In what may be the first case of its kind, a former New York Giants linebacker is suing the Washington Redskins for a career-ending injury he suffered nine years ago — an injury he says was the result of a bounty program.
Barrett Green claims that Gregg Williams, then the defensive coordinator for the Redskins, encouraged his players to injure members of the opposing teams for monetary rewards.
Williams was indefinitely suspended from the National Football League last year after admitting to participating in such a bounty program while he coached for the New Orleans Saints from 2009 to 2011.
The NFL investigated claims of a bounty system by the Redskins while Williams coached there from 2004 to 2007, but cleared the team last August.
Green’s suit names the Redskins, Williams and former Redskins tight end Robert Royal as defendants.
In the complaint, Green says that when Royal hit him during a December 2004 game at FedEx Field in Landover, he permanently damaged Green’s anterior cruciate ligament, which ended his career.
Green originally filed the lawsuit in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in May, but the case was removed to U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Friday. Court records indicate it has been assigned to Senior Judge Peter J. Messitte.
Sports-law professors said this is the first civil case they have heard of stemming from an alleged NFL bounty program.
“It was inevitable that a player or former player would bring a suit related to a Gregg Williams-coached defense,” said Gabriel Feldman, director of the Sports Law Program at Tulane University Law School.
Feldman, however, said it is rare for a court to find a player liable for an injury that occurred on the field, because football is an inherently dangerous game and there is already an assumption of risk.
“Courts don’t want to diminish the enthusiasm of players on the field,” Feldman said. “If players are found liable for a big hit or tackle, that would fundamentally change the nature of professional football.”
Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, said the case could raise the issue of whether a player assumes the risk of bounty injuries when he steps on the field.
“It’s hard to separate the violence of football and injuries that come up during a game without any bounties, let alone with bounties,” McCann said.
Green’s attorney, Michael J. McAllister of Michael J. McAllister P.A. in Miami Beach, Fla., declined to comment on the case.
The Redskins and their attorney, Robert L. Ferguson Jr. of Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew P.A. in Baltimore, did not return calls for comment.
Green was drafted to the Detroit Lions in 2000 and signed a $13.3 million contract with the New York Giants in March 2004.
The Giants played the Redskins in September 2004, during which Green says he was a “disruptive presence.” The next time the teams faced each other was that December.
Green says he was targeted by Royal, who lowered his helmet and divedinto Green’s knees.
“To anyone even nominally versed in the game of football, the hit was unusual, outrageous and an obvious cheap shot,” the complaint states.
Green was taken off the field. He had torn the ACL in his left knee and underwent surgery to repair it after the season ended. Green was never able to regain his effectiveness, and the Giants terminated his contract the next year.
As a result, Green says he lost $10 million in wages.
Because he had been on the injury list before the December game, Green alleges, Williams told Royal to target him.
Green says he voiced concerns about a Redskins bounty program after his injury, but hit a dead end.
Though Royal was an offensive player, he sometimes played defense, so he would have been coached by Williams, the suit says.
In March 2012, the NFL announced that Williams admitted to implementing a bounty program while working for the Saints. The NFL found that Williams made cash payments to those players who caused injury to other players and instructed players to target the heads of opponents with concussions.
Williams was working as a defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams at the time and was indefinitely suspended from the NFL. His suspension was lifted in February, and he took an assistant coaching position with the Tennessee Titans.
Green contends that a bounty program was implemented while Williams worked for the Redskins. The NFL, however, found no evidence that other teams Williams worked for targeted opposing players for compensation.
Green did not specify an upper limit to the damages he is seeking from Royal, Williams and the Redskins, but noted that he intends to seek punitive damages. The complaint includes one count of battery and negligence against Royal, a count of vicarious liability, negligent supervision and negligence against the Redskins and one count of negligence against Williams.
Feldman, the Tulane law professor, said Green’s complaint makes a lot of assumptions and there is no new evidence to indicate there was a bounty program at the Redskins.
“[The complaint] relies on news reports and the investigation of the Saints’ bounty scandal,” Feldman said. “The only new allegation is the suspicion by Green that Royal was targeting him. Those are all factors that are going to make Green’s case difficult.”
Even if a penalty was called against Royal for the injury on the field, it does not mean Royal can be held liable in court, Feldman said.
“It’s a far cry from a penalty on the football field to being a violation of the law,” Feldman said.
McCann, of the University of New Hampshire, said Green’s first step would be to get past a motion to dismiss and make the argument that there’s enough evidence to prove legal harm was committed against him.
“A judge would have to believe that by paying players to injure another player, that is not part of football and it essentially is a hit man at that point — that you are paying for violence,” McCann said.