Florio On Mason Rudolph: Defamation Suit Against A Public Figure Holds Higher Standard

While the 24-hour sports news media is going to continue to spin its wheels over the Myles Garrett racial slur allegation, those who exist entirely within the real world understand that the only step that is left to be taken, if it is indeed taken, is whether or not Mason Rudolph will ultimately pursue legal action.

Rudolph’s lawyers have already made it clear that they consider this option to be on the table for their client. Similarly, head coach Mike Tomlin has essentially thrown his weight behind Rudolph if he and his legal representatives do choose to file a defamation lawsuit against Garrett.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk rightfully gets a lot of flack, but this is right in his wheelhouse, where he actually shines and is a valued resource. He took the time the lay out some of the things that Rudolph and his lawyers will have to consider while weighing the possibility of pursing legal action.

He pointed out in a recent article that defamation lawsuits filed against a public figure comes with a higher standard to determine guilt. “He’ll need to prove that Garrett acted with ‘actual malice’”, he writes, “which means that Garrett said what he said knowing it was false or with reckless disregard as to whether it was true or false”.

Easy to say, much harder to prove. While there are significant issues with the manner in which Garrett laid out his claim, including factual inaccuracies such as his statement that the helmets quarterbacks wear contain microphones (they contain speakers, not headphones), it’s very difficult to demonstrate that he didn’t actually think he heard Rudolph say something.

Yes, even if he claims that Rudolph called him a “stupid N-word” while he was in the course of taking the quarterback to the ground.

“And if Rudolph rolls the dice but fails to meet the enhanced standard”, Florio astutely added, “a jury verdict entered in Garrett’s favor under the “actual malice” test easily (but incorrectly) could be regarded by the public as a finding that Rudolph used a racial slur”.

Just think about it if you’re Rudolph. Garrett’s resurfacing of his claim has, it can be argued, actually turned more people against the defender, if anything, with people finding fault in his story. However, if he unsuccessfully sues Garrett for defamation, there’s no doubt that some will interpret that as a court finding plausibility in his claim that Rudolph called him an N-word, and thus that he is a racist.

A mark like that will follow you well beyond your playing career, and for Rudolph, frankly, we don’t even know how long that will last. Yet the allegation may linger whether he sues or does not. At least if he sues and wins, he can have that to point to.

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