Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A "Football Move"

Tennessee Titans and former UT standout Albert Haynesworth is in a peck of trouble.

By now, most everyone knows how Haynesworth stomped on the head of Dallas Cowboy Andre Gurode during their game on Sunday. And how Gurode required 30 stitches, Haynesworth was ejected and subsequently suspended for five games without pay.

There is continued talk about whether criminal actions should be brought against Haynesworth (although apparently the Nashville police are waiting for Gurode to actually press charges before pursuing the matter) or whether Gurode to sue Haynesworth. Apparently there is NFL precedent for this kind of action, so I've read.

What Haynesworth did was reprehensible and embarrassing to the Titans and to UT. That's a given. The five-game suspension was enough or not enough, depending on your own opinion. That's not at issue here, really.

I'm just curious at the possibility of criminal or civil charges being based on what a football player does on the field. I watched Chris Collinsworth during halftime of a game later that day comment that he believed it was a criminal act, and Haynesworth should've been led off the field in handcuffs. And that if someone had struck him in such a way on the street, the guy would've been in jail.

But while stomping is extremely dangerous and could've resulted in Gurode losing an eye, well...football's an extremely rough sport as we all know. When a football player goes on the field, the possibility of extreme injury is always there. QB's take ferocious sacks, linemen pound on each other, RB's get their legs cut out from under them... are these criminal acts? No, of course not - they're part of the game and not actionable under local laws.

Now, if I was standing on the street corner and somebody blindside-tackled me like a linebacker sacking a QB, would I have grounds to file for assault? Sure. But I wouldn't if I were a QB and that same guy sacked me on the field.

If I was standing on the strees corner and a somebody picked me up and threw me to the ground, I'd have them arrested. If I was a Wide Receiver getting caught in the backfield on an End Around, I'd be embarrassed for not being quicker around the corner (and pretty sore).

So there's a difference between what's actionable on and off the field. Where, legally, does that leave an opening for someone filing criminal or civil charges against Haynesworth?

Well, you say, what he did was not a "football move" as they like to call certain plays these days. It wasn't in the course of a tackle or block. It was clearly retaliatory, clearly in anger and caused injury.

True. But who's to say the Alabama defender that broke UT Quarterback Tony Robinson's leg almost in two in 1985 wasn't acting deliberately? I don't think he was, but who knows? What about the guy that snapped Joe Theismann's leg (shudder)? Or the guy who gave Kansas City QB Trent Green a concussion and has caused him to miss at least four games so far? Those injuries probably weren't intentional, but they could have been as far as anyone knows. Haynesworth's was just a lot more obvious.

But what I'm getting at is none of those injuries (as far as I know) were ever pursued by the injured party in the courts. They were unfortunate parts of the game, and I doubt the law would've (or could've) gone after any of the injurers.

So, tell me, if I - a Quarterback - can't sue someone for sacking me on a late hit and breaking my leg, why should Gurode be able to sue or prosecute Haynesworth? Where is that actual legal line drawn between "a football move" or even one that causes serious injuries and a crime?

(For another example of what I'm talking about, see Clemens, R. vs Piazza, M.)

I just have a hard time buying the arbitrary line drawn between purposeful injury and the injuries and violence that are just part of the game, as far as what should be considered illegal. It seems if you're going to exempt a vicious, bone-jarring, concussion-causing hit you should exempt a cleat to the head. Legally speaking, that is.

1 comment:

  1. I think the line is pretty clear. A sack is in the rules of the game, and there are limits on what is allowed. Roughing the passer is there to show that after the ball has left the QB's hands, contact is not okay. Personal foul, unsportsman like conduct, late hit - these all establish what is allowed and fair.

    The line you are looking for is all players are aware of these rules when they enter the field. Same as in boxing, you've agreed to the rule upon playing the game. It's therefore not expected for someone to step on your face with cleats, or bite your ear off - and by that I mean it's a legal expectation that would not occur.

    For Gurode, he can press criminal charges, and if the state thinks there is enough for it to hold they will take it up. In the criminal case a big issue will be was Haynesworth provoked - which may be the case and if so would be no different than a man in a bar telling you that your an America hater so you finally punch him to shut him up. In a civil case Gurode has more - the risk to his career (and that's alot of money should this cut short his time in football) and the fact taunting is considered part of the game and normal, leaves him with a much stronger case.

    If it were me, I'd tell Gurode to follow up any criminal charges if the state thinks they are going to hold. This is based on the fact that 5 games is light, it should have been a season (imagine if Haynesworth got to play in the superbowl this year). The civil case would be too much of a distraction and is not worth it (assuming he's ok'd to play).