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.