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Monday, September 06, 2010
Legal Aftermath of Brawl in Stands at US Open

We've seen plenty of fights in the stands of baseball, basketball, hockey, and football games, but people who attend tennis matches are often stereotyped as civil or "proper", at least while they are in the tennis stadium (e.g., patrons are expected to be quiet while the match is in play).

That stereotype didn't seem to hold up in the grandstands of Arthur Ashe Stadium (Flushing Meadows, New York) at the U.S. Open last Thursday night, when a male fan insisted on being able to say the "f" word because he paid for a ticket and because he had "a lot of money on the game", while a female fan told him to "shut up" and threatened to have him thrown out of the stadium because of his language, which she deemed inappropriate or abusive. He responded that he wasn't using the "f" word during the actual play, only after each play had ended. She apparently slapped him or tapped him in the face as a way of encouraging him to stop. The argument, which would eventually cause a match between Novak Djokovic and Phillip Petzschner to stop, escalated into a fight between the man and a person described as the woman's father.

Here is a video of the argument and the fight, which starts at about 1:13 -- please note, the "f" word is used about 50 times in 2 minutes, so if you are offended by it, don't watch the video:

Here is the aftermath, courtesy of Robert Dougherty of Associated Content:
Eventually, the US Open fight ended with all three participants being led off in handcuffs. They were not actually arrested, but they were banned from attending any tennis matches in Flushing Meadows for three years.

Although they are not in any trouble from the police, the participants are now out to hurt each other in court. The three are filing civil harassment lawsuits against each other, not long after the evidence of their US Open fight hit YouTube.
Here are a few thoughts of mine:

1) I wonder if the participants might eventually face criminal charges, given the rather compelling Youtube evidence suggesting they committed battery; their physical contact was clearly neither accidental nor necessary and it probably endangered the safety of people seated around them. The video of the fight was not, from what I can tell, immediately available to police -- if the police had the video at the time they detained the participants, the participants probably would have been arrested.

2) I wonder about how crowd control measures during tennis matches differ from those taken to monitor the crowds of other sporting events. Along those lines, could the U.S. Open end up a party to civil litigation for arguably not providing adequate safety? Why didn't security officers show up? How physically close were they? How close should they have been?

3) Not to "blame the victim" and hindsight is of course 20/20, but instead of confronting this belligerent guy, might the female fan and her father, and probably others around them, have been better off alerting stadium security? Getting in his face, and possibly slapping/tapping him, probably weren't the best ways of encouraging him to stop swearing. Then again, maybe they tried to find security and couldn't.

4) If he was truthful in claiming that he was not swearing during the actual play, but only between plays, was he necessarily breaking any stadium rules? Does the volume of his swearing matter?


And how do sports arenas enforce "banning" people from attending a public event?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/06/2010 10:50 AM  

There will not be criminal charges. Even with video, what it shows is three people squaring off and two getting physical. Prosecutors are not going to use video to go after everyone. And the video we have does not show who was responsible. I just don't think it adds anything.

Tennis is unique as a sport because the historic norms (unlike, say, baseball or football) are for fans to remain seated and quiet and do little more than clap or occasionally shout a cheer. But this all took place in the top deck of a huge modern tennis stadium, which is a much different environment. Having sat in such an environment, I can say that the court feels like it's a mile away and whatever noise fans make cannot be heard by the players (which is the reason for the general prohibition on fan noise).

Finally, what difference does it make if he was using profanity? Profanity is protected speech. Uncomfortable as it may have made the people around him, there is nothing legally wrong with profanity. Of course, the USTC is privately owned, so the First Amendment is not in play and the USTA can set whatever rules it wants. But I never have understood why profanity has become such a big deal.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 9/06/2010 10:08 PM  


Thanks for the comment. I suppose the US Open organizers can revoke the license to sell a seat to these three people, but it's probably more of a symbolic gesture on the organizers' part than anything else.


Thanks for commenting, too. I disagree with you on the criminal issue. The father appears to be an aggressor when he shoved and tackled the swearing guy, who appeared to be standing in one place when attacked. I think the video shows that, and while I concur with you in the sense that criminal charges are not likely, I don't think they are completely dismissible at this point.

In terms of the use of profanity, I think swears are more disruptive, and possibly more likely to incite physical confrontation (or at least get under the skin of people, especially when being sworn at), than many other types of speech. Obscenities are also annoying to parents with young kids around; they can turn a family-friendly event into an uncomfortable experience. I'd also distinguish the fan who occasionally swears in response to a play with the fan who incessantly throws the f-bomb and other obscenities around, with the latter being more disruptive. So the act of swearing may not be as important as how often and how one swears.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 9/06/2010 10:59 PM  

They should control their emotions.

Anonymous escalante blogger -- 9/07/2010 10:13 AM  

Stumbled on this this morning. After seeing the videos, I'm confused by how the younger guy can be considered at fault. He only ever defended himself (physically that is). Okay so apparently he was cursing. The thing to do is get security if it is really that big of a problem for you. If the venue has no rules against profanity, you can ask to be moved to another seat. To slap the younger guys, then have Pop come over and kick his beer and attack the kid...yeah you're WAY out of line. I think the young guy showed a great deal of restraint. Far more than I'm confident I could have mustered if I were in his position.

I have no legal training beyond a few classes in college, but I'd have to assume this video is pretty damning for the older couple if it does go to court. At the least I think the young man should have his 3 year ban lifted and the cost of his ticket refunded. That is assuming the venue did not have a rule banning cursing.

Anonymous Mathias -- 9/07/2010 11:53 AM  

You may want to amend the part about her "possibly slapping/tapping him". If you've seen any of the other videos of the event, you'd see that she clearly slapped him in the face.

Blogger Will -- 9/07/2010 4:53 PM  

Will is correct. Someone else started taping 30 seconds before this one began. It shows that the lady, without being physically provoked, sharply slapped the man - hard enough to get a loud "Ohhhh!" from everyone who saw it. I hope that cut makes it to court.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/07/2010 8:01 PM  

If you go to

you will see that the woman didn't "possibly" do anything. She SLAPPED the dude in the face and believe it or not, he did NOT retaliate.

He is foul mouthed and obnoxious, but he was slapped in the face (assault) and then attacked by the old guy (assault) and had every right to defend himself.

There was no "possibly." To be honest, as much as the younger guy was an axx, the older guy was clearly the aggressor and should have had his axx kicked.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/07/2010 9:21 PM  

Are we all really so obsessed with interpretations of the First Amendment (that don't even apply to the USTA) that we can't see the horrible and deplorable behavior of the 'victim'? Of course he deserves to be banned from the venue.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/08/2010 2:39 AM  

The young man is guilty of being vulgar and a bit of a douchebag. The woman and the man are guilty of assault. No debate really.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/08/2010 10:29 AM  

the woman should be charged of course. She physically assaulted the man, after that his reaction is tainted. She is the instigator, her dad upped the ante of the physical assault, and they frankly should pay the guy a crapload of money.

Anonymous Ed T -- 9/09/2010 8:03 AM  

Let's see, i think the old man gave the young guy a reason to get to him and made him fall to the ground, but it's also obvious that the young man was a mouthful person. The old guy was so mad, like he didn't have enough viagra online .

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/09/2010 12:22 PM  

"In New York, F--k is not a curse, it's a comma"
Louis Black

"Take away our right to say F--k, you take away our right to say f--k the government"
Lenny Bruce

Saying the F word many times is no more disruptive than politcal or religious outbursts - all 3 are protected speech, not to be abridges even if 'parents with young kids' are around. In fact, parents who want to control others speech because they have children make me very uncomfortable in public - and not just because they may smack and slap me.

Blogger SkeptiSys -- 9/09/2010 9:07 PM  

I agree with the poster above me. So the guy was talking in a way you don't like? Getting in his face is unlikely to make him change! And then the slap? And he just stands there and takes that one as a freebie. Then after they SHOULD have sat down and left it alone gramps decides its time to go round two...and then for some unknown reason wrestles himself off the edge! Why would you pull someone towards you when BEHIND you is a drop?
And then what does our young guy do? He gets up and off the guy, takes 3 steps up and away from the old man (who attacked him) and is attacked by the fat chick again! His response? push her away from him. I wish I was there, just so I could sucker punch the heroes who ran in to restrain the young guy who did nothing more than get attacked 3 times and tried to get away from his attackers. I hope he takes them to court and gets a crippling ammount of cash off these two meatheads.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/24/2010 10:17 AM  

Freedom of speech is an interesting phenomenon which for some reason most Americans don't seem to fully understand. Dude can "curse" all he wants because he isn't engaging in defamation or inciting violence from the members of the crowd in his immediate environment. Theoretically he could be shouting that Hitler was god and that all minorities are sub human; but so long as he didn't direct those comments towards a specific section of the crowd, he's well within his rights to spout profanity. Hate speech is just about the only thing which precludes freedom of speech, so sucks to be prudish.
The clips I've seen suggest that he's purely a foul mouth jerk - not a crime in the state of NY.
Old couple wouldn't win anything unless they had Danny Crane representing them.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/14/2010 6:20 PM  

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