Getting Madden

A McKinney family sues Fox for sacking a young quarterback's dream

He says he phoned Fox and, on November 5, finally reached Morrison, who explained that he had the tape ready to roll but that the game producer refused to put it on because the score was so close. Richardson wanted to know how he could explain leaving his son waiting up in the stands to meet Madden and Aikman; he demanded to know why he made his boy a promise he didn't keep. He was "some kind of pissed," and he let Morrison feel his rage.

Robert Sr. says Morrison told him he would make it up to Rob by airing the segment during the Cowboys-Washington Redskins game on Thanksgiving Day, which had a higher national audience anyway. Richardson was skeptical but placated for the moment.

Morrison, in court documents, says he did indeed talk to Robert Sr. on November 5 and that "filmed footage of plaintiff Robert Richardson II was not broadcast." However, Morrison denies promising Richardson the footage would air on Thanksgiving--or, for that matter, ever.

Meanwhile, Rob was being taunted at school, harassed by kids who had waited to see him on television.

"Everybody was on my back about it: 'Why weren't you on TV? How come they didn't do anything on the TV about you?'" Rob recalls, staring at the carpet as he talks. "I said, 'I don't know...' I mean, just two weeks ago, a car drove by, and someone held a big old sign up in the window saying 'Troy Aikman wannabe' on it. It was some kids. I didn't know them. Kids still bother me, saying that I should make up my own video game and stuff like that. It drives me crazy. Makes me want to fight them, but I don't want to live that way."

On the day before Thanksgiving--November 27, 1996--Robert Sr. hadn't heard from Morrison about whether Fox would be airing the piece about his son. He held out hope, but felt deep down it would not air this time either. So he called his attorney in Dallas, Eric Fein, and asked him to place a call to Fox to find out what was happening. It did no good: Richardson was informed that the piece would not air during the Redskins game or at any other time during the rest of the season.

But, he says, a producer at Fox did offer some compensation: a couple of footballs, signed by John Madden and his broadcasting partner Pat Summerall.

Robert Sr., a dedicated hunter who keeps a stuffed bear in his living room and other dead animal heads hanging on the walls of his home, raged at the producer. "I said, 'This isn't about memorabilia now.' I said, 'You've taken my son and trashed him in this town. You made him a total embarrassment in this community. You've emotionally wrecked him; he doesn't want to go to school because of the ridicule and the teasing and the name-calling that he's getting. This has gone way beyond footballs.'

"I said, 'You've messed with the wrong guy and the wrong kid, and I'm here to tell you that one way or the other, you're going to make it right, or you're going to wish you had.'"

The Richardsons did not file suit against Fox, Madden, or Morrison until October 21, 1997. They waited, the father explains, because they hoped Fox would make it right--air the piece during the following season, prove their son wasn't a liar, give him back a little of the respect he had lost when a network decided a promise to a high school kid wasn't worth keeping. Never happened.

Fox denies that it guaranteed it would ever air the piece in the first place; there were no written contracts, no signed documents. And Madden, in court papers, says he doesn't know how he ever got involved in this lawsuit since he "has never had the power and authority to determine what will be broadcast by Fox Broadcasting during a game."

But the family and their lawyer insist that it was Madden who set in motion this whole rusted chain of events. And the Richardsons also claim they entered into an agreement with Fox by giving the network permission to film Rob playing football.

Robert Sr. says all this would be a moot point if only Morrison had told him there was a chance the footage might not have aired. Then, it would have been no big deal. But the father says no such words were uttered, and Morrison's insistence that they show up at Texas Stadium early on the day of their son's humiliation was just an extra kick in the gut.

Attorney Fein expects depositions to begin in a few weeks, and from there, who knows. This could turn into a lengthy battle, or the federal judge in Sherman might consider the litigation frivolous and throw the case out of court.

For now, Robert Sr. is willing to fight this suit just as "aggressively" as Fox is planning to defend it. He vows to get back his son's dignity from Fox Television, and he will spend whatever is necessary to see that come to pass. But when he talks, it seems as though it's his own pride that has been damaged.

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