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4CA calls a penalty on Redskins

As March Madness peaks, consider the fall football season.

On any given Sunday, most fans at an NFL stadium may take for granted the rockin’ atmosphere. For some fans, something was missing from the multi-sensory assault of a live game. Which stadium anthem is booming over the loudspeaker? We are the champions? Who let the dogs out? We will rock you?

After hearing-impaired fans filed an ADA suit against the Washington Redskins, the organization captioned most of the aural content – game play and other announcements – the plaintiffs wanted to access. Nevertheless, a federal court in Maryland said the plaintiffs had a disability discrimination claim because the fans did not have access to the lyrics of music played over the stadium’s PA system. Earlier this month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

“Whatever the poetic merit of the lyrics and their relevance to the sport of football, we agree with the district court that the music played over the public address system during Redskins home games is part of the football game experience that defendants provide as a good or service, and that the ADA requires full and equal access to the music lyrics,” the court said in its March 25 unpublished per curiam opinion in Feldman v. Pro Football Inc.

For the record, the 4th Circuit noted that the Redskins’ “Half-Time Mix” includes the immortal lyrics from Lil’ Mama’s “Shawty Get Loose”: “Y’all don’t really want it but the young got time/ With a flow so spec like … technologic/ Shawty get loose, baby do what you do, let me see you let down your hair.”

The lyrics may be “nonsensical,” said the panel but (ahem) without “access to the lyrics played … during cheerleader dance routines and the halftime show, plaintiffs would not fully and equally experience the planned and synchronized promotional entertainment that large stadiums like FedEx Field provide.”

A dissent by Chief Judge James A. Beaty, of the Middle District of North Carolina, complained that the majority’s “equal access to aural content” standard could require that all content broadcast over a public stadium’s PA system be captured and broadcast to hearing-impaired patrons.

According to their website, the Redskins now offer to send patrons emails with the lyrics to the songs to which the Redskins cheerleaders perform during games.

By Deborah Elkins

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