25 Most Controversial Calls In Sports History

Posted by , Updated on May 23, 2024

Are you an avid sports enthusiast? If so, you’ve likely felt irritated or frustrated by an unfavorable decision at some point. These situations arise often because referees and umpires, being human, are prone to making mistakes now and then. Such incorrect decisions can sometimes lead to major disputes and controversies in the sports world. Here are the Top 25 Most Controversial Calls In Sports History.


Team USA (2010 World Cup)

usa soccer

With less than stellar officiating all around, the US had two goals disallowed, one against Slovenia and another against Algeria. Regardless, the US still moved into the knockout stage.


Chuck Knoblauch’s 'Tag' (Game 4, 1999 ACLS)


Yankee Chuck Knoblauch was credited for tagging out Boston’s Jose Offerman in spite of being multiple feet away.


Don Denkinger (1985 World Series)


When umpire Don Denkinger incorrectly called the Royals’ Jorge Orta safe at first, they came back to be beat the Cardinals and win the World Series. Talk about a mistake in their favor!


Hand of God Goal (1986 World Cup)


Diego Maradona scored this famous goal using…you guessed it…his hand. Surprisingly, he wasn’t called on it, and Argentina went on to beat England.


Roy Jones Jr. vs Park Si-Hun (Seoul Olympics in 1988)

Roy Jones Jr.

Although Roy absolutely pummeled Park Si-Hun, the judges gave it to Park. Many regard this as one of the worst calls in Olympic history.


Jeffrey Maier (Game 1, ALCS, 1996)


When 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and caught a ball hit by Derek Jeter, it robbed the Baltimore Orioles. Were it not for Jeffrey reaching out into the ballpark, the Oriole’s outfielder would have caught it.


Leon Stickle (1980 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6)


Duane Sutter gave New York a 2-1 lead against the Flyers when referee Leon Stickle missed an offsides call. It cost the Flyers the game and the cup.


Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor


Although Taylor was ahead in points, referee Richard Steele stopped the bout with only a few seconds left and awarded Chavez the match. Why? Because Taylor appeared shaken from a Chavez knockdown.


The Pine Tar Game (1983, Kansas City Royals vs. New York Yankees)

baseball bat

Umpire Tim McClellan disallowed a ninth inning homer by George Brett that gave the Royals a 5-4 lead over the Yankees. Why? The Yankees had argued that he had pine tar running too far up his bat. The call was eventually overturned after the Royals protested to the league office, but not before causing outrage among fans.


Thierry Henry’s Handball (World Cup Qualification, 2009)


When Thierry Henry scored a goal to push France past Ireland into the World Cup, the referees failed to notice that just before kicking the ball he touched it with his hand.


Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley

Manny Pacquiao

Although Manny clearly won (he landed 190 power punches), the judges gave it to Bradley who landed only 108.


Vinny Testaverde's helmet (1998)

Vinny Testaverde

In what basically led to the NFL getting instant replay, the Jets were trailing the Seahawks when Vinny took the ball and leapt for the end zone. Although he was stopped short, the ref apparently mistook Vinny’s helmet for the football and called it a touchdown.


The Robbery (2010)

Armando Galarraga

When umpire Jim Joyce wrongly called a runner as safe at first, it robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game.


Brett Hull (Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals)


Although Brett scored for the Dallas Stars, his skate was in the crease (which was illegal). They still accepted the goal. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, the bad call cost them the Stanley Cup.


The No-Catch (1979 AFC title game)


The Oilers’ Mike Renfro was robbed of a touchdown when he was wrongly called out of bounds. The Steelers went on to win the game.


Seahawks vs Packers (2012)


In 2012, during the NFL referee lockout, the replacement refs were busy making some terrible calls. One of them cost the Green Bay Packers a game. The refs claimed a touchdown when it reality was an interception. They even stuck to their story after viewing undeniable video evidence. Needless to say, a lot of fans were mad.


Roughing the Passer (1976 NFL playoff game)


Referee Ben Dreith called the Patriots’ Ray Hamilton for roughing the passer in a controversial call that cost them the game against the Raiders.


The Coin Toss (1999)

coin toss

NFL referee heard Steelers’ running back Jerome Bettis say “heads” when he in fact had said “tails” during a coin flip. The Lions ended up winning the toss and scoring before the Steelers could even touch the ball.


The Tag (Game 2, 1991 World Series)


When Ron Gant (Atlanta Braves) was running back to first base, Kent Hrbek (Minnesota Twins) nudged him off the plate and tagged him. The umpire, Drew Coble, fell for it.


The Bert Emmanuel Rule (1999 NFC Championship Game)


The Buccaneers were trailing 11-6 when Bert made a 13-yard reception at the Rams’ 22 yard line. This would have given the Bucs a chance to score, but his pass was called into review. Referees decided the ball had touched the ground so it didn’t count. The NFL later clarified that as long as the player maintains control, the pass counts as a reception, even if the ball touches the ground. This came to be known as the Bert Emmanuel Rule and is the result of one of the worst referee calls in NFL history.


Time Welke vs Jerry Hairston Jr. (2012)

Colorado Rockies

In 2012, umpire Tim Welke called Los Angeles’ Jerry Hairston Jr. out at first in spite of the fact that Colorado’s Todd Helton was nowhere near the plate when he caught the ball. With the umpire’s help, the Colorado Rockies went on to win the game.


Eric Gregg Strikes Out Fred McGriff (1997)


In 1997, Eric Gregg rung up the Atlanta Braves’ Fred McGriff on what was an obviously bad call. The Marlins went on to win the World Series that year.


Tuck Rule Game (2001 AFC divisional playoff)

Tom Brady

In this game between the Patriots and the Raiders, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady was sacked and fumbled the ball. The refs, however, ruled that it was an incomplete pass. The Patriots retained possession and went on to win the game.


5th Down


Although you’re only supposed to get 4 downs in football (basically “plays” for all the non-Americans), Colorado defeated Missouri when they scored during a 5th down in 1990. Apparently, nobody was keeping track.


Russia vs USA


During the 1972 Munich Olympic basketball finals, Russia barely beat the US team on questionable grounds when they were given 3 extra seconds on the clock. At any rate, the US didn’t allow professionals to play in the Olympics back then, while the Soviets did; the American team was already at a disadvantage. This has come to be widely regarded as one of the worst referee calls ever in basketball.

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