Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ref Whistles Sports Journo's Allegedly Libelous Tweet

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 28: Damien Wilkins #...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThough he's usually on a basketball court, NBA Ref. Bill Spooner instead has opted for the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to resolve his dispute against Associated Press and AP sportswriter Jon Crawczynski.

In William H. Spooner v. The Associated Press, Inc. & Jon Crawczynski (Case No. 11-cv-00642-JRT), the striped-shirted plaintiff is seeking $75,000 damages for what he claims was a defamatory Tweet by Crawczynski during a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets last January 24. According to accounts in the local media, including www.twincities.com and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Spooner and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis were jawing over a foul call against Timberwolf Anthony Tolliver that resulted in free throws for a Rocket player.

Spooner claims he promised the coach he would review the call on video at halftime and get back to him, walked away,  and that was the end of it. Crawczynski, who was sitting near the scorer's table at courtside, saw things differently, as indicated by his Tweet underlying the defamation and respondeat superior claims: "Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks."

In his suit, Spooner alleges the defendant  "knowingly, recklessly and negligently implied to the NBA, the coaches, the players and the viewing public that Referee Spooner intended to, and did, make a false officiating call on Coach Rambis' behalf in order to add points to the Timberwolves, a form of game fixing."
Spooner, a 22-year veteran NBA referee, said the offending Tweet prompted the league to discipline him.

The plaintiff contends the defendants knowingly fabricated the quote in the Tweet, which the defendants have declined to take down. Crawczynski's Twitter account has more than 2,000 followers. Demonstrating the defendants acted with "actual malice" may prove more challenging to Spooner than racing up and down the court surrounded by behemoths for 48 minutes.

As for the game itself, the Rockets downed the Timberwolves 129-125. Coach Rambis' squad has a won/lost record of  17-51, and needs more help than a purportedly errant tweet of the ref whistle variety can provide.

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