Defamation of Athletes by Sports Media Coverage Xavier Bennett Grumbling State University Author Note: This paper was prepared for MS 11’1’1 Communication Law and was taught by Dry. Ford Dunn Abstract This paper discusses the media’s treatment of athlete and sports figures. Although the main focus of this paper is professional athletes, cases involving professional coaches and owners, collegiate sport figures will be mentioned as well. Professional athletes and coaches utilize media attention to further their careers. It seems inconsistent for these same athletes and coaches to attack media coverage as defamatory.
This paper will also discuss the other reasons why athletes rarely file defamation claims against the media including threats of potential counterclaims, the cost of filing a lawsuit, having to prove actual malice and the difficult battle with the acceptance that sport pages are protected opinions. I will also concentrate on a few of the constitutional standards that protect media defendants from suits by sports figures, specifically, the New York Times Actual Malice Standard. Key Terms: Athletes, Defamation, Malice, Media, Consequences, Laws, Constitutional standards, Outline I.
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Introduction Defining Actual Malice and Defamation Review of Literature Ill. IV. Methodology V. Chug v. Philadelphia Eagles Football Club A. Case overview B. Analysis Brewer v. Memphis Publishing Inc. VI. VI’. Barry v. Time, Inc. VIII. Brooks v. Page IX. Time, Inc. V. Johnston X. Conclusion Bibliography Introduction This paper discusses the media’s treatment Of athletes and sports figures. Although the main focus of this paper analyzes professional athletes, cases involving professional coaches and owners are also presented.
Professional athletes and coaches utilize media attention to further their career. On the other hand it seems inconsistent for these same athletes and coaches to attack media coverage as defamatory. Almost every court addressing the issue has determined that professional sports personnel are public figures (Hall). Because of potential counter claims, the cost of prosecuting a law suit, proving actual malice and falsity of the statements that are being questioned, athletes rarely file defamation claims against the media.
The New York Times Actual Malice Standard protects opinions, fair comment and the neutral reporting privilege, and proof of falsity of the statements (Humane). Professional athletes are the subject of increasing media attention. In addition to high profile reporting of their off-field activities, the performance of professional athletes is constantly debated among fans and the media. This type of debate is intertwined in the professional sports culture and constant scrutiny by the media and fans is a reality of professional sports.
This negative attention and debate is the price an athlete pays for his or her popularity and career as a member of the professional sports field. Commentary about an athlete’s abilities can be quite harsh. For example, a Dallas sports radio talk show host, while recently discussing two former Dallas Maverick basketball players, stated that “Sam Classes was a “ball hog,” and that Jason Kid is “played out” as a point guard (The Sports brothers). Based upon this example, it is apparent that professional athletes are not pampered, at least not by the media.
Commentary and debate about an athlete’s abilities, however, is not defamatory and it is very difficult for professional athlete to prove defamation. Sports stars have chosen a profession in which opinionated statements regarding their abilities are as much a part of sports as the games themselves. The arena of sports is a traditional haven for hyperbole’s. Commentary about the exploits of professional athletes, both on and Off the field, is not an unjustified invasion of the athlete’s privacy, but simply a necessary cost for the privilege of being a professional athlete. What is Actual Malice and Defamation?
A public official or public figure must prove actual malice to win a defamation claim and in some states a private figure must prove actual malice when a published statement concerns a matter of public interest. A defendant acts with actual malice if he makes a statement with knowledge hat the statement was false when made or makes a statement with reckless disregard as to whether it was false or not. Actual malice and defamation may appear similar but have a few major differences (Reuters). Defamation is a statement that gives a negative impression of a person, company, group, product, government, or country.
It is a statement that is said as if true but in actuality it is false. Defamation can be slander, which is made with spoken words, sounds, sign language, or gestures. Defamation in any other form, like in printed words or pictures, is libel. To be considered fomentation, the claim has to be false, it has to be made as if it were true, and it has to have been communicated to people other than the group or person being defamed (Reuters). In this paper I did research on 5 different cases that all had similar comparisons. These cases include Chug v. Philadelphia Eagles football club Brewer v.
Memphis Publishing Co. , Inc. , Barry v. Time, Inc. , Bell v. Associated press, Inc. And Time, Inc. V. Johnston. Defamation and or actual malice is discussed and fought in all 5 cases. After reading each case thoroughly each case comes to a conclusion that actual malice could not be proven because ACH plaintiff was a public figure and therefore the courts ruled in favor of the defendants. Any individual that is involved in the management of professional sports teams has voluntarily stepped into the public eye. Most cases that deal with tat lutes claiming defamation are dismissed without fine or counter claims.
Also the defendants are not demanded to remove their statements made in their articles. A few questions came to mind after reviewing these articles. Do athletes, coaches, or members of a professional organization ever get to fight for their positive image? Shouldn’t the public figures at least be allowed to have the negative images or statements removed about them? Should public figures or professional athletes at least be forewarned about their name being used? In this paper will discuss these five cases and do overviews and analysis for them all.
Methodology The method I chose was the method used in the “2009 Student Athlete Experience Survey/’ written by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). For the past few years, you can’t help but notice how the media has changed the behavior of both athletes and fans in the sports world. It is not only limited to the professional ranks, as college and high school athletes eve all jumped on the bandwagon. We would even venture to say that as this generation that grew up with social media as one of their main means of communication, we will only see social media impact sports in more and more ways and with more intensity.
The NCAA used two methods of research. They gathered statistics and mass surveys. Their studies show that the media, especially social media, can be beneficial and also detrimental. The NCAA stated that “statistics show that more than 80% of sports fans monitor social media sites while they are watching the game on television ND over 60% do when they are actually at the game. Of course, the players are all in social media in a big way and they have created more buzz with their social media properties than through any other channels.
Take Tim Taboo for example, who had more than 9,000 people tweeting every second after he threw a touchdown pass in the playoff game against the New York Jets. Jeremy Line picked up 550,000 new Twitter followers in one month after he exploded onto the NAB scene. ” On side of twitter and Faceable, Youth has become a big source in recruitment for colleges, high school and even the pros. In the survey of athletes on campuses. Most agreed that bringing in a qualified outside speaker/guest with the statistics and negative implications that irresponsible social media postings present would leave the biggest impression.
Coaches were labeled as the second most influential figure, followed by upperclassmen and finally Ads (NCAA). Chivvy. Philadelphia Eagles Football Club A ground breaking case holding that professional athletes are public figures is Chivvy. Philadelphia Eagles Football Club. Donald Chug was an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1 ass’s and early sass’s. After he suffered a shoulder injury, he developed a pulmonary embolism which forced him to retire from football. One of the Eagles team doctors incorrectly stated that Chug had a fatal blood disorder.
The doctor’s statement was quoted in a Philadelphia newspaper article. Chug sued the Eagles for alleging antitrust violations, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. The district court dismissed the antitrust claim and the dismissal has not been appealed. The court submitted the remaining claims to the jury, and the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. On the basis of the jury’s findings, the district court award damages for a breach of contract in the amount of $45,000.
The jury also awarded Chug $10,000 compensatory damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim and punitive damages in the sum of $60,590. 96. On the defamation claim, the jury found out from the interrogators that Dry. Onion’s statements tended to injure Chugs reputation, but that the writer, Hugh Brown, did not understand that the publication of the doctors statements would harm Chugs reputation. The district court then entered judgment against Chug on is defamation claim. The trial court found that Chug was a public figure and he then had to prove actual malice to win his defamation claim.
When discussing Chuff status as a professional football player, the court stated that if society chooses to direct a lot of attention to a particular activity and those who enter that activity is inviting that attention and they must overcome the Times standard. Society’s interest inspires comments in the press and elsewhere. The greater the interest, the greater the public hungers for facts. An in Donald Chuff case his ability to continue playing professional oddball, sports lovers had significant interest. Therefore the Times Standard applies in this case. Brewer v. Memphis Publishing Co. , Inc. Brewer v. Memphis Publishing Co. Inc. Involved an article about one of Elvis Presley former girlfriends who later married a professional football player. A Memphis newspaper published an article alleging that the wife, while married, went to visit Presley in Lass Vegas and that her husband was seeking a divorce. The husband and wife sued the Memphis newspaper for defamation. The husband claimed although he was a former football player e was no longer a public figure since his playing career had ended. The court ruled that regardless of the husband’s current status the wife continued to be a public figure by virtue of her relationship with Elvis Presley.
The husband could not strip the media of its protection under the actual malice standard to write a story about his wife. The husband was also a public figure subject to the actual malice standard. In 1974 the first jury found for the Brewers and awarded each plaintiff $400,000. The district judge found the amount of the verdicts unconscionable and granted a new trial on damages alone. The second jury awarded Anita Brewer $250,000 and John Brewer $1 50,000; they accepted a remitting to $100,000 and $50,000, respectively. The defendant appealed and plaintiff cross-appealed.
This court reversed and remanded the case. Holding the first trials awards. The third trial also resulted in verdicts for the plaintiffs, $1 50,000 to Anita Brewer and $60,000 to John Brewer. That trial to be appealed until the final decision. Evidence showing that the defendant had no personal knowledge of plaintiffs activities and relationship status. Against their argument, the defendant’s failure to verify the information with hose who might have known the facts, and his failure to consider whether the statement defamed plaintiff did not establish malice.
No evidence showed that the defendant was aware of the statements falsity and failure to investigate does not in itself establish malice. Barry v. Time Inc. Pete Barry held to be a limited purpose public figure relating to a story regarding alleged recruiting violations at the University. The court believed Barry was undoubtedly involved in the public controversy of the Sensitivity of San Franciscans depleting basketball program. Plaintiff, Barry, is the former dead basketball coach at the University of San Francisco (USAF).
Defendant Quintet Dailey was a star player on the USAF basketball team, and is now a professional basketball player for the Chicago Bulls. This action for libel against defendant Time, Inc. And slander against defendant Dailey arises out of two articles in the July 26, 1982 and August 9, 1 982 editions of Sports Illustrated, one of defendant Time’s publications. These articles focus on Ships investigation of charges that Dailey had received improper payments, in violation of the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, from a many owned by J. Luis Cabala.
Both articles also state that Dailey had recently pled guilty to aggravated assault charges against a female USAF student. The controversy surrounding the allegations of illegal recruiting methods ultimately led the President of to cancel the men’s basketball program in August of 1982. The articles in question also contain denials from Barry that he had ever been involved in any illegal or questionable payments to Dailey or any other player while he was coach. Barry voluntarily accepted a position which inevitably made him the focal point of substantial media attention with regard to his team.
Given Cuff’s recent history, this media attention concerned not only the team’s performance on the court but also Parry’s performance in conducting the basketball program within NCAA rules. Because he is a public figure he is required to prove actual malice. Bell v. Associated Press On March 29th, 1 982 Tampa Bay wide receiver Thee Bell, a member of the National Football League 1979 Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, had a bench warrant put out for alleged lewdness at a casino hotel. It later turned out that the person charged was an imposter who had convinced hotel and police officials that he was Thee Bell.
Plaintiff brought this action for libel, and defendant has moved for summary judgment The motion was granted. The Associated Press published a story in reliance on a mistaken police report that football player Thee Bell had been arrested. The court held that the Associated Press had a qualified privilege to report in good faith on the police report. Because Bell failed to show that the Associated Press had acted with actual malice, the Associated Press was protected by the fair reporting privilege. The facts are as follows.
Someone calling himself Thee Bell, football layer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was arrested on March 7, 1982, in connection with an incident of lewdness at the Tropical Hotel in Atlantic City. An official arrest report was prepared and a summons and bench warrant were issued when Thee Bell failed to appear in Atlantic City Municipal Court on March 22 as required. Robert Wade, a reporter for the Associated Press, made substantial efforts at verification. He contacted the Captain of Detectives James Dooley, the head of the Atlantic City police department’s Casino Hotels Investigations Unit, and asked him to “pull the file” on the
Tropical Hotel incident. Captain Dooley advised him that “Thee Bell Of the National Football League Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been detained by the police on March 7, 1982 following an incident of lewdness at the Tropical,” and he gave Wade several additional details. Wade went on to contact the Municipal Court Clerk and the Municipal Court Administrator who confirmed that a warrant was outstanding for Thee Bell for failure to answer the charges against him. It was later found that he was not the culprit and Bell pursued his defamation case upon the Associated Press (defendant). Thee Bell has always been in the public eye since high school.
He would have to prove actual malice. Time v. Johnston A former professional basketball player attempted to argue that he was no longer a public figure because he retired nine years prior to the publication in question. The court rejected the player’s argument because he remained in organized basketball after his retirement and because he was a college basketball coach at the time the article was written. On top of that, the plaintiffs claim for damages related to him as a basketball coach and former Philadelphia Warrior shows inconsistency that his reputation has been imaged while at the same time he’s saying he was not public figure.