Actions speak louder than words, and legal actions often speak loudest of all – which is why the absence of lawsuits from certain major league baseball players is louder than the fireworks after a Fourth of July game.
On Thursday, December 13, the Mitchell Report was finally released, the result of a 20-month investigation by former Maine Senator George J. Mitchell (also a former federal judge) into the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs by Major League Baseball players. The revelations – particularly the list of more than 80 names of present and former players who have been implicated in the scandal – were pounced on by journalists and bloggers looking for an excuse to ignore another dull Democrat primary debate in Iowa.
The Mitchell Report was worth the wait to many, naming big names. Roger Clemens. Eric Gagne. Paul Lo Duca. Andy Pettitte. And, of course, Barry Bonds, the only man to go through puberty at age 35!
These are not faceless journeymen or minor leaguers gulping their cups of big league coffee (although plenty of those were mentioned in the report). These are the pros whose names sell tickets and ad time. These are the men with tens of millions of dollars in salary, endorsements and personal appearance fees to lose if their names become sullied by false accusations of drug abuse and cheating.
Fortunately, our legal system provides a method of clearing a person’s name. If someone makes a false statement in public which causes injury or damage to the good reputation of another, the injured person can sue for defamation. If someone defames you in writing, it’s called libel, and if someone defames you by talking, it’s called slander. Whatever the terminology, the purpose of the law is to protect your reputation from false statements.
Our legal system has recognized this right for more than 1,000 years. Back in medieval England, a bad reputation in a tiny village could have devastating economic and social consequences, so the law allowed a man to set the record straight and reclaim his standing in the community.
Yet, as I finish writing this column late on the afternoon of Monday, December 17 (after the courts have closed in California), my research has confirmed that not one of the professional athletes named in the Mitchell Report has filed a defamation lawsuit (and the press has reported on none).
We live in a society where people sue over spilled coffee and torn pants, yet millionaires experiencing the worst publicity of their lives are contenting themselves with statements through representatives or with media silence, not with a visit to the courthouse. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Kevin James began his professional career in 1988 as a lawyer with one of Los Angeles' largest law firms. Soon thereafter, Kevin spent more than 3 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in LA, and then more than 10 years as a litigator in high profile entertainment matters.