Team fights suit by saying other fans are really to blame
This football fan wants the whistles to stop blowing and his ears to stop ringing. Everett D. Reddy says attending home games of the Seattle Seahawks football team has “permanently and devastatingly damaged” his hearing. The 30 year old says he’s attended six to eight games a year since 1991. “And with the new stadium it’s just gotten crazy loud.”
Sound during games at CenturyLink Field has been measured at over 136 decibels. This noise can disrupt the opposing team’s ability to communicate, providing the Seahawks one of the league’s strongest home field advantages. The fans collectively are often called the “twelfth man” for their ability to influence the outcome of a game. But Paula Polska, an audiologist at the University of Washington, says sustained exposure to such loud noise can damage hearing. “A jet engine is only slightly louder.”
Reddy, who lives in Tukwila, just several miles south of Seattle, says he has been a fan “ever since I could watch the TV on Sunday, when I was around two or three years old.” He says he loves his team and feels bad about the lawsuit, but he must protect his family. “I drive truck for a living. I have to be able to hear horns, or people saying ‘Look out!’”
The Seahawks dispute the suit’s claims, and have launched a countersuit. A representative for the team did not hold back when criticizing Reddy’s action. “This joker messed with the wrong sports organization,” says Deputy Assistant Vice Director of Community Communications Byron Kerdul. “What does he think we are, a baseball team? We’re football. Football kicks ass and football takes names. This allegedly deafened pudwhacker is going down.”
A judge has allowed the team’s countersuit to move forward. The Seahawks’ filing says that if Reddy has suffered hearing loss, it is other fans who caused it and other fans who should be the respondents. “We are a mere venue and a mere athletic product on a field. It is the people in the stands who make all that noise. We simply offer a few fireworks and a little amplified music. If anyone is culpable here, and we are not conceding the existence of any culpable party, it is the so-called Twelfth Man. He is the only logical respondent,” the countersuit says. “Our investors should not be held liable for the misdeeds of others, even if we take their money on game day.”
The team’s novel legal strategy calls for the creation of a “reverse class action,” in which the judge would certify a class consisting of everyone who attended a Seahawks game between 1991 and 2014, and their heirs and assignees. That class would then be responsible for damages to Reddy and any future complainants. The team’s motion contains a stirring argument for the delicate nobility of professional sports: “American sports franchises are beloved by millions of people. The teams can’t be held responsible for harms associated with their activities without tragically impairing this love and all it means to so many. Where would such destruction stop? Blame us for widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by teenagers? Point the finger every time some Little League coach cold cocks an ump? Accuse us for the income inequality that rewards a lucky few with almost immeasurable wealth while leaving the masses immiserated? No, the American people must take responsibility. Furthermore, none of the acts alleged in this suit would have been possible without the public subsidies provided for the construction of the field. So, again, it is the public, not the team or its ownership that is to blame.” Carrying the argument to its logical conclusion, the team’s suit further holds that in the class action Reddy should name himself a respondent, and his parents for incubating and nurturing his love of the Seahawks.
Fans aware of Reddy’s lawsuit are enraged that anyone, especially someone who says he’s a fan, would attack the team and its faithful. Melissa Duntzer voices the thoughts of many when she says, “I bet this jerk made up that he’s been a fan since he was a kid.”
Howie Jankster, another Seahawks stalwart, says, “I don’t doubt the dude’s ‘damaged,’ but I think it’s between the ears. That’s on him, not football.”
Repeatedly, fans who know of the suit call it “a bunch of crap.”
Ernest “Red Rider” Hawkings operates a queso pump in one of the stadium’s concourses. He says even if Reddy does have hearing loss, it’s his fault. “I wear earplugs. That fool can.”
Reddy counters that he did wear earplugs sometimes. “That stadium just dominates earplugs,” he says.
Rage from other Seahawks fans is more philosophic, taking broader implications into account.
Martin Hanks says, “First of all, even if this is true, how can that compare to Seahawks ball? Sundays are everything. Football is everything. And all of it’s sure as hell more important than some wussy’s precious hearing.”
An official with the National Football League concurs. “There is nothing in this country more important than football,” says league representative Arnold Traymps. “Natural disasters, poverty, Congressional gridlock—none of it can touch football in terms of importance to the American public,” adds Traymps.
There are some Seahawks fans who see Reddy’s lawsuit as the first play in a march down the gridiron to victory for public health. Jeff Mayvs says he stopped attending games in 2003, the year after CenturyLink opened. “That place is a joke. Yeah we pummel other teams’ offenses and play-calling. But at the cost of being dickheads, health-wise, to our own people? Screw that.”
One researcher posits that the noise at CenturyLink, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium, and other sports venues can build camaraderie. George Mason University psychologist James Dreddit says the extremely high noise levels at such places can be an unparalleled community-builder. “It often increases the sense of oneness already inherent in being a fan with other fans,” he says. When told of Reddy’s lawsuit, psychologist Dreddit, an alum of the University of Wisconsin, a school not known for celebrating or cheering weakly, said, “He sounds like a wuss.”
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