A federal appeals court last week found in favor of hearing-impaired fans who had sued the Washington Redskins, ruling that the team must provide captioning of lyrics and texts of public-address announcements.
A district court had found in favor of three hearing-impaired plaintiffs who filed suit in 2006, alleging that the team was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The team had said that captioning would take up too much space on the Jumbotron before putting the captions on screens at the 50-yard line. The court went ahead and ruled anyway, to ensure that the Redskins won’t change their mind.
In the 29-page majority decision, judges wrote:
Whatever the poetic merit of the lyrics and their relevance to the sport of football, we agree with the district court that the music played over the public address system during Redskins home games is part of the football game experience … and that the [Americans with Disabilities Act] requires full and equal access to the music lyrics.
The court acknowledged that lyrics to songs played at sports venues may well be ridiculous, citing the lyrics to “Half-Time Mix.” (“Y’all don’t really want it but the young got time / With a flow so spec like ... technologic // Shawty get loose, baby do what you do, let me see you let down your hair.”)
Music played during a football game arouses enthusiasm and fosters a sense of shared participation. The lyrics may be nonsensical, as defendants point out, but even nonsensical lyrics may enhance the environment of collective excitement that defendants provide as part of their goods and services. By having access to the lyrics, plaintiffs have the opportunity to participate in the communal entertainment experience.
In a dissenting opinion, judge James A. Beaty, wrote:
By setting out an “equal access to aural content” standard, the district court set out a rule that would potentially require that all content broadcast over the public address system at an athletic event at a public stadium be captured and provided to deaf or hearing impaired individuals in order to comply with the ADA, even though the ADA itself does not include such a requirement.