African-American Agent Denied Opportunity To Introduce Evidence of Defamation

Jan 19, 2007

A federal judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has denied C. Lamont Smith, founder of All Pro Sports and Entertainment, an opportunity to introduce evidence that competing sports agent Thomas J. Condon, President of IMG Worldwide, Inc., had told prospective NFL players that Smith, an African-American, used the “race card” to cure favor in negotiating contracts with NFL clubs.
Smith’s complaint asserted claims of defamation and interference with prospective contractual relations that allegedly arose out of competition between Smith and Condon to represent highly-touted college football players prior to their entry into the NFL draft.
One defamation claim survived summary judgment. Smith claimed that defendant Condon made defamatory statements to Charles Sanders, an advisor to Antonio Bryant. Bryant, who was later selected by the Dallas Cowboys and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, chose Smith as his agent despite the allegedly defamatory remark. Smith sought damages from Condon for damage to his reputation.
Smith sought to introduce evidence that Condon had also made defamatory statements to other prospective players in order to bolster his claim that Condon was disposed to make defamatory statements.
Under the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE), the rules that govern the introduction of evidence in proceedings in Federal courts, the inclusion of Condon’s prior statements to other recruits was inadmissible. According to the District Court, the introduction of past statements would unfairly prejudice Condon. Under the FRE, prior statements made by a defendant cannot be introduced into evidence in order to show that the defendant acted in conformity with those statements during the event in question. There must be sufficient situational evidence supporting the triable event.
Smith also sought to introduce expert testimony that sports agents who use the “race card” in negotiating contracts with general managers in the league were generally at a competitive disadvantage. Both experts had extensive experience in NFL negotiations and athlete representation. The expert sports agents’ reports asserted that succeeding in the industry is “especially difficult for black agents.” One report noted that an agent’s reputation is “critical.”
The U.S. District Court held that Smith could not introduce the expert testimony because the content of the testimony was deemed irrelevant and did not address the issue at trial.
The U.S. District Court struggled to find reputation damage since Condon’s alleged defamatory statements were made to Sanders, who only indirectly repeated the statements to Bryant, who later signed with Smith. Since Condon’s statements to Sanders were never repeated to other prospective players, expert testimony on the harm to Smith’s professional reputation in the league at large was deemed irrelevant, and therefore, inadmissible under FRE 702.
The District Court noted that only expert testimony that clarified the factual issues at trial is admissible under FRE 702. Statements that would aid the trier of fact in understanding Smith’s mental anguish or expert testimony that directly addressed Smith’s personal professional reputation would have been admissible.
C. Lamont Smith v. IMG Worldwide, Inc. and Thomas J. Condon; E.D.Pa.; Civil Action No. 03-4887, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82566; 11/9/06
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) George W. Croner, Lead Attorney, Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C., Philadelphia, PA. (for defendant IMG) Samuel J. Pace, Jr., Lead Attorney, Dugan, Brinkmann, Maginnis, Philadelphia, PA. (for defendant Thomas Condon) Harvey Abe Steinberg, Lead Attorney, Jeffrey Alan Springer, Lead Attorney, Michael Paul Zweilbell, Lead Attorney, Springer & Steinberg, Denver, CO; Samuel J. Pace, Jr, Lead Attorney, Dugan, Brinkmann, Maginnis, Philadelphia, PA.


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