City Desk

Cheap Seats Daily: Snyder Overstepped Legal Authority While Suppressing Fanimosity?

When the Great Dan Steinberg ran photos of the fanimosity at FedExField during the Tampa Bay game on his blog a few weeks ago, Dan Snyder told the paper to take the shots down. And the Washington Post complied quietly, removing the photos without any explanation to readers for the disappearance.

Snyder's heavyhanded attempt at message killing, Douchewellian as it was, worked in the short term: The censorship of fans was treated as a non-story. (Well, OK: Almost a non-story.) And, as we've learned over time — Jeff George, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, etc... — Snyder only cares about the short term.

No doubt feeling empowered after the Post's appeasement, Snyder's behavior had grown insane by Monday's game with the Eagles. And the once-burned Steinberg, who now buys tickets to the Redskins games to avoid the team's new restrictions on his reporting, became a war reporter. He embedded himself with the insurgents that night, and has continued telling their tales.

The results have been gripping.

(AFTER THE JUMP: The lawyer who whupped the Redskins on the pedestrian ban thinks fans might have some more cases against Snyder? The Redskins have lost federal freedom of speech cases in the past? One small typo for a columnist, one giant slur of Dan Snyder's legacy? Agent Zero is No. 1? The Wizards peak?)

Steinberg has published scads of photos of confiscated posters and the like. His blog has become the clearinghouse for fans who had had their materials confiscated and destroyed.

A couple of the best tales:

Now it's Liz Angevine, who brought a "LET OVECHKIN CALL THE PLAYS" sign, e-mailing me this story about how a security guard snatched the sign out of her hands and threw it on the ground. Liz writes:"When I told her that I wanted to keep my sign and run it back to my car, she stepped on my sign and ripped it apart!!! I could NOT believe it. I'm still in shock."

And, from Steinberg's comments section:

At half time, I went down to the concessions area to get a beer and a dog. Standing two rows away from me in line, were two middle aged men. One wore a T-shirt that read "Fire Snyder", the other's said "Fire Vinny". It wasn't long after standing there that the men were surrounded by close to a dozen people wearing yellow security jackets. The conversation between them and the two men escalated quickly as security asked the men to remove their shirts. Of course the men refused, and one stated that he had been a season ticket holder for 26 years. The conversation continued to get heated and before you knew it 6 or 7 armed security officers formed a circle around the layer of yellowed jacketed security officers. "Sir, you're about to lose those season tickets if you don't take off that shirt" is what he was told...A few minutes later, the men were escorted out of the area and a security woman approached me with an explanation about their actions. "Look, I know what you're saying, and I can't say that I don't agree with you, but I'm a part-time teacher and this job is my Holiday money"...."upper management told us to come up here and ask these men to remove their shirts and I can't lose my job, so I'm doing it."...The way I saw people being treated for voicing their opinions on this night embarrassed me as a Redskin fan, a Washingtonian, and as an American. These sort of totalitarian strong arm tactics are downright shameful and I needed to let others know about it.Posted by CedarR, October 27, 2009 at 11:46 a.m.

I called J.P. Szymkowicz, a local attorney and Redskins fan, to ask for a legal opinion on the Redskins behaviors. Szymkowicz was the lawyer who sued the Redskins for the ban on pedestrians that was put in place in 2000 so ticketholders would have to pay Snyder's inflated parking fees. And he won.

Szymkowicz says that Angevine's situation, if accurately described in Steinberg's column,  "presents a good case for tortious battery and conversion." Getting even more lawyerly, Szymkowicz cites Nelson v. Carroll, 355 Md. 593, 600 (1999), where the Court held that "A battery occurs when one intends a harmful or offensive contact with another without that person's consent."

Also applicable, Darcars vs. Borzym, 379 Md. 249, 262 (2004), where the court held that "The gist of a conversion is not the acquisition of the property by the wrongdoer, but the wrongful deprivation of a person of property to the possession of which he is entitled. Nor need there exist a forcible dispossession of property to constitute an act of the defendant a conversion. A conversion may consist of a wrongful, tortious or unlawful taking of property from the possession of another by theft, trespass, duress, or fraud and without his consent or approbation, either express or implied."

The situation of the guys thrown out for wearing anti-Snyder shirts, Szymkowicz asserts, "presents a case for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing that ticket buyers have with the Redskins and vice-versa."

Speech at Redskins games has come up in court before. A 1988 case, Stewart v. District of Columbia Armory Board, was initiated by Rockin' Rollen Stewart, the guy who used to carry his "John 3:16" signs and wear a rainbow wig to televised sporting events to promote his religious faith. Stewart brought a sign to two Skins games at RFK in 1984, only to have it taken down by stadium security. In 1992, the court granted Stewart the right to bring in his signs to RFK. (But that same year he went really crazy and kidnapped a cleaning lady at a hotel in California while awaiting the rapture. He's now serving three consecutive life terms in jail, wigless and signless).

But, Szymkowicz says that because FedExField is a private venue, Snyder has much more power to legally suppress speech than the Redskins did when they played at RFK, a publicly owned facility. For example: Snyder's ban on posters is likely legally kosher, so long as he bans all signs. "I don't think he would be able to let in 'Will You Marry Me!' and not 'Snyder Sucks!'" Szymkowicz says.

But Snyder overstepped his bounds by going after T-Shirt wearers.

"Unless a T-shirt is obscene," he says, "I believe that the Redskins would breach the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by denying someone wearing a 'Dumb and Dumber' T-shirt entrance to the stadium or by evicting them from the stadium if somehow they snuck the shirt past the security guards on the way in."

Szymkowicz cites Telesaver, Inc. v. United States Transmission Systems, Inc., 687 F. Supp. 997, 1001 (D. Md. 1988), where the court ruled: "In every contract there is an implied covenant that neither party shall do anything which will have the effect of destroying or injuring the right of the other party to receive the fruits of the contract;  in other words, in every contract there exists an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing."

I'm guessing Snyder and "good faith" are never mentioned together other than in legal contexts.

***

Perhaps Snyder doesn't want to create any more plaintiffs after the Eagles' debacle: Redskins officials now say that Snyder is not going to go after any clothing at future games.

Then again, the same guy says there weren't many Philly fans at Monday's game and that the team's waiting list is 160,000 names long.

***

Concrete proof of the Washington Post's bias against Dan Snyder: Today's Tracee Hamilton column on the burgundy and gold disaster.

Hamilton says:

When Snyder bought the team in 2000, he said he'd always dreamt of owning the Redskins. Turns out he'd always dreamt of running the Redskins. Not the same thing."

And for the rest of the column, she references the "nine years" Snyder has been in charge.

Well, Snyder really bought the team at auction in 1999, not 2000. Putting the start of his ownership one year later is devastating to the Snyder legacy. One could argue the 1999 season, after all, is the ONLY decent season of the nearly 11 seasons the Skins have had under Snyder.

That's the year the Skins and Brad Johnson won the NFC East, Snyder's only division title. And it's the only time a Snyder team hasn't sneaked into the playoffs as the weakly wildcard, and the only time a Snyder team hosted a playoff game.

Of course, Snyder took over the team too far into the 1999 preseason for him and his already-hired lacky Vinny Cerrato to have any real impact on personnel that season. Again, the year Snyderatto had the least impact is the best year the team has had.

The online version of Hamilton's column now has the correct date. Snyder has that one division title back.

***

Oh, right. The Wizards win, 102-91, on the road, led by Gilbert Arenas, the man fans really, really want to love.

Things can't get better than this. And, as all Bullets fans will tell you, they won't.

***

(Full disclosure: I freelance music reviews for the Washington Post.)

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Comments

  1. #1

    Totally not discussed is the fact the ticket is a license, likely revocable for "conduct" violations. Overly vague most likely, but its not a public place either.

    Not being a MD attorney I can't comment on MD law but it's likely to be similar to an airline ticket. No guarantee of a seat.

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