Many players and commentators were surprised by Myles Garrett’s conduct during the Browns and Steelers game last night and the league has since suspended Garrett indefinitely. A few went further and suggested his conduct could warrant criminal penalties. Could Myles Garrett be charged criminally or be sued by Mason Rudolph for ripping Rudolph’s helmet off his head and striking Rudolph with the helmet? Possibly, but it is unlikely either will happen.
What does Nevada Law Say?
Since we’re in Nevada, let’s pretend this happened at an NFL game in Las Vegas—a thought people would have laughed at a few years ago before the Raiders decided to move here. In Nevada, criminal assault occurs when someone attempts to unlawfully use physical force against another person or makes another person feel that he or she is about to by physically harmed. It does not require physical contact. Criminal battery means any willful and unlawful use of force or violence against a person. Self-defense can be a defense against a charge of battery. You are allowed to defend yourself against someone trying to hurt you, but, only if you use no more force than reasonably necessary.
In the Garrett/Rudolph situation, one could argue that Rudolph was going after Garrett first and Garrett was defending himself. On the other hand, Garrett certainly used more force than Rudolph by ripping off Rudolph’s helmet and striking Rudolph with the helmet. If this were any setting other than a sporting event, Garrett could likely be charged with assault (if Rudolph knew he was about to be hit) and battery for striking Rudolph with the helmet. But it is extremely unlikely that Garrett will face any criminal penalties. That rarely, if ever, happens in professional sports when people fight.
What About Civil Penalties?
What about civil penalties? Could Rudolph sue Garrett and recover monetary damages? Let’s assume Rudolph was injured; if he wasn’t there could be no claim. Civil assault is intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive touching, where the defendant intended to cause harmful or offensive touching, and the victim was put in apprehension and suffered damages. Civil battery in Nevada is a willful and unlawful use of force or violence where the defendant intended to cause harmful or offensive contact, and the contact caused damages. A main defense to assault and battery is consent. If the victim consented to the contact, then there can be no assault or battery.
Consent is why there is rarely, if ever, lawsuits arising from injuries in sporting events. By playing sports, athletes consent to physical contact. But, that physical contact has to be in line with what is expected for that sport. For example, a boxer could never successfully sue another boxer for being punched—that’s part of the sport. Fighting is also an accepted part of hockey. Football, basketball, and baseball also have occasional fights, and much more commonly a lot of pushing and shoving. That is all within the normal bounds of what comes with playing those sports.
But, if a baseball player were to take a bat and start hitting other players during a fight, or a hockey player were to use a stick during a fight as a weapon, that would go beyond what is within the normal bounds of those sports and one could argue that athletes do not consent to that type of contact. In the Garrett/Rudolph situation, football players occasionally rip other players helmets off, but rarely do they then use the helmet as a weapon on a player no longer wearing a helmet. Rudolph would likely have an argument that he did not consent to that type of contact.
At the end of the day, Garrett has been suspended but that will most likely be the end of it. It is doubtful that he will be charged criminally or that Rudolph will sue Garrett.