Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Personal Foul: Running into the Kicker

Civil Procedure. If you did not grow up in a family of attorneys or work as a paralegal or inherit the intuition of a soothsayer, Civil Procedure is the greatest mystery in the universe. You enter the Civil Procedure classroom with all of the context of a person who has never seen or played football in his life and you begin studying the rule book. Here is what it looks like to the average law student:

Let's begin with the personal foul that is called when a defender on special teams runs into the punter without touching the ball. The concept is simple: the punter is exposed to significant injury because of the requirement that he stretch his kicking leg as high as possible while the other leg leaves the turf, leaving him completely vulnerable to a hit against which he cannot defend himself. Of course, it is a foul to hit him while he is defenseless in mid-air.

The student, having never witnessed an actual game, has the following stupid questions:

1. Why is the punter kicking the ball in the first place? Answer: We will cover that later.

2. So, is the ball like a baseball, which I have seen, or is it more like a basketball, which I once saw on television? Answer: It is a football. Pay attention.

3. Okay, but why can he not just kick the ball, whatever it is, without someone running at him and hitting him, if hitting him is illegal? Answer: It is an adversarial system, a competition to determine who is right.

4. Okay, but the game seems to be about tackling. Why is the punter immune? Answer: If the defender touches the ball before he hits the punter, he can hit the punter so hard the punter never kicks again.

5. Okay, so the ball is the issue, not the punter? Answer: Are you not paying attention? The punter is protected so long as the ball has not been touched because we do not want punters to be injured; but if the ball has been touched by the defender, the punter no longer deserves any protection and can be hospitalized by the defender, primarily because the punter's job is to get the ball kicked into the air without its being touched by the defender so that the defender's teammate can try to catch the ball downfield and run it back as far as possible to gain the best possible field advantage on the other team in the hopes of throwing or running the same ball into the punter's end zone for a score that will make the punter a complete doofus for not having punted the ball into the coffin corner (we will talk about the coffin corner in more depth when we get to the coffin corner cases, but suffice it to say that the punter wants it in the coffin corner). Given that the punter must kick the ball into the coffin corner -- what? He has to kick the ball. What? Just accept the fact that the punter must kick the ball -- it has to do with downs, which we will talk about later -- just accept the fact, will you please, that the punter has to kick the ball, and the defense can try to disrupt that kick so long as the defense does not do so by running into the punter, unless the defensive player who hits the punter has touched the ball that the punter had. How tough is that to understand?!!!

When you graduate, you will be in a game where you have to punt, okay? Just trust me; it's going to happen. When it does happen, remember that the defender cannot run into your punter unless he has touched the ball that the punter kicked. Then, of course, he can hospitalize your punter. Even so, always challenge the call on the field (What? What do you mean, what is a call? Have you been paying attention at all?). Raise your hand if you don't know what a "call" is. It was in the first day's readings. Ms. Cartwright, can you explain what a "call" is? No, it has nothing to do with a cell phone. Mr. Blakely, do you have any idea what a "call" is? No. It is not a noise to attract birds.

You people cannot be serious about being lawyers. Has no one in this room any idea what a "call" is? Yes, Ms. Poindexter. Exactly. It is a decision by the referee, which cannot be overturned unless irrefutable evidence exists on the video replay that the call was, in fact, wrong. And where did you find that answer? Correct. Everyone turn to Tony Gonzalez v. Referees on page 442 of your casebook. Ms. Poindexter, can you read what the second full paragraph says about review of disputed calls during a game?

Thank you, Ms. Poindexter. Obviously, you have done your reading with some inquisitiveness and simple common sense. The rest of you might wish to emulate Ms. Poindexter's enthusiasm for the rules of this noble game to which all of you aspire.

For Monday, please read the cases covering the infield fly rule.

Riiiiingggggg!!!!!!!!!!. Yes?

Why don't the students understand football? You are the ASP person. What are you doing with your time?

It may be that the students have never seen a football game, so they are having a tough time seeing the context . . . .

I got it when I was in law school. Can't you do anything about this or are you just a cheerleader?

Dan Weddle

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