Finally, I have found a use for my First Amendment Law class knowledge. Here is the reason B.C. defensive tackle B.J. Raji cannot sue Sports Illustrated for falsely reporting that he failed a drug test.
Sports Illustrated’s actions fulfill some of the requirements for libel, but not all of them.
The allegation was published and clearly identified Raji as the target. It was, as the magazine later admitted, false. Drug use, no matter what the context, would be considered defamatory. He could argue that it potentially affected his draft status, damaging his potential earnings.
The problem for Raji would be proving fault.
In the United States, there are two standards of fault, one for private individuals and one for public figures.
Private individuals must prove negligence. Raji would need to show that Sports Illustrated did not follow accepted standards of the profession when compiling that report. Raji would have a case here, but he’s not a private individual.
Boston College is a nationally recognized program and the NFL is the most popular sports league in the United States. Raji, as a potential top ten pick, has been discussed constantly and nationally on television, on radio in print and on the Internet. He is a public figure.
A public figure must display actual malice. Raji would need to prove not that Sports Illustrated violated the standards of their practice to compile the report, but that they did so consciously. He would have to prove that S.I. conspired against him, which probably did not happen.