Paul Lo Duca defamation verdict is a cautionary tale for NFL players, coaches

Anything you say can be held against you.

That reality applies in many contexts, including when telling untruths about others. Former MLB catcher Paul Lo Duca has learned that lesson the hard way, losing a defamation lawsuit brought by MLB umpire Joe West.

Via Daniel Kaplan of TheAthletic.com, Lo Duca appeared on an Action Network podcast in 2019 and made false statements about West. Court papers filed by West contend that Lo Duca said West “open[ed] up the strike zone” for pitcher Billy Wagner in exchange for Wagner loaning West a ’57 Chevy whenever West was in town.

Wagner denied in an affidavit that the conversation ever happened, which hurt Lo Duca’s case. Far more damaging to his defense was the fact that he didn’t mount one. Per Kaplan, Lo Duca never responded to the lawsuit.

Ignoring a lawsuit leads to a default judgment, followed by a damages trial at which the defendant has no representation. Even with a one-side submission of evidence, however, West fell far short of nearly $11.9 million that he was seeking to repair his reputation. The judge instead gave West $500,000.

“The court concludes, however, that the reputation management plan . . . created for the plaintiff, estimated to cost $11,898,000.00, vastly overstates the expenses necessary to remove the Lo Duca story from internet web sites or ‘push down’ the story by emphasizing positive stories about the plaintiff,” the presiding judge wrote.

Per Kaplan, the Action Network separately settled with West and took down the podcast in question. All other terms are confidential.

For NFL players and coaches who get miffed about decisions made by game officials, there’s a message and a lesson. Don’t suggest that there’s any type of corruption happening with calls made and not made unless you can prove it later. And even if you can prove, ask yourself whether it’s worth spending the money necessary to do so.