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NFL player takes action against gay story

By Cyd Zeigler

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An attorney for Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli has sent cease-and-desist letters to some Web sites that have published the allegations of a man who claims to have had a sexual relationship with Mughelli.

Outsports has obtained a copy of the letter sent to Mediaoutrage.com by Phaedra Parks, an Atlanta-based attorney specializing in entertainment and sports.:

“Your blog is replete with defamatory statements as it relates to Mr. Mughelli,” the letter says. “If you do not cease and desist immediately, we will have no alternative but to seek an immediate permanent injunction and sue you for damages for defamation and false light.

“Under the law, you and your company are liable for defamatory and false statements. You and your company have continuously published and/or posted stories and/or comments that allege that Mr. Mughelli is a homosexual and is or was involved in a homosexual affair with a man. As you are aware, making libelous and defamatory statements are punishable by law and subject to monetary damages and punitive relief. Accordingly, in an action for defamation, Mr. Mughelli is not required to show that you posted the story and/or comments with a malicious intent. The fact that you posted this story and these comments at all is sufficient to subject you to liability and civil damages.”

Cynthia Counts, an Atlanta-based First Amendment lawyer who also represents Outsports, questioned Parks’ legal claim.

“Ms. Parks fails to acknowledge that Mr. Mughelli is a public figure who would be required to show actual malice,” Counts said. “In fact, as a public figure, Mr. Mughelli would have to prove not only that the statement is false, but also that the publisher either knew its statements were false or had a subjective awareness of the probable falsity of the statements.”

The cease-and-desist letter from Parks concludes with a specific course-of-action demand:

“In order avoid legal action, we hereby demand that you immediately remove each and every reference, posting, comment and statement related to any allegation(s) that Mr. Mughelli is a homosexual or has or was involved in a homosexual relationship. Additionally, we expect that you will post a retraction on your blog, emphasizing the removal of this information from your site.”

MediaOutrage.com has complied with Parks’ letter. Outsports has learned that similar letters have been sent to other Web sites. At least one of those Web sites, Queerty.com, has not complied with the letter.

The allegations first surfaced on the Atlanta-based blog MissJia.com on Jan. 5 when the site published a detailed account of an alleged sexual relationship between a then-unnamed Falcons player and another man. The next day, MissJia.com named Mughelli, and three days later the site published a video of Francois Sloan, 36, a hair stylist from Jersey City, N.J., claiming to be the man behind the allegations. MissJia.com says that as of Jan. 15, the site had not received a cease-and-desist letter.

In his e-mail account to MissJia.com, Sloan alleges that he began an intimate, sexual relationship with Mughelli in 2002 while Mughelli was at Wake Forest University. He claims he provided financial stability for Mughelli while the NFL prospect finished college. Sloan claims the relationship ended abruptly around the time Mughelli singed a six-year, $18 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007.

Outsports contacted the Atlanta Falcons, who referred all questions to Mughelli’s publicist. The publicist said, “It’s a malicious attack on my client and we have attorneys looking into it.”

Several phone calls to and messages left with Parks’ office were not returned.

Sloan said in his video statement on MissJia.com that he makes no claims about Mughelli’s sexual orientation.

“I’m not here to define Ovie’s sexuality,” Sloan said. “I will not, and never did, call Ovie gay, bisexual or on the DL.”

Counts said that Georgia courts likely would not find calling someone gay to be defamatory.

“Today, the law and society are changing and I do not believe that the mere label that someone is a ‘homosexual’ continues to be presumptively defamatory,” Counts said. “Although it would be naive to suggest that no prejudice exists against gays, Georgia courts have made clear that ‘it is not libelous to charge a person with the doing of a thing which he may legally and properly do.’ Because the Supreme Court has definitely held that homosexuality is not illegal, an assertion that someone is gay should not be defamatory.”

Outsports contacted Sloan and asked if he could provide photographs of Mughelli and himself together. Sloan said, “no comment.”

Mughelli, 29, was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2003. He was selected second-team All-Pro in 2006. Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently called Mughelli "excellent at the point of attack" and the best fullback he's seen in a "long time." While his main roll is lead blocker, he has scored four touchdowns in his eight NFL seasons. His Ovie Mughelli Foundation “supports the overall development of youth socially, mentally and physically by implementing and assisting quality programs that educate the youth on the environment. We want to empower the youth to take ownership and pride about their lives and the roles that they play in society
.”