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First Amendment Protects Sports Commentators

By Barry Skidelsky, EASL Section Chair

In the wake of this year's exciting NCAA March Madness, a federal court in Kentucky last month dismissed a NCAA basketball referee's lawsuit against a sports radio network and its on-air talent. The complaint alleged multiple causes of action: Intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business relationship, negligence, harassment, engaging in harassing communications, and civil conspiracy.

The broadcast, internet, and social media content that gave rise to these claims, involved intense criticism about the plaintiff's performance in refereeing a 2017 college basketball game between the University of Kentucky and the University of North Carolina (UNC). UNC won. So did the defendants, who won a dismissal with prejudice on First Amendment grounds relating to freedom of speech and matters of public concern.

The judge expressly indicated that he gave no consideration to whether the plaintiff has a claim for defamation against the defendants, as that cause of action was not pleaded in the complaint. The judge also made clear that his opinion did not hold that all speech on matters of public concern is protected from tort liability, as each case is unique and requires a review of the content, form, and context of the speech in the circumstances at issue.

For more info, including details of a nearly unbelievable chain of consequences that (believe me) you cannot possibly imagine, read the opinion in Higgins v. Kentucky Sports Radio here: Higgins v. KSR.pdf

Barry Skidelsky, a former radio broadcaster, is an attorney and consultant in private practice with particular interests and expertise in entertainment, media, telecommunications and technology, who works with clients and other attorneys on a diverse range of matters. Barry can be contacted at 212-832-4800 or bskidelsky@mindspring.com.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 17, 2019 11:46 AM.

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