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Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc.

Citation. 601 F.2d 516 (10th Cir. 1979)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was a professional football player who was injured by defendant football player after plaintiff blocked defendant player. Defendant player admitted that he hit plaintiff intentionally. Plaintiff sued for battery and assault.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Even professional football games are violent in nature, you do not consent to intentional torts outside the rules of customs of the game.


Plaintiff was a professional football player who was injured by defendant football player. The injury occurred in the course of a game in 1973. Acting as an offensive player, Plaintiff attempted to block defendant player by throwing his body in front of him. Acting out of anger and frustration, defendant player stepped forward and struck a blow with his right forearm to the back of the kneeling plaintiff’s head and neck. Both players did not complain to the officials and returned to their sidelines immediately as the ball had changed hands, so a foul was not called then. Plaintiff only felt the insufferable pain after the game and sued defendant and defendant player for intentional assault and battery.


Was the trial court correct in finding that Plaintiff had no remedy at law for the intentional striking of him during the course of an otherwise violent activity?


No. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed trial court’s judgment for defendant and remanded for a new trial.


This Court first summarized the trial court’s reasonings—because professional football is a species of warfare and constantly involves great physical force, injuries, even intentional ones, are not actionable. As a result, the trial court ruled that as a matter of law, the game of professional football is violent in nature, and that the available sanctions are imposition of penalties and expulsion from the game. This Court rejected such reasonings.

This Court found that the evidence at the trial expressly supported the proposition that the intentional striking of a player in the head is not an accepted part of the game. There are no principles of law that allow a court to rule out certain tortious conduct due to the general roughness of the game.

Contrary to the trial court’s position, the evidence shows that there are game rules that prohibit the intentional striking of blows:

“All players are prohibited from striking on the head, face or neck with the heel, back or side of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow or clasped hands (Article 1, Item 1, Subsection C).”

Based on other witnesses testimonies, intentional striking of others is also not a general custom of professional football. The Court explained that even professional football game is violent in nature, there are restraints intending to establish reasonable boundaries and prevent serious injuries in game.

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