It's great to see fellow members of the Trojan Lawyers Club representing on CC. (USC '88, DePaul Law '96.) Re: the hypothetical case of McNair v. NCAA, I offer this up. Disclaimer - I'm not a First Amendment attorney. Props on this to www.citmedialaw.org.
In a defamation action, Coach McNair might well be considered a "limited-purpose public figure":
A limited-purpose public figure is either:
- One who voluntarily becomes a key figure in a particular controversy, or
- One who has gained prominence in a particular, limited field, but whose celebrity has not reached an all-encompassing level.
The applicability of actual malice to a limited-purpose public figure:
- The actual malice standard applies only to subject matter related to the controversy in question or to the field in which the individual is prominent, not to the person's entire life.
- Passage of time does not affect an individual who has achieved fame through participation in a controversy as long as the public maintains an "independent" interest in the underlying controversy.
Where the University of Georgia athletic director sued a magazine for defamation (the defamatory article concerned a phone call to Bear Bryant), Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts (351 F.2d 702), the U.S. Supreme Court held, inter alia:
3. A "public figure" who is not a public official may recover damages for defamatory falsehood substantially endangering his reputation on a showing of highly unreasonable conduct constituting an extreme departure from the standards of investigation and reporting ordinarily adhered to by responsible publishers. ( P. 155)