Thursday, June 09, 2011

I'm not sure OSU players understand libel

Terrelle Pryor has obviously done a lot of stupid and arrogant things in the past three years, and the evidence has gone from convincing to overwhelming that he just doesn't care about anything but living the high life (perhaps literally).

But I would think (I know this is a big jump) that as Pryor's lawyer, Larry James would have a solid understanding of, you know, the law. I would be mistaken:

“The story is close to being reckless and malice and over the line,” said James, a Columbus attorney with a history of working with Ohio State.

“And that’s something that Terrelle, at the appropriate time, may look at once he gets in a position to say, ‘I have the wherewithal to bring that lawsuit.’”

He's talking about ESPN's Outside the Lines story, obviously -- the one in which a former friend said Pryor made $20,000-$40,000 selling autographs and memorabilia to photographer Dennis Talbott, who apparently has a reputation of being a shady character on the periphery of the OSU sports scene (not to mention lying about his college degree and then lying to ESPN about his ticket hookups).

Since I'm not Terrelle Pryor or Dennis Talbott, I can't say whether this is actually true, although Sports by Brooks supposedly "confirmed" that the NCAA told Ohio State about the payments based on copies of checks deposited into Pryor's bank account (which, if true, means Pryor has officially reached the summit of Mount Stupidity).

But here's the thing: For ESPN, it doesn't really matter.

There are basically two conditions that must be met for a public figure -- which Pryor obviously is -- to even have a chance at a successful libel claim:
  1. A statement must be false and KNOWN to be false by the person/organization making it.
  2. A statement must be defamatory and have "actual malice."
ESPN reporting "Random Dude says Terrelle Pryor made money from selling autographs" is not a libelous statement, because unless ESPN was basically just making the whole thing up and telling the guy to come up with a story they could turn around and report, they'd have no way of knowing if it were false. Basically, if you have a source (or whatever you want to call it) that's even reasonably credible, you're not gonna lose a libel lawsuit. So the second part is irrelevant, although ESPN wouldn't lose there either -- there's a reason tabloids can exist without being bombed to Bolivian with lawsuits.

Even better is that if Pryor actually tried to sue ESPN, he'd have to prove that everything they reported was wrong, and that means he'd take the stand under oath (please?) and with everything involved subject to discovery. Bank records, relevant OSU compliance records, inventories to track movement of equipment/memorabilia -- ESPN would get all of it. And who'd like the first crack at an under-oath Terrelle Pryor? NCAA investigators? ESPN lawyers? IRS?

Hang on while I get some popcorn ...

So yeah, Terrelle Pryor would have (a) no chance of winning and (b) a 100 percent chance of turning the entire thing into an O.J.-style spectacle with an unending trail of juicy information about his career and anything/everything Ohio State might have covered up or ignored. I'd be praying for this to happen if there were actually any chance, which there's not.

Same for you, Storm Klein. Just ask a law-talkin' guy (I'd recommend someone other than Larry James).


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