NFL Star Sends Legal Threat to CNN Over Rape Movie 'The Hunting Ground' (Exclusive)

The_Hunting_Ground_Still_Jameis_Winston_Inset - H 2015
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival; Getty Images

The_Hunting_Ground_Still_Jameis_Winston_Inset - H 2015

Two days before CNN is set to debut The Hunting Ground, an attorney for former Florida State University and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is warning the cable news network that its documentary about college campus rapes is defamatory.

"We are writing to formally caution CNN that the portions of the film 'The Hunting Ground' pertaining to Mr. Winston are false and defamatory to Mr. Winston," states a letter to CNN's Jeff Zucker, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "We urge CNN to reconsider the reckless decision to proceed with the broadcast of this deeply-flawed documentary in the face of the overwhelming evidence the film's producers consciously and intentionally failed to adhere to any accepted journalistic standards."

Winston was accused of rape by Erica Kinsman during the football player's Heisman Trophy season. The Tallahasee Police Department and FSU conducted a much-criticized investigation and took no action against Winston, who was selected first overall in the NFL draft this past May and in the midst of his rookie season. 

As Kinsman and Winston duel with each other in court — she's suing him for sexual battery, he's brought counterclaims for tarnishing his image — The Hunting Ground has lurked in the background after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Directed by Kirby Dirk and produced by Amy ZieringHunting Ground spotlights Kinsman coming forward to speak publicly for the first time about what Winston allegedly did to her, as well as the ensuing investigations. At Sundance, the film was warmly received, but it's since been attacked as unfair in some circles. 

Winston's letter from attorney John Boudet alleges that the film "manipulates, misstates or simply omits facts to present a false narrative," that the filmmakers omitted exculpatory evidence like toxicology tests, medical examinations and eyewitness testimony, and also that Amy Herdy, one of the film's producers, admitted in one email that the film is "in the corner of advocacy for victims" with "no need to get the perpetrator's side."

FSU has voiced its own complaints and asked CNN not to air the film, but Winston goes much further.

"CNN may have persuaded itself that Mr. Winston's status as a public figure insulates your company from a libel judgment," states the letter. "If CNN decides to proceed with this broadcast, we will perhaps have the opportunity to test that legal proposition in a court of law."

On Saturday morning, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering issued the following statement to THR: "We fully stand behind Erica Kinsman’s account, and the accounts of all the subjects in our film.  When documentaries bring to light uncomfortable truths about powerful people and institutions, it's not unusual for them to wage aggressive campaigns to silence their critics. That's what we're seeing now.  We invite viewers to watch the documentary and draw their own conclusions."

The full letter is below.

We've reached out to CNN for comment.

Nov. 21, 11:16 a.m.: Updated with statement from filmmakers.