Children’s Sporting Event Disturbance Lands Dad on TV

We’ve all been to children’s sporting events when tempers flare perhaps more than they should and parents sometimes lose their “filter.” The story told in Rossi v. CBS Corp should serve as a cautionary tale and a reminder to all to keep the games in perspective.

In 2006, Mr. Rossi was an assistant coach of his son’s Little League baseball team for ten to twelve year olds. His son’s team, the White Sox was undefeated when it played the undefeated Red Sox. After the game, which the Red Sox won, the boys lined up to shake hands. At that point, Mr. Rossi observed what he perceived as a threatening maneuver by a Red Sox player towards his son, the White Sox pitcher.

Witnesses claim that Mr. Rossi used some choice words on the perceived attacker and may have even advanced on the player. As a result of the incident, Mr. Rossi was suspended from coaching and restricted from attending games for two weeks.

The incident might have otherwise gone unnoticed, but it was anonymously reported to CBS, who dispatched a reporter to investigate during a rematch of the teams just days later. Mr. Rossi did not like the news coverage that ensued and sued for defamation.

The court found that the incident was a matter of “public concern,” i.e. violence erupting at youth sporting events. Thus, the court found that the plaintiff had to meet the standard of actual malice. In other words, the plaintiff had to prove that the statement was false and that at the time made, the speaker knew that it was false or stated it in reckless disregard for the truth. The plaintiff could not vault either of these proof burdens, and summary judgment was affirmed.

The moral of the story is that, in this day and age, you never know when you can become the 6 o’clock news item of the night.  A calm head and cool approach could be best.

For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com.