Is a Hard Foul an Aggravated Battery?

I'm coming out of blogging retirement to give some advice to cops and prosecutors who want their local sports teams to enjoy an improved home court advantage: charge opposing players with battery. A well-timed arrest could make the difference between your team missing the playoffs and you chugging champagne as the honorary team captain atop a double-decker bus as ticker tape falls around you and an adoring fan base. Seriously.

[I'm not serious.]

I'll use NBA basketball as my sports example, although the same legal concepts apply to Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and even the National Hockey League. 

Okay, I'm not sure about hockey. Fighting might actually part of the official rules in hockey.

Forget hockey.

So say you're a Chicago cop. And a Bulls fan. You've spent your career doing whatever degrading things were necessary for Captain O'Mally to assign you as the courtside law enforcement officer at the United Center. The Bulls are hosting Lebron James and the Miami Heat. (It's 2013, by the way. I couldn't find any more recent clips.)

You're sitting courtside when this happens:

In Illinois, a person commits battery if he "knowingly without legal justification by any means *** makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with an individual." A person commits aggravated battery (a Class 3 felony punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison) if he commits a battery in a "sports venue." For some reason the legislature has deemed batteries occurring in sports venues particularly super-duper bad. Like, felony bad. 

The NBA Rule Book, Rule 4, Section III(a), defines a "common personal foul" as "illegal physical contact with an opponent." A flagrant foul is "unnecessary and/or excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent." 

According to the NBA Rule Book commentary, "the mere fact that contact occurs does not necessarily constitute a foul. Contact which is incidental to an effort by a player to play an opponent, reach a loose ball, or perform normal defensive or offensive movements, should not be considered illegal." 

I'm quoting these official game rules to illustrate how the game of basketball draws a line between permitted physical contact and prohibited physical contact. The game rules call upon referees to impose certain sanctions if prohibited contact occurs, but the contact is prohibited nonetheless. In other words, fouling (and especially flagrant fouling) is not part of the game of basketball. If it's not part of the game of basketball, the fact that such contact occurs between professional basketball players on a basketball court does not make it permissible from a criminal law standpoint. 

On the above play, Lebron James (the greatest basketball player in the world), delivers "physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature" against Carlos Boozer. We can all agree on that, right? If you find yourself disagreeing with me, all I can say is, 'Wow. I didn't know I had readers in Cleveland.'

 Shameful, Carlos. 

Shameful, Carlos. 

Sidenote/Backstory: Lebron James ranks #2 on the all-NBA list of "Players-Unreasonably-Insecure-About-Male-Pattern-Baldness" (see here). Carlos Boozer, on the other hand, IS WHY THE LIST EXISTS IN THE FIRST PLACE. I mean, look at this guy! Do you think he personally went to Walgreens to buy the 12-pack of sharpies, or do you think he sent someone? I bet he went in person. But I bet he wore a thick scarf and sunglasses to hide his identity. Haha, such a Carlos move. 

Okay. What Lebron James did to Carlos Boozer was outside the permissible rules of the game of basketball. He was not allowed to do it. Carlos Boozer did not welcome it. It was a physical contact that was objectively insulting and provoking. So why didn't one of the courtside police officers rush onto the court to arrest Lebron James for aggravated battery? Why didn't the Cook County State's Attorney file charges? Why did Duke-educated Carlos Boozer think the sharpie thing was going to work? 

Maybe the police and prosecutors didn't take action against Lebron James because he (1) he is the greatest athlete in the world and (2) his foul, although flagrant, was arguably a "basketball play" not rising to the level of "insulting or provoking" to Carlos Boozer. Okay, I'm surprised the Chicago cops and prosecutors hail from Cleveland, but I'll accept that rationale for the sake of argument. 

But how about this recent play from the 2017 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals?

In this clip, Wizards player Kelly Oubre bum-rushes Kelly Olynyk with a stiff shoulder well after the whistle has blown. This was clearly not a "basketball play." Had this same physical confrontation occurred between fans in the stands, arrests would be made and criminal charges would be filed. (They should also consider filing charges against whoever decided to name a professional sports team "The Wizards.")

Sidenote/Backstory: Kelly Oubre and Kelly Olynyk are on the all-NBA list of "Men-Who-Became-Professional-Athletes-Despite-Their-First-Name." But clearly, Olynyk is a pudgy white guy with a man-bun, so he wins the 'beating-the-odds' tie-breaker over Oubre. Honorable mention to Patty Mills.

My advice to any courtside cop who wants to become an instant folk hero: next time an opposing player goes for the hard foul, enter the court and slap on the cuffs. You have witnessed an aggravated battery. That's a felony. You cannot turn a blind eye. (Extra points if this happens during Game 1 of a seven-game series.)

Food for thought. 

Sidenote: I was watching live from my parents' living room when the Detroit Pistons hosted the Indiana Pacers on November 19, 2004: The Malice in the Palace. Five Pacers players were criminally charged after the most epic brawl in NBA history erupted, with the main aggressor being a man who would later, in a genuinely not-trying-to-be-ironic decision, legally change his name to "World Peace". This was incredible: