Today USA Today odds expert Danny Sheridan appeared on Paul Finebaum’s radio show to talk in greater detail about the Tweet he sent out this weekend. Sheridan tweeted: “I’ve been told the name of the person the NCAA feels allegedly paid Cecil Newton & where witness is. more when on Finebaum this week.” From here speculation ran rampant, would Sheridan actually name the individual on Finebaums show? Next Finebaum tweeted that Danny Sheridan would be on at two central on Wednesday. The college football world turned its gaze to Paul Finebaum’s radio show. Danny Sheridan stepped up to the mic and said this: “Yes, I have been told the name. No sir I will not give you the name.”
Why would Sheridan not give the name? Because, “If I gave the name, I would be sued.”
Sheridan then trotted out his attorney who said that Sheridan had told him the name, but that he had advised Sheridan not to say the name to avoid a lawsuit.
The only problem is this: Danny Sheridan can’t hide behind the law here. If Sheridan actually had any confidence in the name he’d been given — “‘My sources are at the NCAA and friends of the NCAA.” — he wouldn’t be worried about a lawsuit and I’ll tell you why.
By the way, everything in this legal analysis presupposes that Sheridan’s name is a private figure. If he’s a public figure then Sheridan’s protections are even more immense.
1. Truth is an absolute defense to any defamation lawsuit.
If Danny Sheridan is telling the truth when he names the individual who paid Cecil Newton then there is no basis for a lawsuit. Hiding behind being sued is a child-like legal defense, what it really means is that Sheridan doesn’t trust his sources enough to put his money where his mouth is.
Further, as one of our commenters, Chris Major, pointed out below, the defamation ship has already sailed. Cecil and Cam Newton won’t sue, but they could based on what Sheridan already said. So if his goal is to avoid a defamation lawsuit, it’s too late for that.
2. If he actually paid someone off, the individual who paid Cecil Newton wouldn’t sue.
Why? Because he’d be subject to deposition and discovery. If Sheridan is telling the truth the best thing that could happen to him is being sued. Then the alleged payor would have to go under oath in a deposition and open himself up to perjury charges if it was proven he lied. (See Clemens, Roger). Any lawyer worth his salt would tell a client with a shady past not to sue.
What’s more, by suing that payor would open up his entire relationship with Auburn to review. So what if he didn’t pay Cam Newton, he might be forced to admit to paying someone else under oath to avoid a perjury charge. This is the reason why you almost never see lawsuits filed in NCAA related matters. Because the people who would sue have way too many skeletons in their closet to hide.
3. Sheridan could protect his sources in the event of a lawsuit.
He’s a journalist. Look at Judith Miller of the New York Times, who spent months in prison rather than reveal her sources. Why did she do that? Because she told her sources she would keep them anonymous. That’s a promise that good and honest journalists make.
If Sheridan isn’t willing to go to jail to keep his sources anonymous, then, to be frank, those sources shouldn’t be talking with him.
But here’s the deal, Miller’s case dealt with criminal matters, Sheridan wouldn’t have to go to jail for a civil lawsuit. He just doesn’t trust his source.
Still don’t believe me? how about the protection provided by Alabama Code Section 12-21-142:
“No person engaged in, connected with or employed on any newspaper, radio broadcasting station or television station, while engaged in a news-gathering capacity, shall be compelled to disclose in any legal proceeding or trial, before any court or before a grand jury of any court, before the presiding officer of any tribunal or his agent or before any committee of the Legislature, or elsewhere the sources of any information procured or obtained by him and published in the newspaper, broadcast by any broadcasting station, or televised by any television station on which he is engaged, connected with or employed.”
So the “sources” are completely protected.
4. Why isn’t USA Today demanding this story?
Look at the site traffic to Yahoo Sports for its piece on Miami. Great reporting and breaking news stories pay off with astounding numbers of readers. If Sheridan really had the goods on Auburn, don’t you think — as Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated asked me on Twitter — USA Today would be furious at Danny Sheridan for breaking the news on Paul Finebaum’s radio show and giving Finebaum the benefit of the resulting news crash?
This would be the biggest sports story USA Today had broken this year. Maybe, forever. (Note: I haven no idea what major sports stories USA Today has broken because I don’t read its newspaper).
5. Note that Danny Sheridan keeps agreeing to be polygraphed on this story.
But that’s a red herring.
Because he’s agreeing to be polygraphed about what someone else told him. “I’m telling you the truth, I swear to it,” Sheridan keeps exhorting on the radio. “I’m willing to take a polygraph test. If you want to bet me a hundred grand? I’ll pass it,” Sheridan said today.
Well, big deal. All Sheridan’s swearing to is that someone gave him a name of an individual who paid off Cecil Newton. Passing a polygraph about that is no big deal. All he’s proving is that he’s not making up a name out of thin air.
See, I can play that game too.
Elvis paid Cecil Newton.
Now y’all can all pass a polygraph about who paid Cecil Newton as well.
See how faulty this logic is? Sheridan’s polygraph argument proves nothing.
6. Does this mean that Cecil Newton didn’t get paid?
Of course not.
Cecil Newton probably did get paid. But all Danny Sheridan has confirmed with us is that he’s not confident in his source. If he was confident in his source then he’d say the name. Truth would be his defense in the event of suit.
And if the payor did sue then Sheridan’s lawyers would be able to depose him in rigorous detail about Cam and Cecil Newton. His phone and bank records would be subject to discovery. Hiding behind the fear of a lawsuit is pure and complete crap. If you really have the goods in the situation I’ll say it again, getting sued is the best thing that could happen to you.
Today Sheridan said, “I don’t give a rat’s ass about getting it first.”
Wrong. If he didn’t give a rat’s ass about getting it first then he wouldn’t have gone on Paul Finebaum’s show multiple times and bragged about his sources and his story. All Danny Sheridan has proven to us is that three weeks after he alleged that the NCAA had found a bag man in the Cam Newton case, he doesn’t really trust his sources.
Hiding behind the law does nothing to change this.
It’s a fact.
Don’t believe me? Plug me up to a polygraph machine too. I’ll pass.