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An Oklahoma man was awarded $25 million after a jury found that the state’s largest newspaper defamed him when he was mistakenly identified as a high school basketball announcer who made racist comments during a 2021 game broadcast.
Scott Sapulpa was awarded $5 million in actual damages and another $20 million in punitive damages in Muskogee County.
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“We’re just so happy for Scott. Hopefully this will vindicate his name,” Sapulpa’s attorney Michael Barkett said.
Lark-Marie Anton, a spokesperson for The Oklahoman’s owner, Gannett, said the company was disappointed with the jury’s decision and planned to appeal.
“There was no evidence presented to the jury that The Oklahoman acted with any awareness that what was reported was false or with any intention to harm the plaintiff in this case,” Anton said.
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The incident in question occurred before the Norman-Midwest City girls basketball game. An announcer for the livestream cursed and used a racial epithet to describe one team as they knelt for the national anthem. The comment was made during a break in the livestream.
“They even saluting the flag? Some of them aren’t,” he was heard saying. “F—ing n—–s.”
The newspaper initially identified Sapulpa as the one who made the comment. However, Matt Rowan, the owner of the streaming service, told The Oklahoman he was the person who made the remark. He apologized and blamed it on his blood-sugar levels.
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Sapulpa alleged defamation and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Barkett said the jury found the newspaper acted with malice, which allowed them to pursue punitive damages.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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