Posted on February 7, 2024

Sports Commentator Wrongly Accused of Racist Rant Awarded $25M in Damages

Susie Coen, The Telegraph, February 6, 2024

A jury has awarded a sports broadcaster $25 million in damages after a newspaper wrongly identified him as a basketball commentator who went on a racist rant.

Scott Sapulpa was one of two men commentating on the March 2021 women’s game between Midwest City High School and Norman High School in Oklahoma.

When the Norman team took the knee during the national anthem to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the second commentator, Matt Rowan, went on a vitriolic racist rant about the female players and used the n-word.

Newspaper wrongly claimed Mr Sapula made comments

The Oklahoman – the largest newspaper in the state – wrongly claimed Mr Sapulpa had made the offensive comments.

Mr Rowan, a former youth pastor, who thought his microphone was off, later blamed the racist tirade on his diabetes.

On Monday a jury found the newspaper had defamed Mr Sapulpa and awarded him $5 million in actual damages and a further $20 million in punitive damages.

“We’re just so happy for Scott. Hopefully this will vindicate his name,” said Michael Barkett, Mr Sapulpa’s lawyer.

‘F—ing n—–s.’

Ahead of the 2021 basketball game the broadcasters told their livestream listeners they would return after a break.

Then Mr Norman, who did not realise he was still live, said: “They’re kneeling? F— them. I hope Norman gets their a– kicked.”

He added: “F— them. I hope they lose. Come on Midwest City.

“They’re going to kneel like that? Hell with them.

“They even saluting the flag? Some of them aren’t. F—ing n—–s.”

Accused Oklahoman of defamation

Mr Sapulpa was initially identified by the newspaper as the person responsible for the racist outburst.

He accused the Oklahoman of defamation and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The jury found the newspaper acted with actual malice, which permitted them to consider punitive damages, Mr Barkett said.

Lark-Marie Anton, a spokesperson for the newspaper’s owner, Gannett, said the company was disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal.

“There was no evidence presented to the jury that The Oklahoman acted with any awareness that what was reported was false or with any intention to harm the plaintiff in this case,” Ms Anton said.