By Joshua D. Winneker, JD and Assistant Professor, Misericordia University, and Sam C. Ehrlich, JD and Doctoral Candidate, Florida State University
In November, during one of college football’s biggest annual rivalries, Ohio State University quarterback J.T. Barrett left the game injured in the third quarter against the University of Michigan. Barrett did not return to the game and his departure concerned many fans that his season may be over.
Initially, it appeared that he was injured during the game after colliding with someone on the sideline. But after the game, both he and his coach, Urban Meyer, revealed that his injury actually occurred prior to the game and was simply re-aggravated in the third quarter. Apparently, in the pre-game warmups, one of the sideline cameramen tried to “squeeze by” Barrett and aggravated an already existing injury.
While Barrett’s injury was fortunately not season-ending, this incident demonstrates why cameramen simply should be banned from the sidelines. In the current NCAA-sanctioned, live-game atmosphere, the potential for injury to the student-athletes exists every time a player runs into the sideline. The health and safety of the players certainly should be a priority to the NCAA over the possibility of a great picture.
Beyond this, there are several legal consequences that could emerge from an injury caused by a sideline cameraman. First, assuming the injury was not caused intentionally, the sideline cameraman could face a civil lawsuit based on negligence. If the cameraman’s actions or placement/location are considered unreasonable because of the players’ chances of running into them, then the injured players would have a strong case for negligence. The injured players could also sue the cameraman’s employer under the theory of respondeat superior, which holds the employer vicariously liable for the harm caused by their employees during the course of their employment.
Finally, the rules allowing for sideline cameramen and their placement at the games are mandated by the school and the NCAA itself, thus opening up both entities to potential liability. In the case of Barrett, while Michigan’s athletic department has rules and guidelines for credentialed sideline media members at Michigan Stadium, none of these rules specifically states that these media members cannot touch the players. The 2017 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations also give explicit instructions for limit lines that are “not less than six feet” from the sidelines and team areas, but once again there are no explicit instructions to prevent contact with the players.
While it now seems that the sideline cameraman’s actions involving Barrett were unintentional, if it can be proven that a cameraman intentionally tried to harm a player, then the player would also have potential civil claims against the cameraman for intentional torts as well. These claims could include battery, the harmful bodily contact caused by the cameraman and assault, the impending fear of the bodily contact by the cameraman.
The cameraman’s intentional actions could also result in a criminal prosecution against the cameraman. These potential civil and criminal penalties all stem solely from the NCAA and media’s need to have a better picture—a ludicrous justification under the circumstances given that the cameramen could simply be moved back from the sideline.
The prospect of intentional injuries by these cameramen also opens up the possibility of cameramen intentionally injuring players based on motivations outside of their line of work. For instance, while there is no evidence to suggest that this happened in the present situation, it is certainly conceivable that a cameraman in the future could be paid off by gambling interests to intentionally injure a player, now that an example of a similar accidental injury has come to light. The benefits of granting such close access to cameramen is simply not worth the risk of harm to players.
Sideline cameramen injuring players certainly is not a novel concept nor is it limited to just college football. Many players in the NBA have been injured when colliding with courtside cameramen. For example, in the 2015 NBA Finals LeBron James was famously injured when he fell into a courtside camera. The game was stopped for a while, and James received a nasty cut that required stitches. Following his injury, many players spoke out against courtside and sideline cameramen, including Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers who called the cameramen “unnecessary,” and Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams who did not want to risk the health of the players over a “good shot.”
These injuries and potential injuries are even more egregious with college student-athletes, as these players are not overly paid employees covered under workers’ compensation statutes. The NCAA is charged with protecting its college athletes and eliminating sideline cameramen falls in-line with this charge.