Master of Mass Communication (MMC)
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a $871.6 million industry. Well over $700 million of this annual income is generated from the media, giving collegiate athletics a national platform. This brings both opportunities and downfalls to amateur athletes who play NCAA sports and the journalists who report on their sporting events. Conflict often arises on the playing field and can continue off the field. With high profile athletic events aired nation-wide, comments are bound to be made about the athletes involved in the game. Some comments may even rise to the level of defamation. Through an in-depth examination of published court cases, this thesis explored whether a court would classify a student-athlete as a public official, public figure, or private person in a defamation suit. The thesis also examined whether the student-athlete would have to prove actual malice or negligence to win a defamation claim filed against a member of the news media or a social media user. Although few cases addressed the plaintiff status of a collegiate student-athlete or the level of fault required for a collegiate student-athlete to prove in a defamation claim, this thesis found that collegiate student-athletes would not be considered public officials. Rather, the thesis found that courts have found coaches and athletes to be either limited-purpose public figures or private persons, depending upon their level of access to media, their engagement with media regarding matters of public controversy, and their involvement in controversies. If courts consider collegiate student-athletes to be limited-purpose public figures in defamation suits regarding matters of public concern, the student-athletes may have to prove actual malice to win a defamation claim. If courts consider collegiate student-athletes to be private persons in defamation suits not related to matters of public concern, the student-athletes may have to prove negligence to win a defamation claim.
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Sanchez, Lacey Elizabeth, "NCAA Student-Athletes and Defamation: Understanding Plaintiff Classification and First Amendment Protection" (2017). LSU Master's Theses. 4394.
Coyle, Erin Kathryn