Sleeping Yankee’s Fan Shows us What Defamation Isn’t

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Growing up, whenever something or someone was bad, instead of shielding me from it, my parents would point out to me the bad apple. They would explain to me that it is helpful to have a good and a bad example of how to do things to learn. For instance, if a showboat athlete got in trouble with the law, that would be a bad example, or if a screaming kid in a restaurant was making a scene, that would also be a bad example – something not to emulate.
Today, this post highlights a bad example by showing what defamation is not. Last year, a Yankee fan fell asleep at a Yankees-Red Sox game. As the Yankee fan was sleeping, ESPN panned to the sleeping man in their shot. The ESPN announcers did not so much as acknowledge the sleeping man and continued on with their broadcast.
Sometime later, the sleeping man hired an attorney and sued ESPN, the broadcasters, and ESPN’s parent company alleging defamation for calling him a fat slob and a number of other not very nice words.  The man did not prevail on his defamation claim. In September of last year, his case was dismissed. Here are a few reasons why the case wasn’t very strong.

The Required Elements of Defamation

First, like the article from says, the man in question sued the wrong entities.  He found scattered across the internet and specifically in a Twitter handle called @notsportscenter the screenshot of him sleeping with not very nice words.  Believe it or not, @notsportscenter is not ESPN’s famed daily show SportsCenter.  John Kruk, nor Dan Shulman, said anything incorrect or hurtful.
Additionally, defamation, which includes the concepts of libel and slander, requires a false statement that harms the reputation of another.  No one said anything false about the sleeping fan.  He in fact was sleeping.  Some hurtful comments made about him, if true, are not defamatory.  Some of the content that has been spreading around the internet could be defamatory, but the sleeping fan would have had to monetize the damage it has caused him, and the person(s) in question would have to be tracked down.
To recap: defamation is a false statement (either written or spoken) that causes you harm.  A true statement is not defamatory, and statements that are partially true lie in a grey area.
Defamation is a tremendously difficult tort to win on, but don’t let that dissuade you!  You can call this office for a free consultation on what your potential claim is and how you should proceed with this or any other personal injury claims.

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