- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Embattled former UCLA basketball player Reeves Nelson has filed a lawsuit against Time Inc., the parent company of Sports Illustrated, and reporter George Dohrmann claiming defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to a copy of the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Nelson, painted as a chronic troublemaker who intentionally injured teammates in the Dohrmann-penned Sports Illustrated report "Not the UCLA Way," is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and another $10 million in punitive damages, as well as a retraction, according to the suit filed by attorneys Keith Fink and Olaf J. Mueller of Los Angeles law firm Fink and Steinberg.
The Sports Illustrated story cited "more than a dozen players and staff members from the past four Bruins teams" alleging numerous misdeeds in the UCLA program over the past few seasons and singled out Nelson for boorish behavior, including urinating on a teammate's clothes, routinely getting in physical altercations with teammates and intentionally injuring other players.
But Nelson's lawsuit categorically denies each reported incident and includes signed declarations from 18 current or former UCLA players corroborating Nelson's side of the story. Tyler Honeycutt, for example, signed a declaration that says Nelson never urinated on his clothes, as alleged in the Sports Illustrated report.
Drew Gordon also signed a declaration stating that he never fought with Nelson and never received a black eye as a result of any altercation with Nelson, as reported in the Sports Illlustrated story. Tyler Trapani and Alex Schrempf, alleged to have been victimized by violent Nelson acts in the story, also signed declarations refuting the reported incidents.
Of the 18 players who signed declarations, only Schrempf and Blake Arnet acknowledge having spoken with Dohrmann before the publication of the article. In their signed declarations, both players say they told Dohrmann that he had incorrect information regarding Nelson's behavior.
Nelson, an All-Pac-10 selection in 2010-11 who was suspended twice from the UCLA basketball team last season and eventually dismissed for conduct unbecoming of a UCLA basketball player, was quoted in the Sports Illustrated report saying, "On all that stuff, I have no trouble admitting that I lost control of my emotions sometimes."
The lawsuit, however, alleges that quote was in response to a question about non-violent incidents that resulted in Nelson getting dismissed from the team, such as when he openly laughed on the bench during a second-half collapse in a loss to Texas, refused to take part in team huddles during that game, missed a team plane for a flight to Hawaii and showed up late for team meetings.
The suit claims that Dohrmann and Sports Illustrated "published the article either with knowledge that it was false and defamatory of the Plaintiff and/or, if the false and defamatory nature of it was not known to Defendants, with reckless disregard for its obvious falsity and defamatory nature."
It also claims that the intent of the story was to "take down a major national collegiate basketball program so as to sell greater numbers of Sports Illustrated issues and increase advertising and sales revenue for Defendants, as well as generate positive publicity for Defendant Dohrmann."
The lawsuit further alleges that Dohrmann, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, "has exhibited a years-long pattern and practice of attacking UCLA" and that he "chose to attack Plaintiff and UCLA's basketball program because of personal animosity, hostility, and ill will towards the university."