Americans overly litigious? ANTON RIPPON reports on how a baseball fan’s nap went viral and prompted a $10m legal case
It is apparently a given of modern televised sport that when the cameras home in on the crowd, the director never lingers on a handsome man or an ugly woman. Only beautiful females with shiny white teeth, and dopey looking males wearing silly hats, can expect their 15 seconds of fame on national television.
But all that might be about to change if one baseball fan succeeds in taking a broadcaster to the cleaners after it opened him up to national ridicule in the United States.
Anyone who has ever attended a Major League Baseball game will know that the average American sports fan has the attention span of a Bubble Eye goldfish. Only after everyone has enjoyed the seventh-inning stretch and joined in a rousing chorus of Take Me Out To The Ball Game do they settle down to watch the game in earnest. Until then they wander about, chatter among themselves, and pass peanuts and weak beer along the bleachers.
Sometimes they even fall asleep, which is what Andrew Rector did when the New York Yankees were playing the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium one April evening this year.
Yankees-Red Sox is one of baseball’s fiercest rivalries – up there with Spurs-Arsenal or United-City – and the game was tight, so on this occasion Rector was probably the only one in the 45,000 crowd to nod off, even if it was still only the fourth inning. And that may be what persuaded the ESPN director to show the image of Rector sleeping like a baby while the action went on in front of him.
Colour commentator John Kruk and play-by-play man Dan Shulman inevitably mentioned the slumbering spectator, but there the matter may have rested, as soundly as Rector, as the director switched back to the field. However, the clip was then posted on the internet – and went viral.
Rector found himself the object of a nation’s ridicule. And so enraged is he by this that he is suing the Yankees, Major League Baseball, ESPN, Kruk and Shulman, seeking $10 million in damages after an “unending verbal crusade”.
According to the sometimes oddly worded lawsuit: “Announcers like Dan Shulman and John Kruck [sic] unleashed an avalanche of disparaging words against the person of and concerning the plaintiff …
“These words, include but not limited to ‘stupor, fatty, unintelligent, stupid’ knowing and intending the same to be heard and listened to by millions of people all over the world.
“The defendant Major League Baseball continually repeated these vituperative utterances against the plaintiff on the MLB website the next day. These words and its insinuations presented the plaintiff as symbol of anything but failure.
“The defendant MLB.Com continued the onslaught to a point of comparing the plaintiff to someone of a confused state of mind, disgusted, disgruntled and unintelligent and probably intellectually bankrupt individual.”
Kruk and Shulman did have some fun at Rector’s expense. A transcript of their conversation runs:
Shulman: This guy’s oblivious to how good [MLB TV] is. …
Kruk: Sometimes you have to turn it off to get some sleep. This is not the place you come to sleep. I tell you what though, how comfortable is that? Probably won’t have any neck problems tomorrow.
Shulman: I mean, is that guy to his left his buddy? Is he just letting him sleep, or is he here alone? What’s the deal with this guy?
Kruk: Maybe that’s his buddy and he likes him a lot better when he’s asleep.
Shulman: I think the other guy’s more concerned with the food and the game.
Kruk: Chicken fingers are a special item at the ballpark. Why share? Get ‘em while he’s asleep so he won’t ask for one.
Shulman: We’ve gotta see how long this guy’s out for.
Kruk: It’s only the fourth inning, you don’t think he could sleep through …
Shulman: Did he sleep through the Beltran homer? I mean, 45,000 people stand up and cheer and he sleeps through it?
Kruk: You’d think it’d be tough to, but he seemed comfortable. It didn’t look like he just started to sleep.
A bit of fun, yes, but hardly amounting to an “avalanche of disparaging words”.
That “avalanche” of disparagement came later, online, from people responding in the comment section that accompanied the short clip entitled: “Tired fan naps in the stands.”
By this afternoon, the clip on YouTube alone had been seen 542,000 times.
The lawsuit ends: “Plaintiff alleges that MLB Com, juxtapositions of photos and text of two men kissing each other and caption ‘sleeping Yankee’s Fan cares not for your rivalry talk’ falsely implied that plaintiff engaged in that type of conduct described or portrayed by the picture. In light of all the surrounding circumstances.”
The chances of Rector succeeding in placing the blame for his subsequent humiliation at the doors of ESPN and the rest seems unlikely (although the editor of sportsjournalists.co.uk will be taking special care over any comments posted in response to this article).
We also wonder whether the producers of British sports programmes, such as Test Match Special, might be issuing special guidance to the likes of Henry Blofeld and Geoffrey Boycott about how they ought to temper their comments about the spectators ahead of the first Test against India.
And television directors at home might now think twice before showing someone in the crowd at Highbury just as they are picking their nose. If something like that does slip through, it’s probably best not to post a clip on the internet. You never know what it might unleash.
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Sep 15: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC – Book your place now. Non-members very welcome
Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms