Are Sports Related Defamation Suits On The Upswing?

JOOTB_FinalAccording to this article from Front Office Sports, there is an increasing amount of defamation litigation being filed by professional athletes.  The article mentions suits by Trevor Bauer, Patrick Reed and Brett Farve.  I don't know if this is a trend or not.  But there does seem to be more activity on this front than I can recall.  

As the article points out, these suits may be an outgrowth of the continued blurring of news and opinion.  It appears in each of the cases, the athlete in question is upset about what some commentator has said about him.  But that isn't enough for a defamation suit.  A defamation lawsuit requires false facts.  If the statement is opinion, no matter how harsh, it's simply not actionable.

Reed's case is worth considering in a little more detail.  He's sued a host of defendants, including Brande Chamblee and the Golf Channel.  Reed is one of the pro golfers who joined the Saudi backed LIV tour.  And Chamblee is no fan.  Among other things, she's made the following comments:

"I think there's a reason for that…they're destroying the professional game they were they been put in the Hall of Fame because of their accomplishments and because of their legacy well they've tainted their legacy in an irreparable way so I think both of them should be kicked out of the Hall of Fame I really do…";

"[t]his is one of the saddest days in the history of golf. Watching these players come together for money and show to the world…they are showing us that they are the greediest, most self-serving, self-interesting, willfully blind players in the world of golf today.";

"…either way, whether the money is against or in addition to guarantees its still blood money and you're still complicit in sportswashing.";

"I can understand [Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud's] regime wanting to become more than a petro[l] country & corporate interest to serve that part of the world. I can't understand an individual working for him.";

"LIV golf is about hiding [the Saudi Arabian regime's] human atrocities."

There are other examples, but you get the gist.  One of the reasons facts are actionable and opinions are not, is that a defamation plaintiff needs to prove the statement is false.  If I say you were arrested on drug charges and you weren't, you can prove that false by going to public records.  But if I say you are greedy, self-serving and a recipient of blood money, how exactly do you prove any of that is false?  Chamblee can argue that in her opinion, the Saudi regime is a murderous regime – see for example, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi – and any Saudi money is blood money.  Can Reed prove that false?  Unlikely.

Farve and Bauer's suits are similar.  So, while the suits cost the defendants time and money to defend, they aren't likely to be winners. Which begs the question – will that end the trend?  Stay tuned.

About The Author

Jack Greiner | Faruki Partner