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Back to Keith's Home Page.

Bill Romanowski Cheated; He Should Pay

By Keith Dobkowski, SBS Legal Issues Writer
and CEO of LegalBall.Com

Marcus Williams, former tight end for the Oakland Raiders, has brought a lawsuit against Bill Romanowski ("Romo"). Following a preseason practice, Romo sucker punched Williams in the face breaking Williams' left eye socket. While we will not know the result of the suit for many months, if not years, this law suit, a first of its kind, brings up many issues.

First, an incredibly quick introduction to tort law is necessary to understand the Williams' claim. In order to prove negligence, and thus assign liability, a plaintiff must satisfy the following stages of negligence: Duty, Breach, Causation, Damages and no Affirmative Defenses.

Williams must prove that Romo had a duty of care and breached that duty of care when Romo hit Williams. Williams must show a causal link between Romo's action and the injury suffered. Williams must have suffered actual damages and here a broken bone will suffice. Finally, Williams must prove that Romo has no affirmative defenses.

This case will hinge on the final phase, affirmative defense. In Sports, there is a standard affirmative defense simply known as an assumption of risk. Meaning that one assumes the risk that an injury will occur during sports competition. While it is easy to jump to the conclusion that punching is not a part of football that is far from the truth.

Every preseason there are fights that break out between a team's offensive and defensive players. For instance, Jim Fassel, head coach of the New York Giants, has created a fighting ring for such altercations. Players must remove their helmets and other specified gear and are allowed to fight within the ring until the fight naturally ends.

According to the reported facts, Williams and Romo got into a fight during practice. They were split apart and practice continued. As practice finished a few minutes later, Romo approached Williams from behind and as Williams turned, Romo punched Williams in the face. The injury caused massive swelling to Williams' eye. Williams has since been placed on injured reserve and is out for the season. The Raiders later cut Williams and Williams is now awaiting an injury settlement with the team.

The questions to be answered are whether the punch was a separate incident than the earlier fight and more importantly to this writer and sports in general, was Romo's action the result of steroid induced rage.

Sports talk radio and television has been littered with comments regarding the Williams' suit and Romo's alleged steroid use. Specifically, Brian Bosworth, former NFL player and admitted steroid user, on the Best Damn Sports' Show Period stated that Romo is a steroid user and his actions were the result of "Roid Rage."

The known use of steroids would drastically change the situation at hand. Steroids are illegal and therefore using them would be cheating. Williams assumed the risk that a fight might break out. Williams also assumed the risk that an injury would occur while playing football. But did Williams assume that a player would cheat by ingesting illegal drugs that have the effect of creating rage? No. If this is a "Roid Rage" case, Williams has every right to sue and to win. Williams agreed to assume the natural dangers associated with football and "Roid Rage" is not natural.

Two other cheating situations immediately come to mind involving Terrell Owens and Sammy Sosa. Luckily, no one was injured in either situation, but the 'what if' question lingers.

Last year, Terrell Owens scored the winning touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks. Owens then reached into his sock, removed a sharpie pen and signed the football. The 'what if' that lingers is, what if Owens had been tackled and the pen stabbed the tackling player causing injury. Owens had illegally brought an item onto the football field and that very item led to the injury of another player. The other player had no knowledge of Owens cheating and therefore could not assume the risk of possible injury related to a pen. Owens should be held civilly liable for this action.

During the most recent baseball season, Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked bat. Using a corked bat is illegal in baseball. Sosa was subsequently suspended for 7 games due to his cheating. The 'what if' that lingers is, what if the shattered bat had struck another player causing injury. A corked bat is not as strong as standard bat and is more likely to shatter. Sosa, being the only person on the field of play who knew of this danger, placed the other players at risk of injury, an injury those other players had not assumed. Had Sosa injured another player while cheating, Sosa should be held civilly liable.

A rule on cheating and liability is necessary in sports. Athletes assume that the other athletes on the field are abiding by the rules thus limiting the dangers that an athlete normally faces. And without rules, sports are nothing more than chaos with a ball.

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