Looking For Normalcy, Creating Controversy

Rutgers' Kia Vaughn is suing Don Imus for defamation of character

Aug. 15, 2007

By Jeff Lippman



Jeff Lippman

Jeff is CSTV.com's lead women's basketball writer.
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The timing is rather questionable. Rutgers center Kia Vaughn has brought a lawsuit against radio personality Don Imus and CBS Radio (a division of CBS Corporation, the parent company of CSTV.com) because his "sexist and racist comments" were damaging to Vaughn's reputation.


The news of the lawsuit comes on the same day that Imus and CBS Radio settled on a deal that assures Imus will not bring a $120 million breach-of-contract suit against the company.


For those wondering why Vaughn waited more than four months to claim defamation of character against the radio host, Vaughn's attorney, Richard B. Ancowitz, said, "[The lawsuit] has taken a little while to prepare. In fact, four months is really pretty quick. It is well within the statute of limitations."




Ancowitz would go on to say that Vaughn initially contacted him regarding bringing a lawsuit against Imus "weeks ago."


While this whole ordeal merely expounds on the distraction that the Rutgers players and University have already suffered, this time it is Vaughn creating that distraction. While even CBS, which chose to pay Imus not to work as opposed to dragging on in another lawsuit, has moved on from the mess, Vaughn has chosen to take further action.


And the truth is, Vaughn has a very good case.


Vaughn is a public figure. In a defamation of character suit, in this case slander on Imus' radio show, the plaintiff must prove the hurtful remarks were made with "actual malice."


Actual malice, in a legal sense, means that Vaughn must prove that Imus' remarks were known by Imus at the time he said them to be false, or that they were made with reckless disregard as to truth.


Don Imus knew the statements he made were false - or more specifically, knew there was little to no truth behind them - and he disregarded that notion when he decided to make the comments anyway.


In that sense, it seems that actual malice can be proven against Imus. Because as Vaughn and her teammates were called "nappy headed hos," and with the word "ho" being a slang term for prostitute, Vaughn has a case, saying at a news conference after the comments were made, "Unless they've given `ho' a whole new definition, that's not what I am."


However, the defense can challenge the prosecutions claims of actual malice by pointing out that it was clear that Imus was only joking, using the false information for comedic satire. And most who are familiar with his show realize that much of what Imus says trades a certain element of truth for comedic purposes. 


Ancowitz plans on refuting the prosecution's claims of satire by saying, "this was done during a news report, it wasn't done during a comedy bit."


But shouldn't anything said on Imus in the Morning be taken as comedic satire? That is for a jury to decide.


In either case, Vaughn has said she wishes her life would just revert back to how it was before Don Imus ever spoke those disgusting words, but one has to wonder if the Rutgers star is going about it the wrong way.


Her head coach, C. Vivian Stringer, has said that this whole incident ripped from Rutgers all the positive feelings that came with advancing to the national championship game and their amazing season. But one could reason that, in fact, the extra publicity only extended the Scarlet Knights' popularity among basketball fans and the country in general.


And it rendered them a household name where normally the women's college basketball national runner-up would certainly not be.


So instead of moving on, the bad feelings disappearing with the headlines, this suit only pulls Vaughn, her teammates, and Rutgers - although the school has said they have no comment or anything to do with the lawsuit -back into the fire of the national media.


So what good - aside from money in Vaughn's pocket - could possibly come from a lawsuit that will probably only help make the 6-foot-4 center more of a daily topic of conversation?


"She's looking to be fairly and justly compensated by this case," Ancowitz said first, then added, "and to establish some sort of a scholarship fund that we're working on to study the pernicious effects of this type of bigoted, misogynistic speech on society."


What Vaughn has perhaps not taken into consideration are the effects that prolonging this lawsuit will have on her team as they travel from arena to arena with reporters continuing to question a topic that should have long since been obsolete, making this whole fiasco much more of a distraction to the well being of the team than the original comments were in the first place.