Newspaper Ordered To Pay $25 Million To Man They Smeared As Racist

An Oklahoma broadcaster covering high school basketball has been awarded $25 million after winning a defamation lawsuit against a local newspaper that smeared him as a racist.

In March 2021, The Oklahoman newspaper accused Scott Sapulpa of muttering racial slurs on the air after a high school girls’ basketball team took a knee to protest against America during the national anthem. Sapulpa and his broadcast partner Matt Rowan were in the booth at the time when listeners heard one of them slamming the Norman High School girls basketball team in a racial epithet-filled tirade.

“They’re kneeling? F—ing n—s. I hope Norman gets their a— kicked. F— them. I hope they lose. They’re gonna kneel like that?” an individual could be hearing saying on the live stream.

The Oklahoman immediately reported on the offensive broadcast, where they named Sapula as the person behind the comments. The first story was published about the incident at 11 a.m., then was updated at 12:37 a.m. to identify Sapula as the person behind the racist tirade. However, by 3 p.m., Sapula’s name was removed from the article when doubts were raised about the incident.

Just a few hours later, the report was again updated to identify the culprit as Rowan, who admitted that it was his voice on the livestream ranting about the girls — claiming that he made the comments during an adverse diabetic reaction.

While the article had been corrected, Sapula filed a lawsuit — asserting that his reputation had been irreparably damaged from being identified as a racist.

A jury agreed with Sapula’s argument, awarding him a $25 million settlement from newspaper chain Gannett, the owner of The Oklahoman, in a January 5 ruling. Gannett was ordered to pay Sapula $5 million in actual damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

While arguing Sapula’s case, his attorney Michael Barkett slammed the media for putting profits over people.

“Their entire culture, we’ve seen in this case, is profits over people,” Barkett told the court. “Their power is what blinds them from telling the truth. They think they can get away with it.”

Meanwhile, Gannett’s attorney Bob Nelson argued that his newspaper should not be held accountable for defamation because such a massive settlement would damage small newspapers everywhere.

“Newspapers are made up of people, and people make mistakes. Mistakes happen,” Nelson exclaimed while arguing before the court. “Gannett is made up of people — over 11,000 people. When you punish Gannett, you’re punishing all those small-town newspaper editors.”

Sapula celebrated the ruling, expressing gratitude that he and his family had their name cleared. Gannett, on the other hand, blasted the ruling.

“There was no evidence presented to the jury that The Oklahoman acted with any awareness that what was reported was fake or with any intention to harm the plaintiff in this case,” Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton declared in a statement.

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