Long time college basketball referee John Higgins is suing a Kentucky sports media company for inciting harassment against him and his family after he officiated the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss to UNC in March. Following the loss, Higgins claims Kentucky Sports Radio incited fans of their website to leave death threats. ESPN has more on the details of the federal lawsuit:
In his lawsuit, John Higgins blamed Kentucky Sports Radio for helping incite death threats that frightened him and his family and defamatory messages on social media and in phone messages that disrupted his roofing business in suburban Omaha. The harassment came after Higgins worked Kentucky’s loss to the eventual champion Tar Heels in a regional final.
Kentucky Sports Radio’s founder says his site will contest Higgins’ suit:
The Higgins lawsuit against KSR is frivolous and without any legal merit whatsoever. We will defend it and expect a favorable result quickly
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 3, 2017
The eventual national champion Tar Heels won on Luke Maye’s buzzer-beating jump shot, 75-73, but the Wildcats were whistled for 19 fouls in that game, including two first-half fouls on each of their three best players: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Bam Adebayo.
After the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari was critical of the referees.
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team,” Calipari said via ESPN. “Amazing that we had a chance.”
The death threats began a few days after Kentucky’s loss:
Since then, fans identified Higgins as the problematic referee, and both his unlisted home and business phones have been “ringing off the hook.” Kentucky fans have posted false claims on the Facebook page for his business, Rooferees. His page has since been taken down, and fans are moving to the official website to leave messages.
“After defendants’ publication of Mr. Higgins’ business and contact information, as well as their encouragement and enticement to thousands of people to utilize the contact information, Weatherguard received over 3,000 phone calls during the two days after the game, of which approximately 75 percent were from Kentucky area codes,” the suit said via ESPN.
Higgins’ business also received a flood of bogus negative online reviews, causing his Google rating to plummet. Higgins’ website got more than 28,000 hits in the days after the game, and he was forced to take the company’s Facebook page down.
ESPN adds that suit alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business and civil conspiracy. Higgins is seeking at least $75,000 in damages.