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Public figures or no?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by novelist_wannabe, Apr 10, 2007.

  1. novelist_wannabe

    novelist_wannabe Well-Known Member

    Friend and I got to discussing whether college athletes pass the public figure test in the wake of the Rutgers bkw controversy. Since they've been on national TV, does that make them fair game? Is there any difference between them and, say, Matt Leinart circa 2004?

    It's been 20 years since my mass comm law class, and I don't recall if there had been any legal test cases on the public figure standard vis-a-vis college athletes, but my gut feeling is no, even in a case like Leinart, but I'm not 100 percent solid on it.

    Discuss, and please, check the back-biting at the door and be civilized.
  2. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Gut feeling is yes.

    I think we should exercise discretion on how we cover them, certainly -- but I do think college athletes, especially in the major sports and/or athletes/teams who receive regular media coverage, local or national-- can be classified as "public figures."
  3. Babs

    Babs Member

    My gut says yes as well.
  4. Cadet

    Cadet Guest

    I did have a class where the prof used college athletes in an example of unethical advertising: a local appliance shop ran a print ad that put State U. basketball images "into" the TV screens. College issued a cease-and-desist to the owner, claiming he was using the images of public figures for his own profit.
  5. In general, amateur athletes are considered limited public figures ... which gives newspapers a little more flexibility than Mrs. Jones down the street but not the same with Shaquille O'Neal.

    Yet, you have to be real careful because not all courts will support you on this. I remember reading this a few years back when I was still with Gannett: http://www.gannett.com/go/newswatch/2003/august/nw0815-5.htm

    Also, here's a good story about Facebook in USAToday that sort of puts it into perspective:


    "Facebook presents a vivid reminder of the paradoxical world in which athletes on campus have to function. They're not public figures in the sense of New York Times v. Sullivan," Hall says of the Supreme Court decision that set the standard in libel law. "But they are public figures in the sense that they appear regularly on the sports pages."
  6. What is a limited public figure? It's someone who somehow engages themselves in the public spotlight. You would think this is common sense to include student athletes since they voluntarily play in a public sport ...

    From expert law:

    A person can also become a "limited public figure" by engaging in actions which generate publicity within a narrow area of interest. For example, a woman named Terry Rakolta was offended by the Fox Television show, Married With Children, and wrote letters to the show's advertisers to try to get them to stop their support for the show. As a result of her actions, Ms. Rakolta became the target of jokes in a wide variety of settings. As these jokes remained within the confines of her public conduct, typically making fun of her as being prudish or censorious, they were protected by Ms. Rakolta's status as a "limited public figure".
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