The parents (and coaches) of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team that won the United States Championship in 2014, and then was stripped of its title by Little League less than six months later, filed a lawsuit today in Cook County, Illinois against a host of defendants for events arising out of that situation. ESPN and Stephen A. Smith are among those named, for statements made on First Take on February 11, 2014 and thereafter. The claims against ESPN and Smith are for Defamation and for False Light.
Here are the Defamation allegations:
Here’s the episode in question:
“I’d like to see it again … let’s put Darold Butler and Michael Kelly’s face up on television, treat it like the mugshot it deserves to be treated like,” Smith said, after getting angry that the adults would do this while playing in a league named after Jackie Robinson.
In regard to the defamation claim, truth will certainly be a defense for Smith and ESPN, if the parents knew they violated the rules.
Meanwhile, the other claims are directed against Little League and various actors within the Little League system. It alleges that Little League was aware of residency issues, but chose to ignore for publicity and ratings, before the end of the tournament. It alleges the Little League didn’t follow its procedures, and initially chose to conceal potential residency issues. It also alleges that they first notified the team on September 9, that 11 lived within boundaries and two outside. Thereafter, Little League still organized trips to the White House and World Series after that for additional publicity. It also alleges that following the success of the tournament, LL entered into rights agreement with ESPN (for what it’s worth, according to this article, the most recent rights agreement was in 2013–a year before this tournament).
The suit also names Chris Janes, the whistleblower who had previously coached against the team, and began investigating them, for invasion of privacy.