TRENTON, N.J. – Three teenagers who say they were tossed from a New Jersey ballpark over their refusal to stand during the song "God Bless America" are suing the minor league Newark Bears.
The boys argue that their constitutional rights were violated when they were asked to leave Newark's Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium on June 29 by Bears' president and co-owner Thomas Cetnar.
Cetnar acknowledged the boys were asked to leave but declined to say why. He also has denied making some statements attributed to him in the lawsuit.
The boys — Millburn High seniors Bryce Gadye and Nilkumar Patel, both 17, and junior Shaan Mohammad Khan, 16 — sued in federal court on Friday seeking unspecified damages.
According to the lawsuit, the boys were seated behind home plate when the song began playing. Once it ended, they say Cetnar approached them yelling.
"Nobody sits during the singing of 'God Bless America' in my stadium," the lawsuit quotes Cetnar as saying. "Now the get the (expletive) out of here."
Cetnar denied saying that: "Never, never did that ever happen."
Cetnar said he hasn't seen the lawsuit, but called the boys' account "a huge fabrication."
The boys are being represented by Bryce Gadye's father, Ross, who said the boys weren't protesting the song and no one asked them to stand.
"The boys weren't trying to make any political statements, they just didn't get up," he said. "No one gave them an ultimatum. The song was sung, it was finished, then they were thrown out."
"God Bless America," written by Irving Berlin in 1918, was played at big league ballparks throughout the country when baseball resumed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and has remained a fixture at New York Yankees games.
In July, the Yankees and New York City settled a lawsuit with a fan who said he was ejected from Yankee Stadium by police after he left his seat to use the bathroom during the playing of "God Bless America." The city did not admit liability in the settlement, but agreed to give the fan $10,001 and pay $12,000 in legal fees. The Yankees changed their policy, and fans at the team's new stadium are allowed to move freely during the song.
Gadye declined to let his son be interviewed, saying he was concerned about his safety over reaction to the lawsuit, which was first reported in The Star-Ledger of Newark.
"They've been getting all kinds of mixed reaction," he said. "Both gung-ho and 'We want to kill you."'
"I think what makes it so horrible is that they were publicly humiliated for exercising a right that was guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution," Gadye said.
The sides differ on talks they had after the incident.
Ross Gadye said he met with general manager Mark Skeels and James Wankmiller, a co-owner, following the incident. He said they apologized and offered and free tickets, but Gadye said the boys wanted an apology from Cetnar, who was not at the meeting, and sued when there was no resolution.
Wankmiller, who declined to talk about whether the boys were asked to leave the ballpark and why, said they offered to meet with Gadye's son and the other boys and never heard back from them. He said it boiled down to money.
"We offered to sit with him and find out what his beef was and he asked for money," Wankmiller said. "That was about it."
Neither side would respond to the other's version of how the talks played out.
Even if the boys win their lawsuit, it's unclear if they'll get much money from the minor league team. Developer Marc Berson sold the team to California-based Bases Loaded group last year after Berson filed for bankruptcy.