Black Holed 

Does being a Raiders fan mean assuming responsibility when players land on your head? And candidates talk potty training.

Thankfully, the spectacle of the Olympics and such dubious sports as speedwalking and synchronized diving is over. And, right on time, a real sport with betting lines, bookies, and wholesome violence is returning. Yes, football is finally back.

But thanks to National Football League rule-makers -- that anal bunch that fines players for not wearing the right color socks -- it'll be back with more modest touchdown celebrations. You won't see Terrell Owens or anyone else brandish a Sharpie or a cell phone after they score this year. (Owens signed his post-TD football and handed it to someone in the stands.) NFL refs will also penalize any choreographed multiplayer celebrations. So, for instance, it's okay for one player to jump into the stands -- the so-called Lambeau Leap -- to accept the adulation of the fans, but two leapers would draw a flag.

The new rules highlight how the NFL is obsessed with image over all else. The rule-makers ban celebrations like TO's Sharpie stunt, which, while arguably unsportsmanlike, don't hurt anyone. Meanwhile, they don't penalize players who arguably endanger fans by jumping into the crowd in full gear.

Haven't heard of a fan ever being injured by a Lambeau Leap? Well, Raiders fan Susan Lopez claims she was. According to her attorney, Stephen Von Till of Fremont, Lopez had to be taken to a hospital after tight end Roland Williams dove into the stands in a January 6, 2002 game against the New York Jets. Court papers say the customer-relations specialist missed six months of work and had thousands of dollars in medical expenses. She is suing the Raiders, Williams, and Coliseum management for unspecified damageTs. San Francisco attorney Steven Werth, who represents the Raiders, says he knows of no other lawsuit filed by a football fan who claimed to be injured during a TD celebration.

In this case, Lopez was sitting near the front row of the southside end zone. The fence separating the fans from the players was, oh, maybe chest-high, and the videotape shows Williams tumbling backward into the crowd. The tape also shows hyped-up Raiders fans patting him and spilling beer on him. Lopez, however, couldn't be seen. Von Till says that's because she was underneath the 265-pound player.

There's a legal principle at play here called "assumption of risk." Whether you know it or not, fans legally accept responsibility for certain risks when they attend sporting events. For instance, a fan at a Giants game who gets hit by a foul ball can't sue, because getting hit by a foul ball is something baseball fans know might happen when they buy a ticket. This case is different, Von Till says: "If I was going to a football game," the lawyer argues, "I would not expect a football player to land on me."

Von Till concedes he doesn't watch a lot of pro football; he's more of a college fan (a Michigan State Spartan). College ball, of course, doesn't allow flashy TD celebrations. But pro players have been jumping into the stands since Green Bay Packer safety LeRoy Butler did it a decade ago at Lambeau Field. Defense attorneys in this case also point out that Lopez and her now-husband, a season-ticket holder, had been to plenty of football games. In other words, she had likely seen players do the leap before and knew there was a risk they might do it again.

Still, the Raiders and the other defendants don't seem too eager to fight that point in a full-blown trial. Werth says his clients are hoping to settle before the February trial date. "Obviously," he says, "both Mr. Williams and the Raiders regret that Ms. Lopez was injured."

It's worth noting that Lopez and her hubby were sitting in the vicinity of the area best known as the Black Hole, the notorious section where you'll find the Raiders' biggest, toughest, rowdiest fans painted silver and black and clad in spiked jerseys.

When told about Lopez' lawsuit, a Black Hole season-ticket holder scoffed, "Hell, I wouldn't sue over that." He paused: "Unless it was the visiting team."

Board and Bath and Beyond At the El Cerrito Democratic Club's recent endorsement meeting, someone asked the candidates for the West Contra Costa Unified School District board what they would do if they got a call from a parent ranting about nasty school bathrooms. Yes, these are the kinds of questions that must be answered when you're running for an unglamorous down-ballot office like school board.

In any event, the financially challenged district -- which operates schools from El Cerrito to Hercules -- has developed a rep for having restrooms you want to avoid at all costs. Consider Omega High, a small continuation school in Richmond. The school has finally renovated its restrooms, but a couple of years ago its shitters were so bad that a teacher filed a workers' comp claim, saying she suffered kidney damage from holding her bladder too long because she didn't want to use Omega's bathroom.

But let's get back to the matter at hand: How did the school board candidates respond to the question? Here are a few examples:

John Cruger-Hansen, a parent and the husband of a teacher, said the real problem was that the bathrooms were poorly built and thus harder to keep clean. He suggested they needed to be sturdier like the public restrooms at his workplace in the Antioch marina, which were built to prison standards.

Karen Pfeifer, a nurse, said she'd first call the school principal, and if that didn't work she'd paint the bathroom herself, which she has done in the past.

David Barbour, a software engineer, opined, "If it's a chronic problem, it's probably some sort of systems issue." (Right. A digestive systems issue.)

And, finally, Willie Cobb Jr. , a teacher who orates like a preacher, stressed that boardmembers need to provide hope for the district's 35,000 students. And how to give the children hope for better bathrooms? "We empower people to do it themselves," he said. "Keeping a bathroom clean is something high school students can do themselves."

Alas, the past fifty years or more of public education have proven otherwise.

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