The Clash of Sports Officials and Fans: When Free Speech Borders Harassment


  • Alina Cioletti The Ohio State University
  • Leeann M. Lower-Hoppe The Ohio State University



In the case of Higgins v. Kentucky Sports Radio LLC (2020), John Higgins was officiating an Elite Eight March Madness game in 2017 where the University of Kentucky (UK) was facing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). After UK lost the game, Kentucky fans were upset and blamed Higgins for the loss. Two of these fans included Matthew Jones and Drew Franklin, a host and writer for Kentucky Sports Radio. Following the loss, Jones and Franklin criticized Higgins and his personal roofing business through their radio station. His business was bombarded with calls, death threats, and negative reviews. Higgins sought damages in excess of $75,000 from Kentucky Sports Radio for inflicting harm through their commentary. The purpose of this law review is to examine the rights of sports officials and fans, summarize the case facts and court decision, and determine how the ruling impacts sports officials broadly.


Keywords: Sports Officials, Fans, Basketball, First Amendment, Tort


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