Sunday, December 12, 2010

Legal Consequences of Jets assistant coach Sal Alosi tripping Miami Dolphins DB Nolan Carroll

If you were watching the Jets-Dolphins game this afternoon with 3:11 left in the 3rd quarter, you witnessed a disturbing incident that speaks terribly of the Jets organization and could lead to fines and possibly even legal action. While on punt coverage, Dolphins rookie corner back Nolan Carroll was intentionally tripped by Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi. Here's the video:

After the game, the 33-year-old Alosi owned up to intentionally tripping Carroll: "I made a mistake that showed a total lapse in judgment. My conduct was inexcusable and unsportsmanlike and does not reflect what this organization stands for."

What will happen? A few things:

1) Alosi will likely be fined and suspended by the NFL under the league's Personal Conduct Policy, which though normally associated with NFL players, actually covers NFL team employees, as well. Expect the suspension to last the remainder of the season. Not only was Alosi's move a complete cheap shot, it was also dangerous: he could have seriously injured Carroll, who seemingly had no way of knowing that a Jets coach would try to trip him. Sure, Carroll was on notice that he might be tackled by a Jets player on the field, but since when do assistant coaches try to trip you while you're running near the sideline? Alosi was also really cowardly - it would be one thing if a Jets player dished out a cheap shot, because he would do so knowing that there could be retribution. But a Jets coach who does so is safely on the sideline, away from any harm.

2) The Jets may also be fined by the NFL. Like respondeat superior/vicarious liablity with an employer and employee, the Jets are responsible for their coaches. Was this a one-time stupid decision by an assistant coach, or was head coach Rex Ryan aware that Alosi might do something like this?

3) Alosi could be fired by the Jets, though his apology probably helps him there. If he has a pattern of misconduct, though, then a firing may be more justifiable.

4) Carroll suffered a knee injury from the tripping; he limped off the field. If the injury proves serious, he could sue Alosi for battery (intentional harmful contact) and also the Jets under a vicarious liability claim. There's a famous case usually taught in sports law classes called Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, the take-away from which is that while NFL players assume the risk of on-field injuries by playing NFL football, they don't assume all risks, including those for clear cheap shots. If Alosi's move wasn't a cheap shot, I don't know what is.

Update: Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch examines "Who Ordered the Jets 'Sideline Wall?'". Here's an excerpt:

I heard a WFAN caller (the infamous incarcerated bob) claim that two Jets players said that the Jets were angry that the Dolphins gunner had been going out of bounds during kickoffs, and that this formation was done to stop that. . . .

So, Jets strength coach Sal Alosi and [practice squad players] were standing the zone marked for “Coaches and substitution players only” and they were lined up as close to the edge – both to the playing field and edge of the bench area zone as humanly possible.

Definitely a planned lineup, no? Who had them do this?

I don’t think the plan was for Alosi to stick his knee out and knock the player down, but he was put into that position. By whom?

After the game, Rex Ryan professed to be unaware of the situation until the team’s director of media operations informed him.

Bruce may be on to something and I have a feeling this controversy won't be going away quickly. Keep in mind, if the Jets broke rules in ways that endangered the safety of opposing players, the penalty could be worse than what the Patriots received for "Spygate" (where they engaged in some videotaping that broke rules -- Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots had to forfeit a 1st round pick). Endangering player safety seems worse than taping other team's signals.