To say these days are scary public times is probably an understatement. Headlines detailing school shootings, unruly airline passengers and anti-Asian hate crimes are enough to put anyone on edge. So, when an unknown person runs onto a football field carrying a pink smoke bomb, who knows what he’s up to?

If you’ve seen the video from an October 3, NFL game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, security men are trying to chase down an energetic trespasser trailing a plume of peculiar pink smoke. When he veers towards the sideline, Rams’ linebacker Bobby Wagner lowers the boom, with a little help from teammate Takkarist McKinley. Let us state without reservation, it was a hard hit. Pow! But was it legal?

Thankfully, it turns out the man was harmless, for the most part. He was an animal rights activist making a statement. It certainly provided amusing commentary for both fans and announcers alike. Evidently, Direct Action Everywhere (DAE), the radical animal rights group behind the stunt, was protesting animal cruelty. We’re still not sure what the pink smoke bomb symbolizes. But the incident raises issues regarding employee safety.

The DAE activist was trying to bring attention to criminal charges against two fellow activists facing upcoming trials for “open rescues,” which is the act of illegally stealing animals from farms to save them. The founder of DAE, Wayne Hsiung, is on trial in Utah for a 2017 raid of a pork production farm. According to DAE, similar protests have taken place at a Buffalo Bills game on September 8 and a Minnesota Timberwolves NBA contest in April.

Wagner knew none of this when he decided to lower his shoulder and take the man out while security was having trouble cornering him – the action inspiring huge cheers from the crowd.

The protestor has since filed an assault complaint with the Santa Clara police describing the incident as a “blatant assault.” But was Wagner’s conduct justified under a theory of self-defense or defense of others?

Granted, an unruly fan charging the field for publicity is not a threat, but during this troubling era, how do you know for sure? The protester was an unauthorized person running across the field waving an unknown smoking device. In addition, he resisted attempts to stop him.

As Wagner stated, you never know the intruder’s intentions or whether they are carrying a weapon. In California, self-defense or defense to others is a valid reason for assault if an individual believes he or someone else is in imminent danger. But please note, if acting in self-defense, one may only use the amount of force necessary.

As the video shows, a security detail was unsuccessfully attempting to stop the man. Let’s get real, if you run onto a football field during an NFL game – or any game for that matter – it should be reasonably expected that you could be tackled and suffer injury. In addition, such publicity stunts can create genuine threats to the safety of players, security and even attendees. This time, a smoke bomb. Next time?

Employers may seek a Workplace Violence Restraining Order on behalf of an employee, which prohibits unlawful violence or credible threats of violence. Such an order can force the restrained person to stay away from an employee and the employee’s workplace.

If a person is engaging in constitutionally protected activity such as protesting, exceptions can make it difficult for a restraining order. For protestors repeatedly targeting a business such as an NFL game, or any business for that matter, the constitution will not necessarily protect their actions.

In this case, DAE threatened the safety of players and other NFL employees in pursuit of their “revolutionary” goals, so it appears Wagner blasting the protestor through the earth’s crust to its molten core was justified. Now, if the violent action had continued after the protestor was prone and handcuffed, well, then we have an entirely different ball game!

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.