We've talked about the ridiculous management of the Washington Redskins a few times before. This is the football team that took the extraordinary step of suing a bunch of fans
who, due to the economic crisis, were unable to pay for season tickets they had ordered. While most other teams simply take back the tickets and find other buyers, the Redskins sued over 100 such fans (probably ex-fans now). The team has also been extremely aggressive in terms of what it requires of reporters, including trying to claim that posting photos of disgruntled fans was prohibited
and creating "media guidelines" that seriously stifle
what reporters can talk about, if they want to continue to be given any access to the team.
The latest situation is even more extreme. The team's owner, Dan Snyder, appears to be the subject of much displeasure among Redskins fans. There are lots of fans of lots of sports teams who dislike the ownership. However, I don't think I've ever heard the level of dislike towards an owner like the publicly expressed feelings many fans have towards Dan Snyder. The local Washington City Paper has, of course, played up on this general dislike of Snyder, and back in November published an amusing Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder
, which includes an A to Z listing of "offenses." You see this kind of column all the time about various sports owners. And most ignore it.
But not Dan Snyder.
He had his lawyers send a threat letter not to Washington City Paper, but to Atalaya Capital Management, the investment firm that owns Creative Loafing, which is the company that publishes Washington City Paper. Got that? Atalaya pointed out that they have nothing to do with the management of the paper -- and especially have nothing to do with the content of the paper, but even so, sent back a wonderful letter explaining the basics of the First Amendment to Snyder, especially with regards to public figures. The full letter is embedded below (and worth the read), but a few choice snippets:
The purpose of this letter is not to correct each of your misstatements and mischaracterizations but rather to assert the media's First Amendment right to comment on public figures (which your client undeniably is) and matters of public interest (into which your client voluntarily injected himself through his prominent ownership of the Washington Redskins).
The Column plainly is a tongue-in-cheek opinion piece expressing fans' frustration with your client's ownership of the Redskins. This is quintessential First Amendment-protected speech. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that "one of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures. Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks."
The letter also highlights that Atalaya had been informed by the paper that it was more than happy to allow Mr. Snyder the ability to respond in the pages of its publication.
Snyder, apparently, decided not to pay much heed to this letter, as he proceeded with the lawsuit
(full suit embedded below), in which he makes a number of claims. Now, there certainly were some statements that were made in the original article that, if untrue, could be defamatory. However, some of the claims were just downright crazy. The most ridiculous, of course, is his decision to claim that the illustration that accompanied the original article (shown below) was somehow anti-semitic.
Yeah, that's a photo of Dan Snyder with a scribbling of devil horns and facial hair. I'm not sure how a childish scribbling to make someone look like the devil is anti-semitic. And that's because it's not. At all. And Snyder is being widely mocked
for thinking otherwise.
Of course, the even bigger issue is that in bringing this lawsuit, you can bet that a hell of a lot more people have now seen the original article totally trashing Dan Snyder. If his goal was to suppress this content, then he's failed badly (yet again). On top of that, a lot more folks now think that Snyder has an incredibly thin skin. I would also imagine that Snyder will not enjoy any actual legal fight, in which the various assertions about him in that original column are dragged into court and examined for accuracy. Even if there are libelous statements in there, is Snyder really interested in going through a courtroom analysis of each of the claims in the column?