Being Smeared in the Press
In my last post, I recounted an incident involving potential clients – young football players – who after a night of drinking had skipped out on paying a limo driver my firm used. The result of that mix-up was a story that was bigger than it should have been. Worse, this was months before the huge Castillo-DuPont trial was to begin.
The headline that greeted me as I sat innocently sipping my coffee on Sunday morning, long after the incident, was this: WILD LIMO RIDE WITH SPORTS AGENT.
Worse, the type was the same size and font as the headline had been the day Princess Diana died.
It didn’t register at first that this sensational headline could possibly have anything to do with me. Surely this was going to be some tragic and horrific story about a wild night that didn’t end well for the parties involved.
As I began to read the story, I could feel the blood rush through my body. And it was boiling.
I didn’t know if I was pissed or embarrassed or both.
I was newly single and didn’t want Diane to think I had anything to do with this mess or for her to misconstrue the situation. All I could think was, “So what? A couple of kids ran out on their limo bill? How is this news?” Naturally, I wouldn’t run out on a limo bill, but these were a couple of college kids out carousing and having a good time.
Was it right?
But did the Miami Herald have to make such a salacious story of it? According to their report, during that second night, the limo driver ended up as a backseat passenger. One of the players wore the driver’s cap and drove the car around while the other players were drinking and having sex with their girlfriends in the back. But here’s what really got me fired up: even though I was not there when it happened and didn’t know about it at the time, the Herald story made it sound as though I was smack in the middle of it all.
From a legal point of view, I couldn’t understand why this had become front-page news. The night in question had come shortly after the NCAA’s Infractions Committee banned the University of Miami from playing in a bowl game that season for eight categories of rules violations, but none of that had anything to do with the incident or our firm.
In fact, since Miami wasn’t playing in a bowl game, it allowed us to talk to those players who had exhausted their eligibility to play college football. Ferguson had already announced he was forgoing his senior year to turn pro, so that made him fair game.
But the limo incident blew up to be such a big thing because a new Florida statute, enacted only 60 days prior to the night in question, made it a third-degree felony to operate as a sports agent without a Florida state license.
While I had the state license, the statute also stated that it was a third-degree felony to “aid or abet an unlicensed agent by recruiting or soliciting” college football players.
Whether Gene was licensed was irrelevant, because he was “recruiting and soliciting” these guys for me, a licensed agent, and he was operating in full compliance with the law. But that’s not how the state saw it.
Some young prosecutor decided to come after me because my company (as opposed to me) was not licensed, despite the fact that under the statute you can’t license a company—you can only license individuals.
This story hit the papers, and now, just months before the Castillo case was set to go to trial, I was facing criminal and NCAA investigations as well as a media frenzy.
I’ve often wondered if this case would have been brought against me if I hadn’t taken the Castillo case. Sometimes in life we bring these things on ourselves whether we mean to or not. High-profile lawyers can easily become targets both in the media and in their communities. People love to see the big guy fall, no matter if it’s the president, a beloved movie star, or a favorite pro athlete.
In my next post, I recount the steps I took to move beyond this, and to clear my name.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever felt yourself targeted or blamed for something over which you had no control? Thank you for sharing.