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Deion Sanders’ $3 Million Defamation Award Against Ex-Wife Tossed

Nov. 22, 2021, 4:58 PM

Former NFL and MLB star Deion Sanders’ $3 million defamation award against his ex-wife was thrown out, after a Texas appeals court found he failed to show he incurred any losses due to her statements on social media alleging he abused her.

Sanders’ own testimony that contracts he had entered into were canceled after his wife Pilar published her accusations didn’t show that the contracts were canceled because of her statements, the Texas Court of Appeals, Fifth District said.

Sanders therefore failed to establish the amount of his claimed damages for loss of reputation, the court said, reversing a lower court’s summary judgment ruling.

Even if some of the accusations were reported in the media, as Sanders alleged, that isn’t enough to establish lost reputation damages, the appeals court said. There must instead be evidence that people believed the statements and that his reputation was actually affected, the court said.

Sanders also failed to establish the amount of his economic loss claims because he didn’t explain “how he knew those losses occurred because of Ms. Sanders’s statements, rather than for any other unrelated reason,” the court said Nov. 19.

The court vacated the trial court’s award of $200,000 for reputational injury and $2,774,000 for injury to Sanders’ character and reputation, which included $2,000,000 for the termination of two endorsement contracts with Van Heusen and GMC, $500,000 for the cancellation of a reality television program, $200,000 for a reduction in the amount to be paid by the NFL Network, and $74,500 for investigation defense costs.

Sanders alleges that after his divorce in 2013, his ex-wife, Pilar Sanders, made statements on social media, in online videos, and on a national television news program, asserting that “he physically abused her and their children, had attempted to murder her, and had kidnapped at least one of their children,” the court said. He alleges these statements damaged his reputation and caused him economic damages.

Sanders played 14 seasons in the NFL, beginning in 1989, for the Atlanta Falcons, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington team and the Baltimore Ravens. He won two Super Bowl rings as a 49er and a Cowboy and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sanders also played in the MLB from 1989 until 2001 for the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves, the Cincinnati Reds, and the San Francisco Giants.

He is now the head football coach at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

Judge David J. Schenck wrote the opinion, joined by Craig Smith and Dennise Garcia.

Craig A. Jackson in Grapevine, Texas represents Pilar Sanders.

Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd & Hullett, PC represents Deion Sanders.

The case is Sanders v. Sanders, 2021 BL 446240, Tex. App., 5th Dist., No. 20-00395, 11/19/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com