DEFENSE: Davante Adams Could Face Lengthy Suspension, Possible Jail Time. Here Are His Defenses.

In a stunning video, Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams was caught shoving a freelance photographer to the ground after the Raiders’ Monday Night Football game against division rival Kansas City Chiefs. The game and a crucial call did not go Adams’ way and he was exiting the field visibly emotional.

The video shows the photographer fly back a considerable distance after the push and fall backwards. While his head goes out of view, he can be seen lifting it back up and later told police that he suffered whiplash, a headache, and possibly a concussion as a result of his fall. Perhaps another camera angle caught his head hitting the ground as he claims.

The photographer, Ryan Zebley is a 20-year-old student who was tasked with carrying camera equipment for someone else, according to reports. Aside from being hospitalized for non-life threatening injuries, Zebley has also retained a personal injury attorney who told media that Zebley was on the first day of his new job when Adams allegedly pushed him.

“What happened was egregiously unsportsmanlike and an act of violence that should not be excused by the NFL,” Zebley’s attorney Dan Curry said in a statement to the NY Post.

“He was nauseous immediately after the incident and he has some pain that he’s still dealing with today,” Curry said.

Curry continued: “From his perspective, he was violently pushed to the ground, and that’s an assault.”

It is pretty clear that Zebley and Curry likely will file a civil suit against Adams for damages related to Zebley’s medical expenses, possible pain and suffering and civil allegations of assault.

Adams has already been cited under Missouri law and charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly violating a city ordinance. This particular charge could carry up to six months in jail and a fine of $250-$1,000 dollars. While six months in jail is unlikely, this does not mean jail is ruled out as Adams could face some jail time if convicted or even if he pleads guilty in exchange for some leniency.

In fact, this initial charge is not necessarily the final charge for Adams. Prosecutors are likely still reviewing the case and could end up changing the charge to a state one or increasing the number of charges before his hearing on November 10th.

Since the encounter was all caught on camera, prosecutors will have little to no incentive to offer Adams a plea deal and his chances of striking a deal will come down to how good, persuasive and connected his lawyer is and how clean his criminal record is, if he even has one.

However, the ultimate charge and punishment will be dependent, in part, on the extent of Zebley’s injuries.

Assault that does not involve bodily injury is treated very differently than assault that does result in bodily injury. Zebley’s medical records and whether or not he sustained a concussion, whiplash or other injuries could influence how Adams is charged by prosecutors. The more serious the charge, the more likely jail time is.

Under Missouri law, an assault happens when a person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes, or attempts to cause, physical injury or harm to someone else. This is where Adams’ potential defenses come in.

After the game, Adams tweeted an apology explaining that he reacted because 1. he was heated over the game and 2. Zebley “ran” right up to him or viewed another way, crossed his path, as he was leaving the field.

While many criticized Adams’ apology as not good enough or saw it as a foolish move because he admitted to pushing Zebley on social media, it was actually helpful to his case.

There was no dispute he shoved Zebley because it was caught on tape. So admitting he made physical contact did not harm his case. Adams essentially expressed that it was a reaction, not an intentional act. He described his mindset, which is critical to his defense. He not only expressed remorse and apologized but he explained that he “bumped into” Zebley as Zebley “jumped in front of” him and that he merely “responded” to Zebley “running in front” of him, at a time when he was frustrated. His full quote reads as follows and is crucial to his defense:

“I want to apologize to the guy, there was some guy running off the field, and he ran, like jumped in front of me coming off the field and I bumped into him, kind of pushed him, and he ended up on the ground,” Adams said at his locker. “So I wanted to say sorry to him for that because that was just frustration mixed with him literally just running in from of me. I shouldn’t have responded that way, but that’s how I initially responded. So, I want to apologize to him for that.”

Adams is setting up a self defense claim here. He is not only denying that he had any intent to assault or injure Zebley, which is another way to defend himself, but he is categorizing the push as a reaction to Zebley allegedly running in front of him as he made his way to the locker room.

First off, prosecutors will not elevate the charge beyond a misdemeanor if they cannot prove intent to hurt someone and Adams’ mindset at the time and the circumstances will make it hard to prove intent.

Misdemeanor assault, in the fourth degree, can still be charged at the state level and prosecutors can argue that Adams acted recklessly in pushing Zebley. However, Adams can argue that he was simply reacting in self-defense to someone running right up to his face and pushing him to avoid a collision that could have harmed him. Now whether Zebley actually ran up to him or was just crossing paths with him is debatable and will be argued by both attorneys. However, the video shows Zebley very close to Adams face. Adams was walking toward the locker room so it is debatable whether they both contributed to such a close encounter or one of them is more at fault than the other. It appears that Zebley is trying to quickly cross, but at an inopportune time while players are exiting the game. The question will be, would a reasonable person react in a similar way? Critical to Adams’ defense will be the question of whether his force was proportional to the force that he thought he would have incurred if the two had collided. He can argue that as an athlete, his body’s safety is essential to his ability to make a living and reacting to someone suddenly crossing right in front of him made him fear harm or a possible collision. Adams can say his reaction was simply a means of protecting himself from bodily harm. In light of recent stories involving aggressive fans throwing objects at players, Adams can argue that he was surprised by the photographer allegedly darting towards him and reacted proportionally to the perceived threat to protect himself. He can also argue that normally the entry to the tunnel is clear at that time and Zebley was at fault for running across the entryway to the tunnel.

Let’s also remember that Zebley’s attorney said it was his first day on the job and he is a 20-year-old student. Another question that will become important to Adams’ defense is whether Zebley should have been walking in that direction at that time when players were exiting the field.

Other personnel and photographers are seen off to the side and it will be explored whether the path to that tunnel should have been cleared and/or whether Zebley failed to pay attention to where he was going and whether he should have seen Adams coming and moved to the side to avoid such a close encounter.

Thus, the reasonableness of Adams pushing Zebley as a self-defense reaction will be a critical question. It is unlikely a jury will ever hear this case because Adams will probably settle any civil case and plead on any criminal charge. But the questions above could still influence how he is charged and his eventual punishment both inside and outside of the league.

In the event that Adams is charged by prosecutors at the state level, he could be facing anywhere from a maximum of 15 days in jail up to a maximum of six months or even up to seven years in jail depending on how he is charged. There is a possibility of a felony assault charge here, for allegedly recklessly causing physical injury. These outcomes are all highly unlikely, given the circumstances, as is jail time.

Again, the documentation from Zebley’s doctors citing the extent of his injuries, combined with the video capturing it all could lead prosecutors to charge assault at the state level, even if they believe the push was caused by recklessness or negligence and not intentional.

The one thing that is certain in my opinion, is that Adams is going to be suspended by the league. The suspension could be significant, especially since it was caught on camera and at an NFL game where spectators and employees are expected to feel safe. The fact that the incident occurred on the field, by an NFL employee, places the league in a position of possible direct liability as well. It is likely, Zebley sues the NFL or at least the Raiders, since the team directly employs Adams.

Back in 2019, Seattle Seahawks Defensive lineman Jarran Reed was suspended six games after he was accused of assaulting a female off the field and he was not charged or arrested. Here, there is already an assault charge. Assault can be charged for actual physical contact or for merely placing someone in fear of being hurt. In some states, actual contact is charged as a battery but in Missouri, battery is not a separate charge and an assault charge is inclusive of assaults where there is physical contact.

Back in 2005, Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers was suspended 20 games by MLB, later reduced to 13, for shoving cameramen.

It is likely that Adams could be facing a four to six game suspension and have to undergo counseling for anger management.

There is already an outcry by many media members that he be held accountable. The size and strength of NFL players makes them especially dangerous in physical encounters. That being said, Adams definitely has two very strong defenses here in my opinion that could mitigate a potential suspension or criminal punishment: 1. that he had no intent and 2. that he was reacting in self defense to a young man suddenly getting very close to his face, as he exited the game, no matter whose fault it was.