NEW YORK — The television cameras at baseball games often catch fans in semi-embarrassing moments, and good sports announcers are adept at poking gentle fun at spectators when the action on the diamond slows down.
But one New York Yankees fan who was filmed as he slept soundly through an April 13 game between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox has sued Major League Baseball, the Yankees and ESPN, claiming the images of him asleep and the announcers’ commentary has damaged his reputation.
The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in the Bronx last week, seems to be a case of life imitating art, recalling the “Seinfeld” episode in which George Costanza’s reputation is destroyed and his girlfriend breaks up with him after a television camera catches him gluttonously digging into an ice cream sundae at the U.S. Open.
The fan, Andrew R. Rector, claimed in his suit that ESPN’s announcers, Dan Shulman and John Kruk, “unleashed an avalanche of disparaging words” about him, suggesting he was overweight and stupid. He also claims that Major League Baseball was responsible for “vituperative utterances” about Rector on its website after the clip of him sleeping was posted the next day.
According to a video clip on Major League Baseball’s website, Shulman said that “this guy’s oblivious” and Kruk opined that “this is not the place you come to sleep.” They also marveled that he had fallen asleep in the fourth inning and might have slept through a home run by the Yankees’ Carlos Beltran a few minutes earlier.
“We’ve got to see how long this guy’s out for,” Shulman said.
Rector maintains the announcers used words like “fatty” and “stupid” to describe him, but neither Shulman nor Kruk uttered such insults in the clip. It is unclear whether they commented later in the game on Rector’s lengthy nap.
What is clear is that Rector became the target of some online ridicule. Unkind comments from viewers of the clip appeared on YouTube and MLB’s site. Angela Sun, writing for a Yahoo sports blog, poked fun at Rector for being less than thrilled by the age-old rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees. (The Yankees won, by the way, 3-2.) Twitter users also had their fun, inserting Rector’s picture in various situations, including one that featured him as “Sleeping Beauty.”
Rector has demanded $10 million in damages for defamation and mental anguish, according to the lawsuit, which was reported by Courthouse News Service.
Mike Soltys, a spokesman for ESPN, declined to comment on the lawsuit, calling it “frivolous.” The Yankees also declined to comment. Patrick Courtney, the spokesman for Major League Baseball, did not return calls from a reporter.
The complaint was written in highly idiosyncratic and often ungrammatical English by Valentine A. Okwara, a lawyer from Queens, who was admitted to the bar in New York in 2013 and has a degree from the University of Buckingham in England, according to the Office of Court Administration.
Rector’s mother, Hana, said her son was out of the country. She said Rector had missed work because of the scorn he had experienced.
“It was not a pleasant situation,” Rector said. “He was very unhappy. Everyone made fun of him everywhere he went.”