Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Reputational Dynamics

April 23rd, 2012 · No Comments

Watching Metta World Peace absolutely lose the plot in yesterday’s Lakers-Thunder contest made me think about the possible legal ramifications of on-court/on-field violence. Much has obviously been written about the possibility of treating such incidents as criminal matters, as has happened on occasion in the Canadian legal system. (The American system, by contrast, seems terribly reluctant to go down that path.) But perhaps the more interesting question is whether sports violence can lead to big-money civil actions. That’s precisely what happened after Houston Rockets guard Rudy Tomjanovich was infamously clocked in the face by Lakers power forward Kermit Washington; Tomjanovich sued the Lakers’ ownership group, arguing that the team had urged its players to act violently, and walked away with a multimillion-dollar settlement.

What is less known, however, is that Kermit Washington also contemplated filing a suit related to the incident—not against Tomjanovich or his employers, but against the NBA itself. Over twenty years after he threw the punch, Washington had his lawyer send a threatening letter to NBA commissioner David Stern. The text of that bizarre letter is included in John Feinstein’s The Punch:

Kermit feels that the NBA manipulated the situation when it occurred in 1977 for public relations purposes and worked against Kermit with NBA team owners to make Kermit the scapegoat and make the NBA look better to Kermit’s detriment. As a result, Kermit’s ability to flourish as an NBA all-star was undermined and any future opportunities with the league and in the basketball world in general were ruined…

Because of the false light that the NBA has cast Kermit in, every time an incident involving violence in sports comes up, Kermit’s involvement in the Tomjanovich incident and his subsequent suspension are repeatedly established by the NBA as a benchmark. It is our understanding that the NBA released footage of the incident and continues today to cast Kermit in a false light…

Kermit believes that he is entitled to compensation in the amount of five million dollars for the difficulty that he has faced for the last twenty-three years as a result of the actions of the NBA. Kermit has tried to maintain a good relationship with the NBA, but the poor treatment that he has received has pushed him to this point. Five million dollars is a small amount for the NBA to pay for the injustice that Kermit has dealt with for the last twenty-three years.

Once the NBA made clear its intention to vigorously defend itself should a lawsuit be filed, Washington failed to pursue his case. Which is actually too bad—it would have been interesting to see whether a jury could empathize with his plight.

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