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Music blasted over the public address system during Washington Redskins games is part of the entertainment experience, and deaf fans should have access to the lyrics of those songs, a federal appeals court has ruled. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the team and the operators of FedEx Field to provide song lyrics and additional aural content of games for deaf fans. The March 25 decision upheld a lower court that granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs. At the same time, the court concluded that access to play-by-play coverage provided in the stadium concourse via the team’s radio station, Red Zebra, was not required. The National Association of the Deaf sued in 2006 on behalf of three deaf or hearing-impaired fans. Shane Feldman, one of the plaintiffs, in 2003 requested that the operators provide captioning on the stadium Jumbotron for announcements made over the public address system. According to the appeals court decision, the defendants balked because doing so would take up too much room on the screen. After the lawsuit was filed, the stadium operators began captioning much of the content on light-emitting ribbon boards. The defendants argued that because they had begun providing captioning, the issue was moot. But the appellate court agreed with the district court that even though the stadium had provided an accommodation, the dispute remained “live” because the defendants could readily stop providing the service. The court also agreed that song lyrics were an important part of the football experience, even though the plaintiffs had waited to raise that argument until filing summary judgment papers. “By having access to the lyrics, plaintiffs have the opportunity to participate in the communal entertainment experience,” the court said in a 2-1 decision. “Without access to lyrics played, for example, during cheerleader dance routines and the halftime show, plaintiffs would not fully and equally experience the planned and synchronized promotional entertainment that large stadiums like FedEx Field provide.” Washington Redskins General Counsel Dave Donovan said that his clients and the stadium owners already were complying with the decision. He said that they were providing, through e-mails, typed lyrics to songs performed by the cheerleaders. “Truth be told, this has only been about attorney’s fees. For years the plaintiffs’ firms managed to keep it alive,” Donovan said. Joseph Espo, who represented the plaintiffs, said that his clients had tried to settle the case many times and that the attorney fees, which were in the “low six figures,” were a result of the defendants’ unwillingess to settle. “It completely distorts reality to say that we are the ones who drove the fees,” Espo said. “The decision is a great day for deaf sports fans and reaffirms the obligation of the owners and operators of sports venues to make sure their product is accessible to all of their customers.” Contact Leigh Jones at [email protected] .

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