Dale Mooney went to Gillette Stadium on Sunday just to enjoy an NFL game — Miami at New England.
So too, presumably, did the person who may have played a role in Mooney's death.
Mooney, a 53-year-old father of two and 30-year Patriots season-ticket holder, died following an altercation in the 300 Level of the stadium as the game played out. Cellphone video shows him wrestling and then being punched in the temple by what witnesses have described as a Dolphins fan.
The Massachusetts State Police are investigating. No charges have been filed by Norfolk County prosecutors.
Details of what started the fight, who was the aggressor, or what escalated it remain unknown.
So, too, is the precise cause of death. The Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office reported Wednesday that preliminary autopsy results “did not suggest traumatic injury, but did identify a medical issue” with Mooney.
“Cause and manner of death remain undetermined pending further testing,” the DA’s Office stated.
The details matter — especially to prosecutors. If the cause of death is linked to the fight, the fan could face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to second-degree homicide, with possible extended prison time if convicted, according to Brad Bailey, a prominent Boston-based defense lawyer and former prosecutor who specializes in violent crimes.
“These are the types of very serious charges that you are dealing with if it is determined the fight is the proximate cause of death,” Bailey said.
Even if the fan isn’t found criminally culpable for the death, there are potential assault and battery charges, civil flings against him and dealing with the fact that he was in at least some way involved in the end of someone’s life — i.e . would there have been a medical issue if not for the altercation?
In many other ways, the facts don’t matter.
One fan is dead. One is at the center of an investigation.
That’s one life lost. One life altered, at the very least.
And all of it was completely avoidable.
The NFL is back and along with Monday morning highlights of touchdown passes and game-winning kicks are viral amateur phone footage of various brawls in stands, concourses and parking lots from around the league.
These things happen at other sporting events, concerts and even just out on the street, of course. There is nothing unique about the NFL. Violence is everywhere. Pro football is, however, America’s biggest entertainment product and these stadium battles have somehow become part of the tapestry.
Cellphone videos and social media posts have made the fights seem more common, even if they have gone on for decades. Potentially worse is that the recurring footage might make it seem less dangerous. Many end with wild drunken punches and little significant damage. Oftentimes everyone just topples over before security arrives.
And sometimes it ends in abject tragedy.
It seems like a ridiculous thing to write, but perhaps this nightmare in Foxborough could be a reminder to all to not fight, to not engage in violence, to cool the temperature before an altercation can begin.
Perhaps it can be a moment to remember that just about anything can happen once a fight starts, especially in grandstands that are a particularly dangerous place to throw or take a punch. Even if someone doesn’t die from getting hit or falling down, the stress and exertion could trigger cardiac arrest.
It could even extend to onlookers, who might try to consider trying to calm the situation rather than pull out a phone and capture a video. If the potential combatants are aware they are on camera, it might make it even harder, or potentially more embarrassing, for either party to back down knowing that their conduct, and perhaps courage, will be viewed later.
“The fact people are taking videos of everything and posting everything can exacerbate the situation and even perpetuate what goes on,” Bailey noted. “People who ought to be de-escalating are instead looking to be the first to post it on Instagram.”
Teams, leagues and stadiums have tried to curb violence in the stands if for no other reason than it is bad for business. Almost no one wants an unsafe environment.
Still, the fights go on, likely fueled by alcohol and adrenaline. Bold fan behavior is often celebrated. Everything is hyped up. Entering a rival stadium can be unnecessarily intense.
“I’ve spent my life going to Red Sox games and Bruins games and Patriots games,” Bailey said. “I’ve seen plenty of dangerous conditions in the stands.”
On Sunday, that led to the worst possible scenario.
One dead. One dealing with the pressure of a possible criminal investigation.
All on a night that neither, presumably, wanted for anything more than to watch a football game.