Athletes Who Forced Rule Changes In Their Leagues

Athletes | 11/10/19

Each professional sport has a wide variety of rules and regulations. Smart players are always on the lookout for ways to exploit these rules and turn them in their favor. Whether it’s a special piece of equipment or just a different way of doing things, any edge can help.

Once an athlete finds a unique way to exploit a rule, they don’t have all that long to take advantage. The league offices have a way of quickly nipping an unfair advantage in the bud. Below is a list of athletes who directly inspired organizations to change their rules.

Tom Dempsey and Prosthetics

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Via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

In 1970, New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey nailed a field goal from 63 yards away. This record would hold for 43 years until it was broken by the Broncos Matt Prater. What made the original kick even more impressive was that Dempsey only had half a kicking foot.

Due to his disability, the kicker had a special shoe made to fit his right foot. While it didn’t seem to give him an advantage, the NFL ruled that any future kicker like Dempsey would have to have their shoe modeled with a round toe.

Trent Tucker And Last Second Shots

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Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When split-second last hope shots are a regular occurrence in the NBA, it can be difficult to determine if the player got the shot off before the buzzer. Today’s technology allows referees to take an exact look, but back in 1990, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

In a 1990 game, the Knicks’ Trent Tucker beat the Bulls with a three-pointer launched with 1/10th of a second left. Following this moment, the NBA declared that players needed at least 3/10th’s of a second to score anything outside of a tip-in.

Roy Williams And Horse Collars

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Brian Killian/Getty Images
Brian Killian/Getty Images

With the blazing speed and athleticism of the NFL’s wide receivers and running back, sometimes defenders just have to grab what the can and hold on. If they grab the player up by the collar, though, devastating injuries can occur.

This is what happened in 2004 when Cowboys safety Roy Williams tackled Terrell Owens in "horse collar" fashion. The next season, the NFL issued a new rule that this style of tackle would result in a 15-yard penalty.

Lenny Randle And Foul Balls

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Marilynn K. Yee/New York Times Co./Getty Images
Marilynn K. Yee/New York Times Co./Getty Images

Sometimes a ball rolls down the 3rd base line and the 3rd basemen have no other option than to hope for the ball to roll foul. They can’t do anything to help that ball on its way thanks to former Seattle Mariner Lenny Randle.

In a 1981 game, Randle got down on his hands and knees and tried to blow the ball foul. Major League Baseball soon implemented a rule that stated a player couldn’t change the path of a ball they weren’t actually touching.

George Mikan And Tall Baskets

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Via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

Standing at 6-10 with a deft shot and surprising athleticism, George Mikan represented a force the basketball world had never seen before. Towering over other players, the center routinely got to the basket and scored at will.

In an effort to even out the playing field, the NBA installed 12 foot baskets in a game between Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers and the Milwaukee Hawks. After noting that the new baskets made the game much more difficult for all players, the idea was scrapped forever.

Boom Boom Mancini And Boxing Safety

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Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

1982 featured one of boxing’s great tragedies. The bout between Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini and Korea’s Kim Duk-koo was a brutal 14 round affair. Kim was put on life support after the fight and died 5 days later.

Following the fighter’s death, both his mother and the referee of the fight, John Green, committed suicide. The Nevada State Athletic Commission moved to make the sport safer by incorporating 12 round fights, standing 8 counts, and requiring additional medical testing for fighters.

Mike Singletary And Sliding Quarterbacks

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Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Mike Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears, was known for dishing out devastating hits. One of the most fierce hits of his career came in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1988.

Cowboys quarterback Steve Puelluer had made a first down and slid to avoid a hit. Singletary nailed the sliding Puellar who left the game with a serious concussion. The next season, the NFL made it illegal to hit a quarterback who had given himself up.

Sean Avery And The Avery Rule

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Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Standing at only 5-9, Sean Avery was never the biggest or most talented player on the ice. Thanks to his toughness and incredible agitation skills, though, he carved out a 12 year career in the NHL.

One of his most famous moments came during the 2008 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils. For his entire shift, he stood in front of Devils’ goalie, Martin Brodeur waving his hands to distract him. The NHL immediately banned this practice, dubbing it "The Avery Rule."

Pat Venditte And Handedness Decisions

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Switch hitters have been a part of the game of baseball since anyone can remember. Switch pitchers, though, that was something that was considerably more rare. When Pat Venditte made his way through the minors and up to the bigs, the MLB had an issue on their hands.

Switch hitters did not know what side they wanted to bat from until Venditte decided which hand he would pitch with. To stop the craziness, the MLB declared that switch pitchers must declare what hand they will use before each at bat.

Shaq And Broken Backboards

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VINCE BUCCI/AFP via Getty Images
VINCE BUCCI/AFP via Getty Images

When Shaquille O’Neal first broke onto the scene, he was a force unlike any other than the league had ever seen. And the Orlando Magic’s 7-footer enjoyed showing off this level of dominance by destroying a number of backboards.

When he took the rim down, though, it resulted in lengthy delays as crews would need to come in and set up another basket. The NBA rectified these thunderous dunks by penalizing the perpetrator with technical fouls for destroying backboards and rims.

Eddie Stanky And Distractions

Eddie Stanky And Distractions - 488270419
Getty Images via Getty Images
Getty Images via Getty Images

Major League infielders have to be prepared for a batter to hit a laser line drive in their direction. Eddie Stanky, who largely played for the Dodgers and Braves in the ’40s and ’50s seemingly wasn’t as concerned as other infielders.

The second basemen made a point of jumping and waving his hands to affect the sightlines of the batter. His annoying antics eventually gained the notice of the MLB who banned infielders from doing anything to disrupt the player in the batter’s box.

Tiger Woods And Dominance

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Getty
Getty

Soon after he joined the PGA Tour in 1996, Tiger Woods began to dominate the rest of the field. He was so dominant that some tournaments became non-competitive. Woods won the Masters in 2001 by 12 strokes.

In an effort to slow the golfer down, Augusta narrowed the fairway, allowed the rough to grow and incorporated other ideas to make the course harder. While the changes did hurt Woods, they also hurt all the other golfers playing the course as well.

Bobby Hull And Banana Blades

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Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images
Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images

When the sport of hockey first began, the blade of the stick wasn’t curved at all. In the 1950’s and 60’s Blackhawks star Bobby Hull began to experiment with curving the stick into what were called "banana blades."

The banana blades created all kinds of chaos as stars like Hull were able to curve and manipulate the puck in new ways. The NHL stepped in and restricted the way each stick’s blade could be manipulated.

Bob Gibson And Flat Mounds

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Via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

With a career ERA of 2.91, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bob Gibson was very hard to hit. But in 1968, he took being hard to hit to an entirely new level. The right-hander had an ERA of 1.12 and the Cards made the World Series.

With pitchers, and especially Gibson, becoming so difficult to hit, MLB decided that they had to make a change. During the next season, the mound was lowered 5 inches to try to take some velocity off the ball.

Wayne Gretzky And Dominance

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Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Wayne Gretzky and his Edmonton Oiler teams were nearly unstoppable. When there was a penalty simultaneously called on both teams and the game went to 4 on 4 or 3 on 3, somehow, they became even more unstoppable.

In those cases, the ice was wide open and players like Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and Esa Tikkanen scored in bunches. To try to control the Oilers a little bit, the NHL declared that when penalties were called on both teams, the matchup would remain 5 on 5

Morris Stroud And Field Goal Jumps

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Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Morris Stroud was a semi-decent Tight End for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1970’s. He was also an important part of Kansas City’s special teams unit. His specific role was attempting to block field goal attempts.

He didn’t block field goal attempts from the line of scrimage, though, he stood at the cross bar and attempted to jump for them. He was almost never successful, but the NFL didn’t like the method and passed a rule that all players attempting to block kicks must do so from the line.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar And Slam Dunks

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Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Lew Alcindor (who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), grew up in New York City, but he chose to play his college basketball at UCLA. He was an almost unstoppable force there and slam dunked the basketball at will.

There was really no stopping Alcindor or the UCLA Bruins, but the NCAA still endeavored to try. The organization banned the dunk shot in 1967 and the ban remained in place for the next 10 years. It didn’t do much to stop UCLA.

Rob Ray And Fisticuffs

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Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Unlike other sports, fighting in hockey is not only allowed, it is borderline encouraged. And Rob Ray, who played for Buffalo and Ottawa was one of the toughest guys around. He also built in a smart fighting advantage.

Ray sewed his pads into his jersey in hopes that his jersey would easily come off in a fight. Once the opponent couldn’t grab his jersey, he could throw punches at will. Soon, the NHL made it illegal for jerseys to come off in the process of a brawl.

Wilt Chamberlain And Free Throw Dunks

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Via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

Wilt Chamberlain was an athlete that has almost never been seen before and may never be seen again. One way he showed off this athleticism was when he shot his free throws. Rather than shooting the ball, he would jump from the line and dunk it.

This was a smart strategy for Wilt the Stilt who only shot 51% from the line for his career. While this rule would only affect a very select few, the NBA soon declared that free throws must be shot behind the line.

Roger Neilson and Penalty Shots

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Al Bello /Getty Images
Al Bello /Getty Images

Roger Neilson wasn’t actually a player, he was a successful NHL coach. And Neilson had some very interesting ideas on how his team should defend the opposing teams penalty shots.

For one thing, the coach sometimes used defensemen rather than goalies on penalty shots to try to disrupt the chance. He also had goaltenders leave their stick in front of the net when they came off for an extra skater. The NHL stepped in and made both of these practices illegal.