Sports Illustrated scored another victory Wednesday, when an appeal was rejected in the lawsuit filed against the magazine and two of its reporters for a five-part series about the Oklahoma State football program published in September 2013.
Booster John Talley, represented by Richardson, Richardson, Boudreaux in Tulsa, again failed to prove SI and publisher Time Inc. acted with actual malice, according to a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
In the lawsuit dismissed by an Oklahoma City judge in September, Talley was seeking damages in excess of $75,000, claiming the series written by reporters Thayer Evans and George Dorhmann portrayed him in a false light and invaded his privacy.
Talley, the North Central Area Director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was accused in the first installment of the series of paying players for work they didn’t do and overpaying them for work they completed. Recorded interviews with 10-20 players confirmed what was reported, according to court documents.
Of those players, “five admitted to taking cash, including three who said they were paid for their play, and two others admitted receiving extra per diem money” and “[f]ive players said they were either paid for no-show jobs or were significantly overpaid for work,” Evans also wrote in his notes from the interviews.
When talking to SI editor B.J. Schecter in Stillwater in September 2013, Talley confirmed he hired and paid players to work on his property and for speaking engagements but insisted he cleared the arrangements with compliance, according to court documents.
Schecter and Dorhmann met with athletic director Mike Holder, head of compliance Kevin Fite and general counsel Gary Clark that same month, and Fite was recorded saying Talley’s claim that he was given clearance to pay players for speaking engagements was false.
To prove actual malice, plaintiffs must show the information was false and defamatory and that the defendants had a reckless disregard for the truth. Talley could not identify any specific errors or inaccuracies, the court ruled.
In his deposition, Dohrmann said that because “a number of sources ... told (the reporters) a similar or same story about Oklahoma State and John Talley,” he felt “absolutely certain about what we were writing.”
Court documents also detailed the steps SI took to investigate, research, draft and edit the 442-word passage about Talley, which was published a week after the meetings with OSU officials. The series was the result of a 10-month investigation by the magazine.