why aren't violent sportsfolk charged by police?
November 28, 2007 1:40 AM   Subscribe

why are sportsfolk who deliberately and maliciously injure their fellow sportsfolk not charged by the police? (i'm not really talking about incidental injures... more the kind of stuff that's... um, er assault)

i was discussing this with "he who must obey" (mr taff) after watching a few minutes of l.a. galaxy vs sydney f.c. last night. (yes, with the insufferable beckham.... but it wasn't him)

someone from one of the teams deliberately stomped on the arm of a chap who was lying on the ground. a few times. neither of the fellows appeared to be anywhere near the ball/action.

anyhoo... "he who must obey" said that it's not a police matter as it's handled by the referees. i don't understand why and he just thinks i'm a girly idiot for not understanding.

in australia we have rugby union where people become para/quad plegics semi-regularly because some nut job decided to tackle at head height.

why aren't these people charge? is there a sport where they are. what am i just not getting here? what's the story in other sports/countries? is this unacceptable anywhere?

i don't know anything about netball or softball but you seldom here of the really nasty contact injuries like the rugby or football (soccer) lads.

please help me be 1) more salient in my argument with my other half, and 2) understand.
posted by taff to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: ooooh bugger. spelling mistakes.
um... para/quadRA plegics.


why aren't these people chargeD?

and ... the shame...

you seldom HEAR of the really nasty contact injuries.

egad. sorry, i'm slightly more edumacated than it looks.
posted by taff at 1:42 AM on November 28, 2007

Here's at least one counter-example (from hockey!) where a player was charged and convicted for assault during a game: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marty_McSorley.
posted by zanni at 1:56 AM on November 28, 2007

Another case from ice-hockey: Todd Bertuzzi, who plead guilty to assault, and has since been sued in civil court for damages stemming from an on-ie incident. Also, Dino Ciccarelli was convicted of assault during a game with his hockey stick. I think there have been others (including McSorely, as noted above) from ice hockey. Not sure of other sports.
posted by Rumple at 2:08 AM on November 28, 2007

In reference to the rugby injuries, it can often be very difficult to tell if the high tackles are indeed intentional. God only knows that I've been penalised for high tackles that were by no means intended. I think the relevant authorities would rather err on the side of caution rather than book every player that happens to clothesline the opposition.
posted by PuGZ at 2:13 AM on November 28, 2007

It really just comes down to convention. There is nothing in the Laws of the Game (for Football) which prevent on-field incidents from being escalated into a legal matters.

I've played Football and Rugby Union when there has been some pretty disgusting behaviour and it has never led to police involvement.

I've heard of parents been asked to leave a park after they have been abusive at their child's game. When they failed to leave, the police were called. I don't know of the outcome.
posted by dantodd at 3:07 AM on November 28, 2007

See also..

Duncan Ferguson

A Scottish footballer, who headbutted an opponent, and actually went to gaol.
posted by the_epicurean at 3:08 AM on November 28, 2007

IANAL, but I am a fight fan, and a former football player.

Perhaps the most controversial "contact" sport remains prize fighting (and various similar martial arts contests), which is illegal in some states, and legal in others. The pros and cons of prize fighting have been debated in the U.S. for more than 100 years, and the results remain unclear. What is clear is that some people like watching such contests, and some people like participating in them. What is not clear is whether trying to prohibit them has much larger value to society. I do think that participating in such sports subjects people to an inherently larger degree of risk, that they accept in choosing to participate. Thus there is a role for sanctioning bodies in creating and administering rules for such sports, and for seeing that the conduct of events in those sports provides fair competition. For actions judged by the sanctioning bodies or referees to lie outside the proper conduct of the sport, that result in severe injury, most sanctioning bodies cooperate with police and criminal courts to turn over such participants/players for criminal prosecution. But those same sanctioning bodies frequently resist efforts, as I think they should, to eliminate their role, and those of the referees and judges of the sport, in having first say as to whether a sporting action should be referred to the authorities as a criminal matter, at all. Not all infractions of a sport's rules, even if such infractions result in inadvertent injury, should rise to the standard of criminal acts, and the first line of judgement, in my opinion, is best left to the sanctioning bodies and the referees and personnel under which such contests are held.

I, for one, like watching both amateur and professional boxing. I don't think it should be prohibited anywhere, but I do think that operating boxing within a framework of amateur and professional sanctioning bodies, with due regard for setting weight classes, and enforcing rules based on experience, makes the sport fairer to all participants, and is appropriate for both amateurs and professionals. Sanctioned fights are, under the laws that govern such activities in the jurisdictions in which they are legal, specifically exempted from the criminal laws governing assault in normal society, because it is assumed that the participants are aware of the risks, and have been examined by the sanctioning bodies, and compete in contests under the close supervision of referees and medical personnel.

In a larger sense, contact sports like football and hockey are generally conducted under similar circumstances. That is, sanctioning bodies enforce rules designed to regulate the play of the sports, and protect players differently, depending on age and skill, with the permissible contact levels increasing as the skill and age of players grows, until professional players routinely perform feats that would instantly cripple average persons. Having played amateur football, I think that the experience of playing the sport is worth the risks involved, and I hope my grandchildren have the same kinds of opportunities, if they want to pursue them.

It's fun to hit people, and find out if you are stronger/tougher/quicker or just more determined than they are, and so long as the competition is fair, and the risks undertaken only by those who are willing, why shouldn't contact sports continue? If you don't like watching or participating in them, you needn't, but why should such opinions govern the conduct of everyone who does enjoy them, so long as such contests are not brought into ordinary civil society, and the costs of any injuries sustained borne by participants and observers through compulsory insurance, carried by participants and ultimately funded by ticket sales? It's a system which provides valuable physical training and life experience to hundreds of thousands of amateur athletes every years, and continues to provide careers for a much smaller pool of professional athletes, and billions of dollars of economic activity in related industries as diverse as television, publishing, hospitality industry and stadium construction and operation.
posted by paulsc at 3:12 AM on November 28, 2007

Another counter-example here.
posted by gene_machine at 3:18 AM on November 28, 2007

Michael Watson is another semi-counter example, since he sued the British Boxing Board of Control after his devastating fight with Chris Eubank.
posted by roofus at 3:41 AM on November 28, 2007

I could never understand why John Harson wasn't charged after this incident on the training ground. I know Berkovic swung out at him (apparently after a tackle from behind by Hartson), but the kick in the face was inexcusable. If it had happened on the street, criminal charges would have resulted, instead of it being described as 'a club incident' and all hushed up.

Apologies for the YouTube link showing Harson as hero in this, but it was the link that showed the incident in most detail.
posted by essexjan at 4:18 AM on November 28, 2007

Another counter-example here.

Cotterill is thought to be the first player in recent history in England to be jailed for an offence on the pitch.

First in recent history! Or I'm too lazy to actually do some research to find any previous examples of convictions for on the pitch incidents but I know there's been some.

My favourite bit from Duncan Ferguson's wikipedia page is the section dealing with the attempted burglary at his home.
posted by electricinca at 4:36 AM on November 28, 2007

In the US, I think it would be up to the injured party to file charges. And, just like on the schoolyard, I'm sure there is significant peer pressure to not be called a sissy or a tattle-tale.
posted by The Deej at 5:00 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

There was a recent case here in Wales about a rugby player sent to jail for assaulting an opponent on the pitch. I couldn't find it, but found a similar case about another player sent to jail for breaking an opponent's leg.

I believe Roy Keane was also investigated by the police after he admitted in his autobiography that he deliberately set out to injure Alfe-Inge Haaland with a late tackle. I don't think any charges were laid in that one.

With rugby, it can often be a fine line. Someone like Brian Lima, the Samoan, often trod the grey area between tough tackling and downright assault. But in such a physical sport, I think all the players enter in to some kind of unwritten contract as soon as they step on the pitch. They know they're going to be stamped on in the ruck, and maybe hit in the face with a high tackle. It's part of the game.
posted by afx237vi at 5:31 AM on November 28, 2007

yep, it is all about the political climate around it. and who it is. It basically all comes back to money here in the states/Canada. It has to be pretty nasty before they would even think about it, at football/hockey is pretty much assault all the time anyway. I guess you just can't be a nobody in a nobody/somebody match-up. in hockey it has to be pretty nasty, most likely involving the stick, and it clearly has to have intent to injure the player.

I think there was questions last NFL Season about whether they would press charges on Albert Haynesworth for stomping on a guys face twice, missing the first time. it is alleged that he ripped off the guys helmet before he did it. the player he stepped on chose not to press charges.
posted by Amby72 at 5:53 AM on November 28, 2007

In Canada, on the weekend there was a huge on-ice fight between two hockey teams, the police will be laying charges. Oh, the hockey players were eight years old. I hate hockey and all it's violence.
posted by saucysault at 5:54 AM on November 28, 2007

Historically in England, sport was considered an exception to the rules about assault - it was assumed that there was consent to harm when you went out on the pitch - i.e. you knew what you were getting into - as long as it was reasonably expectable in the game, or somesuch (i.e injury from a tackle, rather than a player wielding a lead pipe etc. etc.).

One might therefore consider that as football and rugby were exported by the English, this idea has been passed on.
posted by djgh at 6:12 AM on November 28, 2007

In baseball, Jose Offerman was charged with assault after charging the mound with a bat.
posted by edverb at 7:42 AM on November 28, 2007

I think a lot of it is derived from the machismo of pro sports. Being (figuratively speaking) so much of a wuss that you can't defend yourself is going to be like painting a huge target on yourself for the rest of your career. And then you have to go to court (assuming it's not all quietly swept under the rug) and be the pro sports guy who's on the local news talking about getting his ass handed to him.
posted by mkultra at 8:17 AM on November 28, 2007

Djjh - but isn't it the case that that defence only extends as far as the Rules of the Game? My understanding is that if someone is "assaulted" in a manner within the rules of the game they are playing, they have consented to that assault. But if the assault is in contravention of the rules, there's no consent, and the culprit could be successfully prosecuted.

The English law was always a bit confused on this "consenting to assault business" anyway though - see R v. Brown where they decided boxing isn't criminal assault, but consensual sadomasochistic sex is. Boxing being, of course, a "manly diversion".
posted by tiny crocodile at 8:23 AM on November 28, 2007

In the US, you might be charged. The more common route is for the injured player to sue the opposing player (and his/her team) in tort; generally they would allege a violation of the implied license to behave violently by virtue of an intentional or reckless transgression of the rules of the sport. The classic case involves Charles "Boobie" Clark of the Cincinnati Bengals (a football team).

Criminal charges are also possible; they typically would require a more pronounced showing of intent. The victim's cooperation is not legally essential, but it is usually so as a practical matter.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:25 AM on November 28, 2007

I think djgh has the roots right - for the most part, people generally consent to that sort of thing as long as it is vaguely reasonable. But even where there are acts that are clearly beyond reasonable, keep in mind that usually the injured players aren't pressing charges. I have exactly no knowledge of Australian law, but I would expect that there, as in the States, both police and prosecutors have broad discretion in choosing whether to pursue criminal charges.

As always, money, influence, and celebrity benefit significantly from that discretion.
posted by averyoldworld at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2007

45 years ago i was a young dodger fan growing up in west los angeles. when juan marichal hit john roseboro in the head with a bat, i wanted him to be imprisoned for life for attempted murder, but this didn't happen.
posted by bruce at 11:04 AM on November 28, 2007

In the Netherlands, there was an infamous foul by Rachid Bouaouzan on Niels Kokmeijer during a football/soccer game (horrific images, I don't recommend googling for them). Bouaouzan was charged with a (conditional) punishment) of 6 months in jail and was suspended for the season by his own club.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 3:17 PM on November 28, 2007

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