Copyright (c) 1995 Seton Hall Journal of Sport Law
Seton Hall Journal of Sport Law
ARTICLE: THE EX-PUBLIC FIGURE: A LIBEL PLAINTIFF WITHOUT A CLASS
5 Seton Hall J. Sports L. 389
Elsa Ransom 1
Nineteen ninety-four marked the thirtieth anniversary of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 2 the landmark United States Supreme Court decision proclaiming that defamation law would henceforth be closely scrutinized to ensure the constitutional guarantee of free speech. Nineteen ninety-three, in sharp contrast, marked the occasion of an announcement by a drafting committee of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws that it had failed, after a year-long effort toward compromise and consensus, to meet its charge of producing a uniform defamation act. The futile effort was a response to the growing demand for libel law reform in the wake of New York Times. 3 As the chairman of the committee explained in a letter to the conference president, the media "are unalterably opposed to broad defamation legislation of any kind." 4 Three decades after the New York Times decision, calls for sweeping reform remain unanswered as conflict and confusion over the constitutional balance between free speech and protection against harm to reputation continue.
At the heart of the lingering uncertainty is the public figure doctrine, a principle based on the notion that some members of society, including many professional athletes, are less deserving of legal protection against harm to reputation than others because, by their public deeds, they assume a greater risk than others of injury to reputation and enjoy greater access to media outlets so as to rebut false verbal attacks. The premise, in itself, is problematic for some. 5 If one accepts the ...
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