A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a college basketball official who claimed that a sports radio station had harmed his business and his family.
As the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, John Higgins, one of the officials who called the 2017 Elite Eight game between North Carolina and Kentucky, filed suit against Kentucky Sports Radio, its founder Matt Jones and on-air contributor Drew Franklin after the defendants allegedly shared his personal and business information with the public.
The foul calling in the game made UK fans angry, and Higgins said he received death threats after the Wildcats’ 75-73 loss. Four different UK starters were whistled for two fouls each in the first half, though by the final whistle Kentucky had been called for 19 total fouls to North Carolina’s 18.
In the aftermath, Higgins’ home received thousands of calls and death threats. Social media pages for his business were flooded with negative comments and reviews.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood, however, said that despite any negative consequences, the radio station was protected under the First Amendment. Higgins’ case was therefore dismissed.
In announcing his decision, Hood wrote that “in some instances the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides special protection to speech on matters of public concern, even if that speech is revolting and upsetting.”
Hood’s decision placed First Amendment concerns against actual harm done to Higgins. On the one hand, the outcome of the game was a matter of public interest and the radio station covered it and the outrage afterwards as part of a news story. On the other hand, Hood acknowledged that Higgins’ family had been harmed.
“This opinion does not indicate that the Court condones or approves of the actions of the Defendants,” Hood wrote. “Again, whether the Defendants acted badly based on general principles of common decency and journalistic ethics was not an appropriate consideration for this Court.”
Hood noted that Higgins may have other legal avenues available to him if he wishes to pursue them, including seeking a defamation suit or taking legal action against the third parties who directly harassed him and his family.