The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement protects the league and its teams from a wide variety of player lawsuits; indeed, the concussion litigation eventually may fail because of the terms of the CBA.
But the CBA doesn’t provide protections to folks who fall outside the employment relationship. In Houston, that has resulted in the filing of a lawsuit by a former Texans punter against the company that operates Reliant Stadium, where the Texans play their games.
Via multiple reports, Brett Hartmann has sued for injuries sustained during a December 2011 game. He claims that his foot was caught in a seam on the playing field, which consists of trays of grass and not an even, continuous surface.
The civil complaint, posted by Deadspin, points to other non-contact injuries suffered on the field, including the torn ACL suffered by Pats receiver Wes Welker on the last day of the 2009 regular season. The lawsuit quotes New England coach Bill Belichick, who called the playing surface at Reliant Stadium “terrible,” and former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who has said that his team was “definitely concerned about the injury factor” on the surface at Reliant Stadium.
Earlier today, Commissioner Roger Goodell said on ESPN Radio that player health and safety is our “number-one priority,” that “[i]t’s something we’ve always focused on and we continue to focus on it.” Player health and safety is jeopardized not only by players hitting other players, but by the playing surfaces on which they play.
Fortunately, the green cement known as Astroturf no longer pollutes NFL stadiums. But if the league is serious about safety (in all forms and not only concussions), then the NFL and the NFLPA have an obligation to ensure that every playing surface in every NFL stadium is deemed safe and fit — from Heinz Field to Soldier Field to Reliant Stadium to the slick pitch that is Wembley Stadium.