The NFL Canceled a Game in 2016, but the Lawsuit Lives On

The NFL appears destined to make it to the end of the season without having to cancel a regular-season game due to the pandemic. That’s despite the Tennessee Titans’ early-season difficulties and the brief benching of big names like Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton due to COVID-19.

The NFL doesn’t have to imagine the sorts of legal challenges they could have faced from fans, teams, and possibly even players had a game been wiped out. That’s because there’s a lawsuit over a previous cancellation that’s alive and well more than four years later.

The 2016 Hall of Fame Game was a travesty for 2 NFL teams

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Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio, has been a football tradition for years. The big events are the induction of that year’s class into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first preseason game of the year between NFL teams.

In the case of the 2016 Hall of Fame weekend, the class of inductees was one of the strongest in recent memory: Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Tony Dungy, Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler, and Dick Stanfel. The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts were scheduled to play in the game the following day.

The problem is that the game was never played. With the fans already assembled in Tom Benson Stadium as much as an hour after the decision had already been made, officials of the NFL and the Hall of Fame announced that the Packers-Colts game had been canceled.

Despite that development, the Colts cheerleaders and singer Lee Greenwood performed for the crowd, and the 2016 inductees were introduced. NFL players who had warmed up in game gear an hour earlier return to the field in shorts to mingle with fans and sign autographs, USA Today reported.

What worried the NFL about the field?

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The cancellation of the 2016 Hall of Fame Game was the result of the field being ruled unsafe for the players. The issue began with the stadium being used for the induction ceremony the previous night. Panels put down to protect the field weren’t cleared from the stadium until mid-afternoon – more than seven hours behind schedule.

That did not leave enough time for the crew preparing the field. Paint used to touch up logos, numbers, and yard lines did not have enough time to dry. When heat was applied to the Hall of Fame Game logo at midfield, the paint turned into a sticky mess.

Players noticed the mess as they warmed up and were sent back to their locker rooms. General managers Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts and Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers met and agreed they couldn’t put NFL players’ safety at risk.

The cancellation was announced at about the time the game was scheduled to kick off, and a Hall of Fame official said a full refund would be made to ticketholders.

The Hall of Fame Game was canceled, but the lawsuit lives

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Months after the Hall of Fame Game was canceled, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in a bid to recover money that fans spent on the game aside from tickets that were refunded. The suit cited fans who spent money on food, hotels, and incidentals for a game that the promoters should have known could not be played. The suit initially named the NFL and the National Football Museum, which operates the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as defendants.

An amended complaint filed in 2018 dropped the NFL from the suit, but lawyers for the original plaintiff pressed for class-action status. The court initially rejected that bid in September 2018, noting the number of fans who had already settled with the Hall of Fame and the variety of items cited in the claims.

According to Above The Law, an amended motion filed in October 2019 cleared up a lingering issue about the fitness of controversial attorney Michael Avenatti to handle the case. Finally, the court determined last month that an amended motion satisfied the requirements for turning the case into a class-action suit.

The lawsuit can now go forward, though no trial date has been set yet.

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