Reports surfaced last week that several NFL teams were linked to a “bounty” scandal in which defensive players and coaches pooled cash together to pay players for big hits, which resulted in “knockouts” or “cart-offs.”
As the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, fashions an appropriate punishment, the scandal could have both civil and criminal implications. As we previously blogged in I Went to a Fight and a Hockey Game Broke Out, if an act is considered “part of the game” (a collision at home plate, a foul in basketball or a tackle in football), then players are considered to have assumed the risk of injury. However, when conduct goes so far beyond that which is normally tolerated, civil and criminal liability may follow.
Legal precedent exists for the notion of holding players responsible for conduct that recklessly endangers their opponents. Therefore, the possibility exists for assault and battery charges to be filed against individuals who took part in the bounty rewards program. Furthermore, teams could also face civil liability from fans that paid to watch games based purely on athletic talents and not secret side bets among the players and coaches.