Lawyer: Brutal violence beyond football

Updated: March 1, 2005, 9:07 PM ET
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Former Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski ended Marcus Williams' NFL career two years ago when he ripped off his teammate's helmet and punched the second-year tight end in the face during a practice drill, Williams' attorney told a jury Tuesday.

During opening statements in the trial of Williams' multimillion dollar lawsuit against Romanowski, lawyer James Brosnahan said the linebacker struck Williams with such force that it broke the tight end's left eye socket with a "sickening sound" that could be heard 15 yards away.

"This case is about brutal violence beyond the rules of football," Brosnahan said.

Williams, who earned $300,000 a season with the Raiders, is seeking damages of $3.8 million for alleged battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The blow he took Aug. 24, 2003, also injured his brain. His football career ended at age 27.

His attorney spent much of his 90-minute opening statement showing video highlights of Williams' football career, starting with his days at Berkeley High School, continuing through his college years at Washington State and culminating with his brief time with the Raiders.

Romanowski's lawyer, Jeffrey Springer, told jurors that Williams wasn't attacked from behind but actively engaged in a fight with his teammate. "They got locked up in mutual combat," Springer said.

Springer also suggested that Williams' lawsuit was motivated by money, and that Williams deliberately undermined cognitive tests done to gauge the extent of his brain injury by smoking marijuana.

"This case is about a payday," Springer said.

The attack occurred after Williams blocked Romanowski during an early season practice. After the play, Romanowski came up to Williams from behind, tore off his teammate's helmet and socked him.

Parts of Romanowski's 2004 videotaped deposition were played to the jury, in which Romanowski told William's attorneys that the fight "was a split-second reaction to being pushed in the back and before you know it, it was over."

Ryan Prince, a former Raider, testified that he and Williams were backup players trying to make the team when the incident happened. He said Romanowski punched Williams twice, first knocking off Williams' helmet before delivering the second, final blow.

"It just crunched Marcus' face," Prince said, adding that Romanowski and Williams were grabbing each others' helmets before the altercation.

Romanowski, known for fanatical behavior during his 16 NFL seasons, apologized publicly several days after the altercation.

"I hold myself accountable," Romanowski said afterward. "It was a classless move by me."

Williams wasn't satisfied and filed the civil lawsuit. The case will focus on the consequences of Romanowski's actions on Williams' career.

Potential witnesses include Romanowski's former teammates, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott, former Raiders coach Bill Callahan and Williams' agent, Lee Kolligian.

Attorneys for Romanowski have asked the Raiders to pay for any damages the jury awards. "We're not responsible for what he did," Raiders attorney Jeff Birren said in a telephone interview.

Cases in which professional sports teammates sue each other are rare.

"I did not find a situation where one teammate has injured another teammate during a practice in this way," Brosnahan said after the original complaint was filed. "And for good reason. Teammates have to treat each other with respect."

The Raiders have long been known as the bad boys of the NFL, and they seemed to start spinning out of control following the fight between Romanowski and Williams. The team was coming off an embarrassing 48-21 Super Bowl loss and headed into a lousy 4-12 season, the worst collapse in NFL history for a team that had just played for the title.

Romanowski, released by the Raiders last March after failing a physical, has a long history of scraps with opponents and others. One of his more well-publicized incidents came in December 1997, when he spit in the face of San Francisco 49ers receiver J.J. Stokes while playing for the Denver Broncos in a nationally televised game.

Romanowski was fined $7,500 by the NFL -- one of several fines for his behavior during his career.

Romanowski was called a racist for that episode. He also has been called a headhunter for his vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in 1997 on Kerry Collins, who now quarterbacks the Raiders. Romanowski was fined $42,500 in 1999 alone. He's been accused of illegally obtaining prescription diet drugs and using steroids.

For years, Romanowski, 38, has been an advocate of performance-enhancing substances, even carrying a briefcase of supplements into the locker room.

Williams played in 13 games as an undrafted free agent as a rookie during the team's Super Bowl season. He was used primarily on special teams but was trying to earn a regular position before the injury.

Testimony continues Wednesday. Williams' attorneys are to put on doctors detailing his injuries.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE