Monday, September 6, 2010

Legal Aftermath of Brawl in Stands at US Open

We've seen plenty of fights in the stands of baseball, basketball, hockey, and football games, but people who attend tennis matches are often stereotyped as civil or "proper", at least while they are in the tennis stadium (e.g., patrons are expected to be quiet while the match is in play).

That stereotype didn't seem to hold up in the grandstands of Arthur Ashe Stadium (Flushing Meadows, New York) at the U.S. Open last Thursday night, when a male fan insisted on being able to say the "f" word because he paid for a ticket and because he had "a lot of money on the game", while a female fan told him to "shut up" and threatened to have him thrown out of the stadium because of his language, which she deemed inappropriate or abusive. He responded that he wasn't using the "f" word during the actual play, only after each play had ended. She apparently slapped him or tapped him in the face as a way of encouraging him to stop. The argument, which would eventually cause a match between Novak Djokovic and Phillip Petzschner to stop, escalated into a fight between the man and a person described as the woman's father.

Here is a video of the argument and the fight, which starts at about 1:13 -- please note, the "f" word is used about 50 times in 2 minutes, so if you are offended by it, don't watch the video:

Here is the aftermath, courtesy of Robert Dougherty of Associated Content:
Eventually, the US Open fight ended with all three participants being led off in handcuffs. They were not actually arrested, but they were banned from attending any tennis matches in Flushing Meadows for three years.

Although they are not in any trouble from the police, the participants are now out to hurt each other in court. The three are filing civil harassment lawsuits against each other, not long after the evidence of their US Open fight hit YouTube.
Here are a few thoughts of mine:

1) I wonder if the participants might eventually face criminal charges, given the rather compelling Youtube evidence suggesting they committed battery; their physical contact was clearly neither accidental nor necessary and it probably endangered the safety of people seated around them. The video of the fight was not, from what I can tell, immediately available to police -- if the police had the video at the time they detained the participants, the participants probably would have been arrested.

2) I wonder about how crowd control measures during tennis matches differ from those taken to monitor the crowds of other sporting events. Along those lines, could the U.S. Open end up a party to civil litigation for arguably not providing adequate safety? Why didn't security officers show up? How physically close were they? How close should they have been?

3) Not to "blame the victim" and hindsight is of course 20/20, but instead of confronting this belligerent guy, might the female fan and her father, and probably others around them, have been better off alerting stadium security? Getting in his face, and possibly slapping/tapping him, probably weren't the best ways of encouraging him to stop swearing. Then again, maybe they tried to find security and couldn't.

4) If he was truthful in claiming that he was not swearing during the actual play, but only between plays, was he necessarily breaking any stadium rules? Does the volume of his swearing matter?