It seems the NHL has a bit of a mess on its hands with recent allegations by Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner. Recently, Lehner has made a series of statements on Twitter alleging that some teams give their players drugs without the benefits of a doctor’s consent or a prescription.
In these tweets, Lehner said that he knows of many teams given pills such as sedatives and anxiety meds, specifically referencing Alain Vigneault, the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Lehner claims that he has proof. Chuck Fletcher, general manager of the Flyers, has denied Lehner’s allegation. Lehner has also accused the Buffalo Sabres, a team he formerly played for, of mismanaging an ankle injury he sustained.
Defamation in the Era of Social Media
In this age of social media, comments made online that potentially damage someone’s reputation can be considered libel. In Nevada, making libelous comments about someone can tarnish their reputation and allow that person to file a lawsuit against you. Although most accusations of libel result in civil lawsuits, they can also result in criminal charges.
Libel As a Criminal Offense
Under Section 200.510 (1) of the Nevada Revised Statutes, libel is defined as a “malicious defamation, expressed by printing, writing, signs, pictures or the like, intending to blacken the memory of the dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation, or to publish the natural defects of a living person or persons, or community of persons, or association of persons, and thereby to expose them to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”
For a person to be convicted of libel, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
- The defendant acted with malicious intent
- The information that the defendant published was untrue
- The information cast the other person in a negative light
If so, the defendant can be found guilty of a gross misdemeanor offense. But if the defendant and their criminal defense attorney can provide evidence that what was said in the statement was true and there was good intention and motivation behind it, the defendant can be acquitted.
Will These Laws Affect Robin Lehner?
It remains to be seen if the matter of Robin Lehner will rise to criminal charges. Probably not. For the most part, these are critical conversations that need to be had in professional sports. In 2013, the NHL and NHLPA obviously felt the need to add Article 34.8 to their Collective Bargaining Agreement concerning the use of prescription drugs, ensuring that only one individual on each team be responsible for monitoring prescription drugs to any player. These issues affect professional sports as a whole, not just professional hockey.
When it comes to social media, there can be danger in making comments that may be interpreted as libelous. As for Lehner, he seems to have officially walked back on his public accusations, saying he did not mean to accuse Vigneault of improperly distributing pills to players.
He has further stated that any further discussions concerning this matter will be in private in order to avoid a repeat of the uproar over his comments.
The Moral of the Story
Of course, the moral of the story is that you want to be careful of who and what you accuse someone of online or on social media. As a relatively new frontier, social media platforms themselves should consider their own potential liability as publishers of defamatory content. So far, they have not been made accountable for these comments but with further regulation, that may change in the future.
If you have been accused of online libel or have further questions, contact the criminal defense attorneys at LV Criminal Defense to understand your responsibilities or liabilities.