We discussed this week the case of two Texas teenage football players who viciously attacked a ref under orders from one of the coaches. The shocking incident was captured on videotape. Now an eighteen-year-old Linden High School (NJ) football player is on videotape (below) pulling off the helmet of an opponent’s helmet and then hitting him in the head with it. After an outcry, supporters insisted that the opposing player had used a racial slur and cheated. Once again, however, (as with the same allegation in Texas) a physical assault is not a justified response to either alleged act.
The incident occurred at a Friday game when a lineman on the Immaculata High School team dove toward the team. The teen is clearly shown hitting the lineman with his helmet, sending the other teenager to the hospital to receive 10 stitches.
What is very disappointing is the response of Salaam Ismial, director of the Elizabeth-based United Youth Council, who dismissed the incited by saying “Things like this happen in football. He didn’t go up to hurt this kid. They were two bulls tangling.” Really? This would be assault just 20 feet away off the field. It is clearly in violation of the rules and calculated to injury the other player. What is even more disturbing is that the attacker was not removed from the game. I am not sure what the standards are in New Jersey, but any football game that I know of — on either a high school or professional level — would require the teenager’s immediate removal. That bizarre decision is now being cited by the attacker’s mother as evidence that what he did was not a big deal: “If it was so bad, which it was a bad incident, they should have taken him out of the game. They allowed him to play the third and fourth quarter. He apologized to the student.”
It was only after the controversy went national with the tape on YouTube that the local football officials showed a modicum of responsibility. Linden Superintendent Danny Robertozzi said, after an investigation of the incident, that the player should be removed from the team. Whatever else may happen in this case, families in Linden need to serious review the training and competence of the officials who allowed his student to return to play and failed to take immediate action after a clear assault on another student.
As discussed yesterday, we cover this controversy in torts in the context of the case of Hackbart v. The Cincinnati Bengals involving a game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in Denver in 1973. The Broncos’ defensive back, Dale Hackbart, was injured by a blow by Bengals’ offensive back, Charles “Booby” Clark. The court ruled that the hit fell outside of the NFL rules and thus Hackbart did not consent to such a battery. The reason was that the hit violated the rules of the game. However, there was no discussion of whether the rules of the NFL differed from the practices or industry custom.
The teenager’s mother insists that her son somehow did not intend to hit the other boy with the helmet: “He said his hand got stuck in the helmet. I believe in my child.” However, you can watch the videotape below. It certainly appears to be a conscious and deliberative act. But the way, after clearly realizing that he just assaulted the lineman with a helmet, the attacker just walks away. There is no evidence of remorse or concern.
The question is whether this matter should also result in a criminal charge. As we discussed yesterday, some assaults during sporting events have been prosecuted even if the punishment is slight. It most certainly could be litigated as a battery under torts.
What do you think?