A lawsuit filed by NCAA Basketball referee, John Higgins against Kentucky Sports Radio and its operators, Matt Jones and Drew Franklin was dismissed by a Kentucky judge on Wednesday.
Following an Elite Eight game loss to North Carolina in 2017, members of the Kentucky Wildcats and their fanbase believed they were victims of poor officiating. Although the critique was for the team of three referees, Higgins received the brunt of fan complaints which grew into threats. Later that year Higgins sued Kentucky Sports Radio for allegedly influencing fans to target the referee, posting his personal business information on their site.
When not refereeing basketball games, Higgins owns a Nebraska roofing company called Weatherguard which saw their 4.8 Facebook rating drop to 1.2 shortly after the Elite Eight matchup. Higgins claimed the harassment and complaints affecting his Nebraska roofing business were encouraged by Kentucky Sports Radio.
KSR founder, Matt Jones argued he never encouraged any of the harm inflicted on Higgins, even using his radio show to tell fans to stop the harassment described in the lawsuit.
According to Kentucky’s local Fox affiliate, WDRB, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Hood acknowledged the Higgins family’s “frustration is understandable and their damages are real.” The lawsuit, however was dropped because KSR is protected by their First Amendment right to speak “openly and freely,” “even if that speech is revolting and upsetting.” Judge Hood did not excuse the actions of Jones and managing-editor Drew Franklin, but won’t place the faults of third party individuals on Kentucky Sports Radio.
“It’s been a long two-year process,” Matt Jones said in a Wednesday interview discussing the dismissed lawsuit, “but I’m pleased the court was able to differentiate between the acts of others and our coverage of them.”