First Amendment

Former UCLA Bruin Files Lawsuit due to Sports Illustrated Article

The following article was written by Spencer Wingate.

Earlier this year Sports Illustrated published an article titled “Special Report: Not the U.C.L.A Way” that created quite a stir with its characterization of the UCLA men’s basketball program. The story portrayed the Bruins program as in a period of major decline and being highly dysfunctional.  Coach Ben Howland came across as overmatched and completely lacking control of the team. Reeves Nelson was also vividly described in the article with specific instances of his behavior recounted. Incidents of Nelson fighting, injuring, and even peeing on a teammates’ clothes were detailed.  The article written by Pulitzer Award Winner George Dohrmann, stated for two months Sports Illustrated spoke with more than a dozen players and staff from the past four Bruins teams to accurately report the story. The article was published online on February 28th 2012, and then appeared in the print issue on March 5th 2012.  After the article was published, Nelson hired a lawyer and sought a retraction of the claims. Sports Illustrated and its publisher Time Inc. stood by their report and refused to retract the story. Nelson has now filed a defamation lawsuit in Superior Court in Los Angeles against Dohrmann and Time for the story.

The court documents contain eighteen sworn declarations from teammates who were directly involved or witnessed Nelson’s alleged disputes. The declarations seek to refute the numerous confrontations Nelson was involved in according to Sports Illustrated. According to the suit, Sports Illustrated printed falsehoods, exaggerations, and inaccuracies. Mike Moser and Drew Gordon were never involved in a fight with Nelson. Tyler Trapani, James Keefe and Alex Schrempf were never intentionally injured by Nelson. Matt Carlino transferred to BYU since he wanted more playing time not because Nelson bullied him. Lastly, Nelson never urinated on Tyler Honeycutt’s clothes.  The sworn declarations include a statement that the players were never contacted by SI during the report or they would have refuted the inaccurate account. It should be noted that Mike Moser, James Keefe, and Mike Carlino were not among the eighteen teammates to provide declarations. Drew Gordon, Tyler Trapani, Alex Schrempf, and Tyler Honeycutt did each provide one.

The lawsuit acknowledges Nelson was suspended and ultimately kicked off the team in December 2011, but not for instances noted in Sports Illustrated. Being late to a team meeting, missing a flight to Hawaii, and his insubordinate conduct on the court led to his dismissal. The complaint alleges three causes of action- defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Allegedly, the Sports Illustrated story has caused Nelson to no longer be seen positively in the public’s eye as a hard-working, well-liked teammate on the verge of beginning a professional career in the NBA. Now the public views him as undisciplined, due to the incorrect physical and verbal violent acts he was accused of by the magazine. The lawsuit also accuses Dohrmann of malicious attacks and alleges he has been out to get the program since Baron Davis played there numerous years ago. It cites comments Dohrmann has made in interviews and his excellent book regarding youth basketball- Play Their Hearts Out.

Following his dismissal from UCLA, Nelson signed with a professional team in Lithuania. After five weeks the team elected to release him and not pick up his option. According to the court documents, Nelson voluntarily left after two months to purse his NBA career. It was again reported his “erratic” behavior played a role in a team’s decision not to keep him. Nelson played in just six games for an average of ten minutes, 2.5 points, 3.3 rebounds. He shot 28 percent from the field, 56 percent on free throws and was 0 for 5 on three-pointers. Nelson is automatically eligible for the NBA Draft on Thursday, June 28, 2012.