Robot 6

Former hockey referee sues newspaper over Adam@home comic

Insulting the referee is a pastime as old as sports itself, but it’s rare to call one out by name in a comic strip. So when Brian Basset and Rob Harrell’s syndicated comic Adam@home took a potshot at former National Hockey League referee (and current Guelph, Ontario, city councilor) Andy van Hellemond, the ref called foul. According to Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star, van Hellemond has served a libel notice on the paper, saying he intends to sue for defamation, and that the comic strip has caused him “serious and irreparable harm”:

Our client takes the position that the publication of his last name and prior occupation in respect of his ability to referee professional hockey games was calculated to disparage both his personal and professional reputation and was defamatory.

For those who (like me) don’t follow hockey too closely, English gives a good summary of why van Hellemond might be a likely target for Adam‘s humor (which was the setup for a bad pun, not cutting sports commentary), and she defends the strip as legal, although admittedly unfair (and a bit random, as van Hellemond left the ice in 1996). She also says that this is the first time anyone at the paper has ever heard of a lawsuit being filed over a comic strip.

(via Graphic Policy)



the courts may come back and tell Van Hellmond that the strip is protected under free speech. for doubt ful the creators of adam at home planned to try and defame Van Hellmond

The strip is protected by free speech, because it isn’t hateful or incites hate. Furthermore, Van Hellmond was a fairly public figure, on television, and so would be part of fair use. As a hockey fan who followed the sport closely during Van Hellmond’s time as a ref I would say his characterization in the strip is fair. He had a reputation for over penalizing teams he “didn’t like.” Can this qualify for slander if it is true?

I don’t know why he bothered to use the name of a real former ref. I mean, unless van Hellemond has been a “bane” to the main character in the past, if there was some history there then sure, it would make sense. But who, other than real hockey fans, fans who’ve been following the sport for the decades that he was officiating, would get the name reference? I think the punch line would still work if he had used a phony name. Maybe even a funny sounding name.

And besides, Wally Harris was a much worse ref than van Hellemond ever was!

Wait…someone is still reading comic strips?

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