Can There Be An Assault on a Sports Field?

There has been a video circulating on social media the last few days and I recently saw it pop up on a local news channel web site. The video is shocking to say the least and was recorded during a recent woman's high school soccer game. A player on the offensive team is on a breakaway running towards the goal with the ball when the opposing goalie runs towards her, and without making a play on the ball, leaves her feet and spears the opposing player violently knocking her to the ground. Thankfully, after a few minutes the offensive player was able to get to her feet and leave the field. Remarkably, a foul was not called on the goalie but after the match officials determined that she would be suspended for two games.

After viewing the video my first question was, how in the world did the officials miss that call and my second question was is it possible for the goalie to be charged with an assault?

I did a quick search of North Carolina case law and was able to come up with a case involving a basketball player charged with assaulting another player during a game by shoving the player to the ground.

An assault in North Carolina is defined as an overt act or an attempt, or the unequivocal appearance of an attempt, with force or violence, to do some immediate physical injury to the person of another, which show of force or menace of violence must be sufficient to put a reasonable person of reasonable firmness in fear of immediate bodily harm. What in the world does that mean? It means if you do something with violence or force and you are trying to injure someone or put the person in fear of immediate harm and a normal person would also be in fear, then you have committed an assault.

After reading that definition it seems pretty clear that the goalie committed an assault. However because she was competing in an athletic event the rules are a little different. The defendant in the basketball case argued that there are different types of physical contact associated with playing a sport that outside of the sport would be considered assaults. The court agreed with that argument to an extent but noted that "basketball involves some physical contact; however, intentionally shoving a player to the ground outside the context of the game is not an accepted part of the game."

The appeals court next said it could not make a decision because there were still some unanswered questions and sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to focus on a few factors:

  • Did the action occur during an attempt to by the player to gain a tactical advantage?
  • Did the action occur when play was stopped?
  • Was there a verbal altercation beforehand?
  • Were there any injuries sustained?

Another thing that I think is important is the type of sport that is being played. Certainly the type of physical contact that a football player or wrestler has consented to is different than the type of contact that a basketball player or soccer player has consented to.

Take a look at the video for yourself and let me know what you think.


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