(CN) – While reticent to mention the name Washington Redskins, a federal judge ordered the football franchise to defend itself against claims of operating a bounty system that left one player with a career-ending injury.
A footnote in the July 8 ruling by U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte states, “Pro Football’s team is popularly known as the Washington ‘Redskins,’ but the court will refrain from using the team name unless reference is made to a direct quote where the name appears.”
Messitte instead referred to the Redskins as “the Washington Team.”
His ruling is but the latest chapter in the ongoing controversy over the Redskins’ name, just weeks after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six of the team’s trademark registrations because it deemed them disparaging toward Native Americans.
The decision doesn’t force the team to change its name but dilutes its legal protection against infringement.
The Washington Post reported that Messitte’s footnote puts the dispute over the name on the record, months after he barred attorneys handling the case from referring to “Redskins” in his courtroom.
The actual lawsuit in question was filed by former New York Giants linebacker Barrett Green, who said the serious injury he suffered during a game against the Redskins on Dec. 5, 2004, was the result of a deliberate blow to his knees inflicted by a Redskins offensive tight end Robert Royal. Green named Royal, who he says was participating in the team’s bounty scheme, as a defendant as well.
Heading into the match, Green had been listed as questionable to play because of a knee injury he sustained in a game the week before.
After Royal cut Green’s time on the field short, “he was later determined to have torn his anterior cruciate ligament,” according to the complaint.
Green underwent surgery when the season ended but “never recovered his form and his football career was effectively over,” Messitte wrote.
In the nine years between Green’s injury and lawsuit, the Washington Post reported that the Redskins operated a “bounty program” wherein its team’s players received financial rewards for deliberately injuring opposing players.
The Redskins and Royal tried to dismiss Green’s claims under the statute of limitations or the Labor Management Relations Act, but Messitte advanced negligence claims tying Green’s injury to the bounty program.
“The court finds that on the face of the complaint, Green has sufficiently pleaded applicability of the reasonable discovery and the fraudulent concealment doctrines, which, if proven, would toll limitations in the case,’ he wrote. “The exceptions potentially apply because the gravamen of the Complaint is Pro Football’s alleged bounty program.
“Green specifically alleges that no one … had knowledge of the bounty program until March 3, 2012, when the Washington Post article first suggested that the Washington team had a bounty program under former Assistant Coach Williams. Green also alleges that Pro Football and Royal conspired to create the program, and that no one knew it existed until former players broke their silence over the existence of the program in the Washington Post article in 2012.
“Green points out that Royal told the press at the time that the hit was not intentional, a statement representing a flat-out denial and misrepresentation of what Green now says was the actual case. These allegations suffice to suggest that Green might not reasonably have discovered the bounty program until it was revealed in 2012, and that Pro Football and Royal fraudulently concealed the cause of the action.”
The judge did nix Green’s battery claim, a tort count tied to the bounty program, under the statute of limitations
As for the controversy over the Redskins’ name, team owner Daniel Snyder has repeatedly said he would not change it, despite increasingly loud protests by Native Americans among others and others.
The team has indicated it will appeal the decision.
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