Oklahoma sports broadcaster awarded $25 million after newspaper calls him racist

Feb 6, 2024 | Political News

A jury in Oklahoma has awarded sports broadcaster Scott Sapulpa $25 million after the state‘s largest newspaper mistakenly labeled him racist over comments made during a high school basketball game in 2021.

Shortly after The Oklahoman published the discriminatory remarks and attributed them to Sapulpa, it was revealed that they had actually been uttered by his colleague, Matt Rowan.

According to The Oklahoman, a Muskogee County jury made their decision to award Sapulpa $5 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages following a two-week trial in which both sides presented their cases.

Sapulpa argued in his civil lawsuit that the outlet's parent company, Gannett, had not only defamed him, but intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

Gannett, which has vowed to appeal the verdict, claimed that “there was no evidence presented to the jury that The Oklahoman acted with any awareness that what was reported was false or with any intention to harm the plaintiff in this case.”

The incident in question took place prior to a game between Norman and Midwest City on March 11, 2021. During the singing of the national anthem, members of the Norman squad took a knee to protest racial injustice, sparking outrage from Rowan, who appeared to forget his microphone was on.

They're kneeling? [Expletive] [racial slur].” he said. “I hope Norman gets their a** kicked. F*ck them. I hope they lose.”
 

“They're going to kneel like that? Hell no,” he added.

Footage of the outburst, which was streamed by Rowan's own broadcasting company and carried by the NFHS Network, quickly went viral online, with many spreading the claim that it was Sapulpa's voice.

Sapulpa's lawyer, Cassie Barkett, said that he, “once a respected teacher and coach, faced a barrage of threats, hate calls and messages after the story was published and picked up by other media outlets.”

The Oklahoman's mistake was corrected in the online version of the story within two and a half hours of publishing, and Sapulpa's name did not appear in the print version of the story, which appeared on newsstands the following day.

Rowan went on to take responsibility for the remarks, which he blamed on a sugar spike caused by his diabetes.