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Getting sued by your football team

Scott Jagow Sep 3, 2009

It’s almost time for that annual rite of Fall — the kickoff of the NFL season. Only this year, quite a few season ticket holders will be sitting at home with a lawsuit in their lap instead of a set of pom-poms.

The Washington Post has a compelling story about Redskins’ season ticket holders who’ve asked out of their multi-year contracts because of financial hardship. Instead of that happening, many of them have been sued by the team. The list includes Pat Hill, about as diehard a Redskins fan as they come:

In the hallway of her modest home south of Alexandria, the 72-year-old grandmother points out the burgundy-and-gold Redskins hook rug she made. In her bedroom, she shows off the pennants from two Redskins Super Bowl games she attended, and she opens a music box on her dresser that plays “Hail to the Redskins.”

Now, Hill says, her beloved Redskins are forcing her into bankruptcy.

Hill’s a real estate agent. ‘Nough said. She asked the Redskins to waive her season-ticket contract for a year or two, but the team refused. The Redskins sued her for every payment through 2017, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and court costs:

Hill couldn’t afford a lawyer. She did not fight the lawsuit or even respond to it because, she said, she believes that the Bible says that it is morally wrong not to pay your debts. The team won a default judgment of $66,364.

“It really breaks my heart,” Hill said, her voice cracking as the tears well and spill. “I don’t even believe in bankruptcy.

“We are supposed to pay our bills. I ain’t trying to get out of anything.”

Wow. I think I’m going to cry now. Here’s the team’s response:

Redskins General Counsel David Donovan said the lawsuits are a last resort that involve a small percentage of the team’s 20,000 annual premium seat contracts. He added that the team has accommodated people in hard-luck circumstances hundreds of times. He said he was unaware of Pat Hill’s case…

Donovan said other teams sue their fans. “I don’t know of any pro football team that doesn’t,” he said.

But spokesmen for the following National Football League teams said they do not sue their fans over season ticket contracts: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Jets, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans.

What about companies defaulting on luxury boxes? Well, the Redskins are suing them too:

The companies include a lobbying firm that went out of business, a telecommunications firm and a Shenandoah coffee roaster owned by a man indicted on charges that he ran a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. The Redskins have won $8 million in judgments in eight cases.

As for 72-year-old grandmother Pat Hill, she’s started selling her Redskins memorabilia. She has a lot of debt to pay off.

But as I can attest as a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan, no matter what your team does to you (on the field or off), it’s hard to shake the devotion:

(Hill) says she was humiliated when a process server arrived at her door notifying her that her favorite team was suing her.

Yet it hasn’t dimmed her fidelity. She brightens at the memory of meeting Sonny Jurgensen in the locker room 47 years ago.

“I just love the Redskins.”

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