On its way to the 2017 college basketball national title, North Carolina’s toughest test came from Kentucky, whom the Tar Heels defeated 75-73 in the Elite 8.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky’s rabid fan base was upset with the loss. Kentucky fans didn’t direct their anger towards North Carolina, however, but one of the officials who called the game: John Higgins.
As a result, Higgins has filed a lawsuit against Kentucky-based media company Kentucky Sports Radio, according to Dana O’Neil of the Athletic. The lawsuit alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business, and civil conspiracy.
Higgins’ lawsuit claims that Jones and Franklin, who operate Kentucky Sports Radio (known as KSR), shared Higgins’ personal and business information online and on the radio, causing harm to his family and his business, Weatherguard.
According to O’Neil, the lawsuit alleges that Kentucky fans were responsible for more than “800 threatening, vulgar, or harassing voicemail messages received on the Weatherguard phone lines,’’ and “30 such threatening, vulgar or harassing messages received on the Higgins’ family home phone line.”
A few specific threats read: “You enjoy your life before somebody kills you,’’ and “You hear that garbage truck in the background over there? Wish you were in it personally.’’
Higgins alleges that KSR facilitated the outpouring by allowing commenters on its website to post a video containing Weatherguard’s phone number and website address, as well as the Higgins’ home phone number. In addition, Jones repeatedly referenced – and even spelled out – the company’s website name on his radio show.
O’Neil writes that, in addition to the harassing phone calls, Weatherguard received thousands of negative online reviews, causing its Google reviews ratings to plummet. The company eventually took down its Facebook page.
“Because of the non-stop harassing calls, Weatherguard’s bona fide customers and prospective customers could not get through to the business, resulting in loss of business and income for Weatherguard. This continued for up to two weeks,” the lawsuit alleges.
While criticism comes with the territory of becoming a sports official, O’Neil reported that several of Higgins’ colleagues said the hate directed at Higgins was unlike anything they had ever experienced.
“It was the most vitriolic outpouring of whatever you want to call it, crap, I’ve ever been aware of since I’ve been in the game,’’ former NCAA director of officials John Adams told O’Neil. “And anyone who says it was normal is wrong. It was unprecedented.’’