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Michael Rapaport’s legal battle against Barstool Sports had it all: evidence of a negative test for herpes, a sworn declaration from the actor that he isn’t racist since he’s married to a Black woman, and a photoshopped picture of anal sex.
The fight de-escalated on Monday with both sides dropping their breach of contract claims under an agreement that allows Rapaport to appeal a prior ruling that concluded Barstool and its founder David Portnoy didn’t defame him.
The saga detailed in the suit is befitting of a defamation duel between the bro sports network and the self-proclaimed “king of trash talk.” In 2014, Rapaport launched a podcast called I Am Rapaport on CBS Radio. He went over to Barstool three years later after being recruited by Portnoy. His contract entitled him to $600,000, revenue sharing and a promise that the company would make good faith efforts to secure him his own daily radio show on SiriusXM, which would pay out an additional $375,000.
The relationship disintegrated in eight months. The fracturing of the pairing started, in part, with Rapaport in a tweet accusing a Barstool employee of taking steroids to help win an amateur boxing match. After a fan of the site — widely referred to as “stoolies” — replied by urging Barstool to take a poll of his popularity among fans, the actor retorted, “[I]f you call yourself a fucking stoolie for real, you’ve already lost in life.”
A “war,” as Portnoy called it in a deposition, ensued. Barstool terminated Rapaport’s contract for insulting its fans, and Rapaport responded by posting on Twitter a photoshopped picture of him sodomizing Portnoy. In the next few months, Barstool published dozens of tweets, videos and blog posts accusing the actor of being racist, having herpes and stalking his ex-girlfriend. A defamation and breach of contract lawsuit followed, with a countersuit close behind.
In March 2021, a federal judge cleared for trial the issue of whether either side breached their contract. Barstool, however, toppled Rapaport’s libel claims — estimated to be worth north of $16 million in a damages assessment.
U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald found that the disputed statements aren’t “actionable assertions of fact” to be considered defamatory. The standard requires a reasonable audience to understand that the speaker is stating an objective fact opposed to an opinion.
“As used here, these labels represent nothing more than the Barstool Defendants’ subjective evaluations of Rapaport that are incapable of being objectively proven true or false,” Buchwald wrote.
The observation that someone is racist, for example, will “almost always depend on the eye of the beholder,” the judge found.
“To illustrate the epithet’s subjective nature when used in this context, one need not look further than the evidence Rapaport introduces in an attempt to falsify the assertion: that he does not consider himself to be a racist; that he is married to a Black woman; that he does not use the issue of race for personal benefit; and that he has had many Black guests on his podcast shows,” stated the order. “While the Court does not intend to suggest that Rapaport is in fact racist, this evidence simply does not establish by objective proof that the challenged representations are false.”
Rapaport’s claim that he was defamed when Barstool said he has herpes and is a stalker suffered the same fate. While those accusations could be proven false, Buchwald said that context matters since they were “published on social media, blogs, and sports talk radio, which are all platforms where audiences reasonably anticipate hearing opinionated statements.”
The court will enter judgment in favor of Barstool as to Rapaport’s fraud and defamation claims, but the actor can appeal the judge’s order with regard to defamation.
Rapaport, his attorney Richard Busch and Barstool didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Barstool’s attorney Aaron Moss declined to comment.
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