The Criticism of Patrick Reed
At the Hero World Challenge in early December, a small golf event became the subject of a month’s long controversy. Patrick Reed was penalized for brushing sand away from his line during the third round of the tournament.1 This action was deemed to be a violation of Rule 8, which requires a player to play the course as it is, and more specifically, Rule 8-1a, which prohibits the removal or pressing down of sand or loose soil.2 Following the incident, Reed was subject to harsh criticism from a number of players an analyst. For example, the following week, Cameron Smith was critical of Reed’s actions.3 The commentary has continued for the past few months. Last week, Brooks Koepka was quoted as saying “I don’t know what he was doing, building sandcastles in the sand, but you know where your club is.”4
Perhaps the most vocal critic was Brandel Chamblee. During a Golf Channel broadcast on December 9, Chamblee stated, “To defend what Patrick Reed did is defending cheating. It’s defending breaking the rules.”5 In response, Peter Ginsberg, the attorney for Patrick Reed, sent a cease and desist letter on December 13 to Chamblee.6 Ginsberg stated that the purpose of the letter was to prevent any further “false and defamatory statements concerning Mr. Reed, including any allegations that he ‘cheated’ at the Hero World Challenge.”7 While there was no lawsuit threatened, the letter did demand Chamblee sign a document preventing him from repeating comments regarding the alleged cheating.8 Chamblee later appeared on the popular golf podcast “Foreplay” and responded to the letter. He first stated, “I joked with someone that I can’t imagine he found the only lawyer who didn’t play golf” and that he had “First Amendment rights, he is a public figure, and what I stated were opinions.”9
This presents a potential concern regarding our current defamation laws. While the U.S. Supreme Court in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. set out a new standard for facts versus opinion, that standard is not likely met here.10 Milikovich requires statements contain provably false assertions of fact as well as providing that rhetorical language is not actionable.11 Here, it is not possible to prove that Mr. Chamblee made a provably false assertion of fact. He simply stated that to defend what Reed did is defending cheating. This likely does not rise to the level of a provably false assertion of fact.
The conduct of Reed and his attorney will be interesting to follow in the coming days. Other analysts have also been critical of Reed. For example, this week, Peter Kostis, an on-air analyst for CBS, also made an appearance on the “No Laying Up” Podcast during which he claimed that he has seen Reed improve his lie at least four times (This is also a rules violation).12 It will be interesting to follow if Reed and his camp will continue to respond to this commentary from on air personalities, as this does not seem like a topic that will go away.
See Julie Williams, Patrick Reed slapped with two-stroke penalty at Hero World Challenge, Golfweek (Dec. 6, 2019), https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2019/12/06/patrick-reed-penalty-strokes-hero-world-challenge/ [https://perma.cc/BJD2-4ZAE].↩
See Will Gray, Aussie Smith on Reed: No ‘Sympathy for Anyone That Cheats’, Golf Channel (Dec. 8, 2019), https://www.golfchannel.com/news/aussie-cameron-smith-patrick-reed-no-sympathy-anyone-cheats [https://perma.cc/5T3S-LKBU].↩
See Bob Harig, Brooks Koepka joins chorus saying Patrick Reed cheated in sand, ESPN (Feb. 18, 2020), https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/28729602/brooks-koepka-joins-chorus-saying-patrick-reed-cheated-sand [https://perma.cc/9UZ7-NZQN].↩
Jenna West, Attorney Demands Brandel Chamblee Stop Calling Patrick Reed ‘Cheater’, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 10, 2020), https://www.si.com/golf/2020/01/10/patrick-reed-letter-cheating-brandel-chamblee [https://perma.cc/BK56-XSB2].↩
ForePlay: Brandel Chamblee on… Everything, Barstool Sports (Feb. 6, 2019), https://open.spotify.com/episode/4A11Tjvly8ocYy3So6Mmvy?si=v1QOijxsTheHsPGz66kBgA [https://perma.cc/H7RW-SZMX].↩
Pooja Bhaskar, Milkovich, #metoo, and “Liars”: Defamation Law and the Fact-Opinion Distinction, 88 Fordham L. Rev. 691, 706 (2019).↩
Id. at 707.↩
Ryan Asselta, Golf TV Analyst Claims He’s Seen Patrick Reed Break the Rules Multiple Times, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 19, 2020), https://www.si.com/golf/2020/02/19/patrick-reed-cheating-golf-peter-kostis [https://perma.cc/UDT8-Z4T7].↩