STILLWATER — Sports Illustrated magazine has been sued — accused of maliciously publishing false information regarding the relationship between Oklahoma State University football athletes and a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Payne County District Court.
In a five-part series called “The Dirty Game,” writers for Sports Illustrated portrayed Oklahoma Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative John Talley as an “overzealous ‘booster’ who made systematic improper financial contributions to OSU’s football players,” Talley alleges in the lawsuit.
Talley claims the allegations published last September “were false, lacked factual basis and were printed and published with actual malice.”
OSU suspended Talley from outreach activities involving the university’s student athletes after the stories were published, the lawsuit states.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Sports Illustrated’s parent company, Time Inc., as well as the writers of the articles, George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans.
Efforts to reach the defendants for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
The lawsuit states Talley is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.
“It will be a lot more than that,” Gary Richardson, Talley’s attorney, said Friday. “If they haven’t done any better job with the research that they wrote about OSU than they did about John Talley, they’re probably in a lot of trouble.”
Talley specifically challenged the truthfulness and context of comments attributed to former OSU football players Brad Girtman, Seymore Shaw, Aso Pogi and Fath’ Carter.
Talley denied paying Girtman “$1,500 to $2,000 every two weeks during one summer to work on his ranch.”
No athlete was paid more than $12 an hour for work on Talley’s property and no student was ever paid more than $600 for work done in any summer or three-month period, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit says that information was available in records at the university’s compliance department, but the writers failed to consult those records.
“Completely false” is the way the lawsuit described statements attributed to Shaw claiming that Talley “set up speaking gigs for players, paying $100 for a 15-20-minute talk.”
“OSU athletes were never paid for speaking arrangements, but were reimbursed reasonable food and gas expenses,” the lawsuit states, adding that information was also available in public records at OSU’s compliance department.
Claims by Carter that Talley paid him to “help shoe horses” were also false, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit said Carter made other false claims in the article that could easily have been checked out. For example, the lawsuit states Carter made a claim that he and former player Tatum Bell attended classes together and received grades they did not deserve in 2004.
“In fact, Tatum Bell in 2004 was no longer an enrolled student at OSU: he had withdrawn from OSU to prepare for the NFL draft,” the lawsuit said.
Talley says Pogi was allowed to stay with his family at no monetary cost in exchange for work he did around the farm. He claims Sports Illustrated writers knowingly misrepresented the arrangement “as part of creating an illusion of a rent free scheme provided to OSU’s athletes” related to Talley’s alleged illegal booster activities.
Talley said he told Sports Illustrated’s writers during a brief five-minute meeting that the allegations against him were “absolutely false” and they should re-check their facts.
The writers abruptly canceled another meeting where the allegations were to be discussed, he said.
Talley claims the articles were malicious and put him in a false light.