Good luck. You’ll need it.

Just a few days ago, Mike Leach filed a defamation suit against ESPN and Spaeth Communications. Leach, football coach at Texas Tech, was fired in December 2009 for allegedly abusing one of his players. The player, wide receiver Adam James, was suffering from a concussion when Leach ordered him to stand in a locked electrical closet for hours with no lights on. After ESPN reported the story, Leach was fired for cause by Texas Tech.

James’s father, Craig, is a college football analyst for ESPN.

Leach first sued Texas Tech for wrongful termination, a claim that he lost. With the statute of limitations for libel and slander quickly approaching, Leach turned his attention to ESPN and Spaeth, a public relations firm accused of helping the James family tarnish Leach’s reputation. The suit claims that ESPN knowingly made statements both on air and in print that it knew to be false and damaging. Some of those statements include (via New York Times):

  • Leach punishing Adam James for sustaining a concussion.
  • Leach ordering James to be locked in an electrical closet.
  • Leach putting James at risk of additional injury.
  • Leach requiring James to stand in a dark room for hours.

ESPN did not respond to questions about the suit as they had not yet reviewed it. Spaeth Communications quickly dismissed the suit, with a spokeswoman stating that “This lawsuit is the predictable strategy of a man who is desperate to avoid accountability for his own behavior.”

There are two possible defenses that ESPN and Spaeth can raise in response to this suit: truth and privilege. Truth is an absolute defense. Assuming ESPN and Spaeth can prove that what they said was true, the case will be dismissed easily. Truth will be hard to prove here, as it’s really only Leach’s word against James’s word. What will likely be argued is that ESPN and Spaeth have conditional privilege. If they can show that the statements were not made with actual malice, the case will be dismissed. Actual malice sis confirmed if ESPN had knowledge that the story was false or if it acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

So the question the court is going to want answered is whether or not ESPN did its job and verified their story before broadcasting it. News organizations typically do their work, but sometimes things slip through (just ask Dan Rather). Libel cases in general tend to come out for the defendant as libel and slander are hard to prove. I expect this to be the case for ESPN.

I found an interesting article on the steep decline of libel and slander cases in today’s media but couldn’t find a place to work it into the story. Check it out here if you’re interested.

Oh the Insanity

One of the highlights of my year – and quite possibly my life – was going to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in October. If you have no idea what that is, I’ll give you a brief rundown:

In response to Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, announced his own rally – The Rally to Restore Sanity. The point of the rally was unclear at first. A lot of people thought it was just another shot across the bow by Stewart. Some people questioned whether the event was real. Nobody had any idea what was going to happen. Stewart’s rally was for the average Joe. The rally’s website put it best:

“Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.”

But the fun didn’t stop there. Never one to be bested, Stephen Colbert announced his own rally just one half hour later on The Colbert Report. His was The March to Keep Fear Alive, and it was almost solely in response to Stewart:

“America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.”

Going to the rally was an experience as soon as we got on the road. It was me and three of my best friends. We picked up a few drifters along the way but that’s a different story. We got to the Greenbelt Metro Station (the station that has its own exit off I-95 making it easy for visitors to get into the city) and there was a line of at least 100 people waiting to buy tickets. We already had tickets.

Us 1 – Them 0

We got on the train and could not move. We huddled around a pole and looked around at all the people around us. It was the day before Halloween and a lot of people came in costume. Marie Antoinette was sitting in the seat in front of me. Getting off the train in DC the streets were packed. This rally was going to be bigger than we ever expected.

The closer we got to the mall the more we began to see. Yahoo! News took complete advantage of the rally to promote their website. With midterm elections upcoming, Yahoo! had volunteers out in droves to hand out “I Voted” pins, “Team Fear” and “Team Sanity” signs, and “Team Fear” and “Team Sanity” stickers. Plastered on all of these things was the Yahoo! News website and its special election website, “Ask America.

I have no idea how many people went to the website, but Yahoo! knew how to take advantage of the massive crowd when it had no microphone to use.

On to the rally. The National Mall was full from end to end, side to side. You couldn’t move. In the public relations world, tis would be called a pseudo-event. A pseudo-event is only successful if it garners a lot of media coverage. This event was very, very successful. Comedy Central carried the entire rally live. CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Fox News, and just about every other news outlet showed highlights at the least. The signs that people brought were hilarious. Mind had my phone number on it.  Scrolling below are the pictures I took at the rally.

In my mind the most successful aspect of the rally was its nature of propaganda. The exposure that this event received was sure to turn some heads and change some minds. While it was mostly fun and games, Stewart had a serious message to give: Calm down! The media run our lives and tell us what to think and what to worry about, but how much do its stories matter? There’s so much fluff and so much overreaction and it’s time we got back to sanity.

Check out what Stewart had to say at the end of the event and then turn on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News. You’ll realize just how right he is.

More Than Meets the Eye

Christmas is now less than one month away. If you’re not sure what to get for that special someone, just sit down in front of the TV and watch a movie. Any movie will do, because they all feature the same thing – product placement.  Some films take a more subtle approach, while others are very in-your-face when it comes to selling products.

When I think about product placement in film, my mind always jumps to the Wayne’s World (see the clip below). But for this post I looked at something a little more recent – Transformers. This film is definitely of the in-your-face approach to product placement, with one blogger (who needs a spellcheck) declaring it a “master lesson in product placement.

Just in case you live under a rock and know nothing about Transformers, I’ll give you a brief history lesson. The 2007 film is based on a popular 1980’s cartoon. The cartoon was really nothing more than thirty minutes of product placement for Hasbro, which produced all sorts of toys that were featured as characters on the show.

In the movie, there are two groups of alien robots fighting for control of the “all spark,” a big cube that turns everyday electronic items into living creatures. The aliens – known as Autobots (the good guys) and Decepticons (the bad guys) – took the form of cars, trucks, and other forms of transportation to blend in to our world. When they needed to fight, they could transform into their robot forms.

You might see where this is going.

Transformers saw product placement all over the film, from iPods to Panasonic memory cards. But the biggest piece of the product placement puzzle was the cars. The main Autobot characters all took form of different GM vehicles.  There was a Hummer H2, GMC Topkick, Pontiac Solstice, and Chevrolet Camaro.  The relationship between the film and the manufacturer suggests one of strongest uses of product placement in the history of film. Check out the video below to see all of the product placements, especially if you don’t feel like reading any more of what I have to say.

The biggest goal for GM was to promote the re-release of the Chevrolet Camaro. The car had been out of production for years, but was due to be reintroduced shortly after the movie premiered. The Autobot named Bumblebee was first introduced as a beat-up 1974 Camaro, only to transform itself part way through the movie into the shiny new model. The car was never off screen for very long and did a great job of appealing to a broad audience.

Sport cars are generally thought of as appealing to men and youth. The Bumblebee character made the Camaro appealing to just about everyone. People that wanted speed and flash loved the model. People that wanted to see emotion and caring loved the character.

The producers of Transformers knew they were going to need cars. Being able to use a classic car like the Camaro was a win-win for the producers, who wanted a flashy car to appeal to audiences, and GM, which saw a goldmine way to advertise the new model. The car was featured heavily in the movie while the movie was featured heavily in advertisements for GM. Both sides had much to gain.

And gain they did.

I Remember When Reading was Fun

I can’t remember the last time I read a book just because I wanted to. I buy books every now and then with the intent of reading them, but what college student has time to read for fun when you have textbooks stacked to the ceiling? Looking around my dorm room right now I see five books that I would love to read. But mixed in with those five is six assigned textbooks or novels and an LSAT prep book.

Every now and then, however, I find some time to read a book that really makes in impression on my life. For me, I know that I really like a book if I go out and find more books by the same author. In my senior year of high school, this was the case with Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

I first heard about Running with Scissors in my senior English class. I didn’t know much about it, but our teacher had told us that the book was extraordinary and that it had been banned in our school district. I was obviously intrigued.

One of the great things about senior year is that you usually have your driver’s license by then. If you guessed that I got in the car and drove to Borders right away you would be wrong. I went to Barnes and Noble.

If you’re not familiar with Running with Scissors, I’ll give you a little run down. No spoilers, I promise.

This book is a memoir about the author’s childhood. It involves an absent father and a mentally ill mother. The mother becomes dependent on her psychiatrist – who has questionable mental health himself – and eventually sends Burroughs, her son, to live with the psychiatrist and his family. What ensues is a story of self-discovery that is rivaled by nothing on this earth. The different stories Burroughs tells amaze you, sometimes disgust you, and always keep you turning the pages.

This book was unlike anything I had ever read before. It illustrates the craziness that can be youth and the struggles that so many people go through in trying to find themselves. It puts your personal struggles into perspective. And it proves that no matter how tough life may get, it can always get better.

Burroughs followed this memoir up with many more. His more recent works include Dry, which documents his struggle with alcoholism; Magical Thinking, a collection of shorter stories about his adult life; and A Wolf at the Table, which provides a detailed look at his relationship with his father.

Burroughs also dabbled in writing non-fiction, but wasn’t as successful as in his memoirs.

A Wolf at the Table was probably one of his most difficult works to write. Burroughs spoke at Towson University when I was a freshman and I remember him hinting at a memoir focusing on his father. He said that he had wanted to write about his father for some time, but couldn’t bring himself to do it until his father had died. When his father did pass away, A Wolf at the Table came as close to redefining human interaction as a memoir could.

Looking into his works, I saw that Burroughs recently released a new memoir titled You Better Not Cry, about all of his Christmases. I know another book that’s about to be added to my reading list – and this one might actually be read before I graduate.

I’m Waiting for Your Job Offer, Disney

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I want to be a lawyer. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll gladly take on this project for the Walt Disney Company: Monday Night Football, The Ride. I know, I know. I’m a genius. You don’t even need to hear what this ride is like; you just want to be the first in line. But let’s just talk about how awesome this is.

Monday Night Football had been broadcast on ABC until the end of the 2005 season when it moved to ESPN. It was an easy switch since both networks are owned by Disney, and ABC was losing $150 million a year due to poor ratings for the Monday night staple. I’m not sure what the ratings are like for the program now that it’s on ESPN, but cable programs can usually survive with lower viewership.

But what if Monday night Football was draining ESPN to the point where Disney was thinking about dropping the program, making the longstanding NFL tradition homeless? Obviously Disney would try everything it could before giving up, and Monday Night Football, The Ride would work wonders.

By now you really want to know what this ride is, don’t you? Maybe you just want to know where it is so you can get in line? Well folks, it’s in Disney World. That’s right, when the winning quarterback of the Super Bowl says “I’m going to Disney World!” it’s because he’s starting off-season workouts now.

Imagine an on-field experience like no other on this ride. You start the ride by walking into the home team locker room. You meet Hall Of Fame coach John Madden and get a pep talk before heading out to the field. Then you suit up and head on to the field. Everyone throws on a helmet and shoulder pads and runs through the tunnel with music blaring and cheerleaders on both sides.

Everyone sits down on the bench and gets strapped in. The bench is where the ride really begins. Every bench seat rolls out on a track and lines up on the field. You hear “hike!” and the seats take off down the field. You race down the field until all of a sudden you shoot up the track into the air. A football is thrown out to you and you catch it just before a computer-controlled defender intercepts the pass. You come back down to the ground and race into the end zone for a touchdown.

The crowd goes wild.

The best thing about this ride is that it’s not just for adult men. Anyone can take the ride, even children (assuming they meet the height requirements). The ride will draw more men to Disney World and encourage more women and children to watch Monday Night Football.

Are you ready for some football?

I Like Sportz & I Don’t Care Who Knows

The more reading you do around here the more you’ll start to notice that I like sports. A lot. I routinely stay up until 2AM on Mondays because I refuse to do any schoolwork while I watch football. This is the worst time of year for me. Football and baseball.

Seeing as I’m a big sports fan I tend to follow quite a few sports blogs, mostly about baseball. The first two, The Phillies Zone and The Zo Zone, both follow the Phillies and are my two most frequented blogs. The Zo Zone is written by Todd Zolecki, who is the official beat write for the Phillies. This blog is very business-like. Since it is the official blog of the team, Zolecki has a responsibility to the organization to remain professional and, more importantly, partial. He’ll of course point out the team’s weaknesses, but he’ll always make sure to counter with a strength. I would recommend this blog to any Phillies fans out there, as Zolecki is one of the most reliable sources for Phillies information due to his position in the organization. You can follow Zolecki on Twitter @ToddZolecki.

The Phillies Zone is very similar to The Zo Zone as it is written by a Phillies beat Writer, Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Gelb covers similar stories but with a more personal touch. He uses more humor than Zolecki and is more capable of criticizing the team than Zolecki. Gelb is in his first year as a writer for The Inquirer, which can call his credibility in some situations into question. But in a comparison of Gelb, Zolecki, and other baseball writers (I follow just about all of them on Twitter), Gelb gets his facts right. He’s especially good in the statistics department, live tweeting during many Phillies games, especially during the playoffs. You can follow Gelb on Twitter @magelb.

For a bit of a different read I also follow Outsports, which follows LGBT storylines in sports and general sports stories. The writer of this blog, Jim Buzinski, is a well-known figure in the LGBT community, especially on the west coast. His information isn’t always accurate, but that’s not the point of his blog. Buzinski is very opinionated and shows it in his posts. He talks equality in sports on a weekly basis and at times can make some controversial comments. He’s accountable only to himself, which allows for a much more open discussion.

Buzinski’s been talking about a lot of issues dealing with inequality in school sports and athletes who support the LGBT community in the past few months. One of his more recent posts addressed the statement that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made on The Ellen Degeneres Show. You can see the video below.

I’d like to have Zolecki’s job someday, to be honest. I’m not much for blogging about a variety of topics, but to be able to zero in on a singular passion and spend my life telling other people about, well that would be a dream come true. The travel involved, the people you get to meet, and all of the games you would get to see, it would just be amazing.

Someday, Jeff. Someday.

World Series of Wonder

Major League Baseball playoffs are here again. For millions of fans this means following pitches and stolen bases online when a television in not near. Major League Baseball (MLB) has always done a fantastic job of keeping its fans informed using its regular website and mobile applications for the iPhone and Android devices. During the postseason, MLB breaks out a companion website, WorldSeries.com, to go along with their regular MLB.com homepage.

The two sites are almost identical, as you can see in the screenshots below. Both feature headlines on the right side of the page and a scrolling headline box in the middle of the page. Video game recaps and previews are readily available; making it easy for fans to relive amazing wins or tragic losses just hours after the game is over. MLB Network, an all-baseball-all-the-time television network, provides video for both sites giving previews and analysis.

WorldSeries.com Home Page

Both sites promote MLB.TV and Postseason.TV, two subscription services that allow users to watch every playoff game live online with added camera angles and no blackout restrictions.

For those of us that don’t have the money to pay for the subscription, they provide a free pitch-by-pitch program called Gameday. This is the feature that WorldSeries.com lacks. On MLB.com the links for Gameday are provided on the left panel of the page, with probable pitchers displayed before the game begins. You can clearly see this on the MLB.com screenshot. WorldSeries.com, the site that MLB would like its fans to use, fails to provide this feature. Why? My only guess is that they would rather all of us pay for Postseason.TV. While the service is only $9.95, I have a TV to watch the games and just want the pitch-by-pitch as a companion.

Now I’m a huge baseball fan. I love the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s hard for me right now since my team is on the brink of elimination, but I find ways to make it through. WorldSeries.com for me is an afterthought. It doesn’t provide much outside of game previews and recaps.

MLB.com Home Page

The articles and videos on the site that I enjoy are also available through MLB.com, a site that I visit regularly throughout the day. Here I can get in-depth analysis of games and interact with other fans. There are discussion boards for every video and article, and every game played has a Twitter tracker. If I tweet about the Phillies and use the proper hash tag (#Phillies) in my tweet, everyone following the game can see it. Pretty cool, right? I just wish I knew how they screened the tweets. I live-tweet most games, and it seems that none of my thirty or so tweets from every game ever make it to the tracker.

All in all WorldSeries.com is at best a companion site for MLB.com. The only problem is that it was intended to be a standalone site, but it just doesn’t match up.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.