celebration as starting pitcher Michael Pineda will not be joining them. He was caught with performance-enhancing drugs in his system and was suspended for 60 games. Though other players have also been caught this season, Pineda is by far the most important as a key member of Minnesota’s pitching rotation.

Source: Jason Halstead / Getty Images

17. Winnipeg Jets
> Major penalties: 19
> Games suspended: 4 games
> League: NHL

As researchers learn more about the effects of contact sports on brain health, sports leagues have put a higher emphasis on protecting players’ heads. The Winnipeg Jets were repeatedly penalized for hitting their opponents high, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Jets’ left wing Adam Lowry received a two-game ban for high-sticking an opponent, and Brendan Lemieux got the same punishment for an illegal hit to the head.

Source: Photo by Chris Graythen / Getty Images

16. Cleveland Cavaliers
> Flagrant fouls: 5
> Games suspended: 1 game
> League: NBA

The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the 2018-2019 season tied for third in the NBA for flagrant fouls, with five. While Cleveland had a tough season, finishing 19-63, the Cavs showed they had a knack for getting under the skin of their opponents. Marquese Chriss reportedly bated Toronto’s Serge Ibaka into a fistfight in their March game. Ibaka was suspended for three games, while Chriss missed just one.

Source: Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

15. Ottawa Senators
> Major penalties: 23
> Games suspended: 5 games
> League: NHL

In hockey, there are standard and then there are major penalties. Just two teams racked up more majors than the Ottawa Senators, with 23. Defenseman Mark Borowiecki largely set the physical tone for Ottawa. He was suspended twice during the 2018-2019 season, missing three games for checking an opponent’s head and another game for elbowing a competitor.

Source: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

14. Colorado Avalanche
> Major penalties: 22
> Games suspended: 0 games
> League: NHL

The Colorado Avalanche racked up 325 penalties during the 2018-2019 season, ranking third in the NHL. The team also ranked fourth in major penalties, with 22 in an 82-game season. For context, most NHL teams had 15 or fewer major penalties all season.

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

 

13. Toronto Raptors
> Flagrant fouls: 3
> Games suspended: 3 games
> League: NBA

The Toronto Raptors had a great 2019, finally winning their franchise’s first championship. But earlier that season, Serge Ibaka was involved in an ugly incident, in which he and Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss fought one another after colliding at the end of the third quarter. The two big men threw several haymakers at one another before eventually being pulled apart.

 

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

12. Los Angeles Clippers
> Flagrant fouls: 6
> Games suspended: 0 games
> League: NBA

Only one other NBA team committed more flagrant fouls than the Los Angeles Clippers in the most recent season. The Clippers struggled to contain their emotions, leading the NBA with seven ejections. Clippers fans hope that the veteran presence of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who joined the team in the offseason, could get the Clippers to play with more discipline.

Source: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

11. San Francisco 49ers
> Personal fouls: 9
> Games suspended: 18 games
> League: NFL

Performance-enhancing drug suspensions are relatively uncommon in the NFL. There were just 19 throughout the course of the 2018 season — three of which handed down to San Francisco 49ers, more than any other team. Wide receivers Max McCaffrey and Victor Bolden each missed four games, while long snapper Kyle Nelson was suspended for 10, as it was his second offense. No other team lost as many players or as many games to suspension as the Niners did.

Source: Justin Berl / Getty Images

10. Cincinnati Reds
> Games suspended: 16 games
> League: MLB

The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates had long-simmering bad blood dating back to the early season. It finally came to blows in July when Reds reliever Amir Garrett charged the entire Pittsburgh dugout, starting a huge fight. Yasiel Puig, who was later traded to Cleveland, was actually suspended twice in 2019 for fighting the Pirates two different times — first shoving Pittsburgh’s catcher in April, then joining in the July fisticuffs. Altogether, the Reds received 16 games worth of suspensions last season for on-field conduct, second only to the Pirates.

Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

9. Pittsburgh Pirates
> Games suspended: 23 games
> League: MLB

The MLB handed down 23 games worth of suspensions to the Pittsburgh Pirates stemming from their dustups with Cincinnati, compared with the Reds’ 16 games, sending the message that Pittsburgh instigated. Pitcher Chris Archer was suspended five games for throwing a pitch at the Reds’ Derek Dietrich in April. In the second and more serious brawl, Keone Kela was suspended for 10 games, Jose Osuna for five games, and Kyle Crick for three games — all for their actions in the scrum.

Source: Robert Laberge / Getty Images

8. Los Angeles Lakers
> Flagrant fouls: 4
> Games suspended: 7 games
> League: NBA

Suspensions are fairly uncommon in the NBA, with the league handing out 17 game suspensions due to disciplinary action. Seven of those games were handed down to two Los Angeles Lakers players, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, for a serious brawl against the Houston Rockets toward the beginning of the season. Both players threw punches after Rondo got into a skirmish with Rockets point guard Chris Paul. The team racked up over $300,000 in fines and lost salary for various infractions throughout the season, one of the highest totals in the NBA.

Source: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

7. Washington Capitals
> Major penalties: 16
> Games suspended: 14 games
> League: NHL

Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals winger, has developed a reputation for taking things too far on the ice. He was suspended three times during the 2017-2018 season, when he helped the Caps win their first Stanley Cup. He was again punished for a hit he dished out in the 2018-2019 preseason, injuring St. Louis Blues player Oskar Sundqvist with a high hit. First judged to be a 20-game ban, it was later reduced to 14 games. He also lost nearly $900,000 in salary for missing those games. No other team had more than nine combined games worth of suspensions all season for on-ice conduct.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

6. Los Angeles Chargers
> Personal fouls: 13
> Games suspended: 4 games
> League: NFL

In 2018, eight different Los Angeles Chargers were fined or had their salaries docked by the NFL. The team ranked third in personal fouls committed, with 13 during the season — many for roughing the passer. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget was also suspended for four games due to a PED suspension, one of just a handful of players to be caught for such an infraction.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

5. Oklahoma City Thunder
> Flagrant fouls: 5
> Games suspended: 3 games
> League: NBA

For all his great play, Russell Westbrook had a difficult time controlling his emotions last season, and it hurt his team. Westbrook had four flagrant fouls himself in the 2018-2019 season — a higher total than 13 entire teams. He also earned a one-game suspension by racking up 16 technical fouls. The Thunder were also slapped with tens of thousands of dollars in fines and two games worth of suspensions stemming from a scrap the team got into with the Chicago Bulls in a December 2018 game.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

4. New York Rangers
> Flagrant fouls: 28
> Games suspended: 0 games
> League: NHL

The New York Rangers lacked discipline all throughout the 2018-2019 NHL season, racking up an astonishing 854 penalty minutes, the most in the NHL. League average is less than 680. They also had the most major penalties, with 28. Frustration may have gotten the best of the Rangers, as they missed the playoffs for the second straight year, posting a 32-36-14 record.

Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

3. Atlanta Hawks
> Flagrant fouls: 8
> Games suspended: 0 games
> League: NBA

No NBA team had more flagrant fouls than the Atlanta Hawks. The team racked up eight of those major infractions. For context, most NBA teams had four or fewer all season. Alex Len was the major contributor, with three, but his teammate John Collins had two flagrants as well. Len has a history of crossing the line with opponents and upset the 76ers when he elbowed Jimmy Butler in the jaw in a January game against Philadelphia.

 

Source: Claus Andersen / Getty Images

2. Boston Bruins
> Major penalties: 27
> Games suspended: 4 games
> League: NHL

The Boston Bruins finished second to the Rangers in terms of penalty minutes, with 797, and majors, with 27. The NHL twice felt the need to step in and discipline Bruins players for illegal and dangerous hits against their opponents. David Backes received a three-game ban and lost $200,000 for checking an opponent in the head. Defenseman Charles McAvoy was punished for a similar infraction and banned for a single game.

Source: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

 

1. Cincinnati Bengals
> Personal fouls: 16
> Games suspended: 4 games
> League: NFL

A litany of fouls and suspensions for misconduct landed the Cincinnati Bengals at the top of the list of the dirtiest teams in sports. The Bengals led the NFL with 16 personal fouls in 2018 — four for roughing the passer and a dozen for unnecessary roughness. Cincinnati racked up over $2 million in fines and lost salary that season for illegal hits and performance-enhancing drug suspensions. The lion’s share of that came from Vontaze Burfict. The linebacker, now an Oakland Raider, was fined for two helmet-to-helmet hits against the Pittsburgh Steelers and for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, earning a four-game suspension.