Thursday, February 3, 2011

Redskins' Thin-Skinned Owner Sues Weekly for Libel

Washington City PaperImage via WikipediaDissatisfied with his portrayal in a November 19, 2009, profile in the weekly Washington City Paper entitled The Cranky Redskin Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder, and having time on his hands because his team isn't playing in this weekend's Super Bowl for a nineteenth consecutive year, Dan Snyder has found an outlet for his competitive juices in the New York Supreme Court.

In Daniel M. Snyder v.  Atalaya Capital Management LP et al (Index No. 150015/2011), Snyder is seeking $2 million in general damages in a two-count complaint alleging defamation against the City Paper. Snyder, who ponied up $800 million to acquire the 'Skins in 1999, alleges the unflattering article was replete with libelous statements, including that he was caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications, that he purportedly boasted his wealth was amassed from diabetes and cancer victims, and that he was ousted from the board of directors of Six Flags Entertainment Corp. amusement park chain.

Snyder's counsel also complained that the cover art accompanying the article that depicts a defaced illustration of him with scribbled-on horns and a goatee was an egregious anti-Semetic slur, a bold assertion when the team you own is called the "Redskins."

The City Paper contends that it offered Snyder an opportunity to write a guest column responding to the article and welcomed a sit-down with him and editors at which he could present information pointing about alleged misstatements about him in the article.  The weekly's attorney claims the lawsuit is specious and that staff writer Dave McKenna's article is a "tongue-in-cheek" opinion piece fully protected by the First Amendment.

The publication denied any anti-Semetic motivation for the art accompanying the article, claiming that the illustration was meant to depict the actions of a frustrated Redskins fan defacing an image of Snyder. The plaintiff pledged to donate any judgment awarded, if he prevails, to a fund to benefit the homeless.

As a public figure, Snyder faces an uphill struggle to prevail in his libel case, as he will have to prove with convincing clarity that the City Paper published the profile with actual malice, that is, that the editor published the purported misstatements about Snyder knowing they were false, or with reckless disregard of whether they were false.

Snyder would be better served trying to remedy his team's 6-10 record in 2010 and working toward avoiding an NFL management lockout that would kill the 2012 season.

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