The attack was stunning even for a sport known for its violence: With eight seconds left in Thursday's game, Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett tore off Pittsburgh Steelers' Mason Rudolph's helmet, then hit Rudolph's head with it in a fit of rage.
Had the brawl happened on a street corner, Garrett very well could have been charged with assault. But on a football field — where athletes play knowing there is a risk they will get hurt — the lines are blurry, experts told NBC News.
"If we're going to be very technical, every single thing that takes place on a football field is assault," said Tammi Gaw, an attorney and athletic trainer based in Washington, D.C., who is the founder of Advantage Rule, a consulting firm that works on sports policy. "But sports, especially contact sports, exist thanks to a doctrine of assumption of risk."
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As part of the doctrine, athletes consent to the risk of injury that comes along with physical contact and are paid to consent to that. That means they are generally barred from taking legal action against their league or other players if they, for example, get hurt after being tackled because they have voluntarily exposed themselves to that possibility.