Men’s college basketball referee John Higgins is suing Kentucky Sports Radio, accusing the show’s hosts of sharing his personal information and encouraging angry Kentucky fans to come after him for his officiating in the Wildcats’s Elite Eight loss to North Carolina.
Back in June, local law enforcement in Higgins’s home of Omaha announced that they had reviewed hundreds of voicemails he received from Kentucky fans and tagged several of them as violent or otherwise threatening for further criminal investigation. Today, Higgins filed a lawsuit in Nebraska district court against Kentucky Sports Radio and two of its employees, Matthew Jones and Drew Franklin. He alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business—his roofing company, Weatherguard, which operates with the website www.rooferees.com—and civil conspiracy.
Higgins claims that Weatherguard received more than 3,000 calls in the two days after the game, 75 percent of them from Kentucky area codes. Some individual numbers called as many as 40 to 50 times in one day, blocking actual business calls from getting through, per the lawsuit. Meanwhile, a flood of negative online reviews pushed Weatherguard from being the top-rated roofing company in Omaha to the last-ranked business in all categories. His 4.8-out-of-5 star ranking on Google became a 1.2, with 80 one-star reviews filed in a 24-hour period. (None of those reviews were traced to computers in the Omaha area; the majority were from Kentucky.) A total of 181 false reviews were ultimately discovered.
The local Better Business Bureau also received a series of complaints about Weatherguard, filed under the names “Calipari John” and “Adolph Rupp.” Further activity on Facebook—hundreds of negative comments and reviews—moved Higgins to take down the business’s page, and he began receiving threatening calls and voicemails at his unlisted home number until he canceled his family’s phone service. Five voicemails are excerpted in the lawsuit as examples of what Higgins received from Kentucky fans, including one that said, “You hear that garbage truck in the background over there? Wish you were in it personally” and another saying, “You should put a gun in your mouth and blow your own frickin’ brains out.”
The complaint notes that Jones and Franklin discussed Higgins repeatedly on Kentucky Sports Radio in the days after the Wildcats’s loss. Jones critiqued Higgins’s refereeing immediately after the game, calling it “putrid” and noting that he saw head coach John Calipari get visibly upset at some foul calls. (Calipari briefly called out the officiating in his post-game comments, saying, “You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance.”)
Jones brought up Higgins on the show the next day, including while reading a listener email that discussed leaving negative online reviews for Higgins’s roofing company, though Jones followed that by saying that doing such a thing would be wrong and constitute “harassment.” The lawsuit accuses Jones of changing his mind later in the show, though, when he read an email saying, “I was against trolling John Higgins. Then I went and saw the name of his roofing company.” Jones then told listeners: “Oh my goodness, you know what his roofing company name is? . . . Rooferees. [Laughter.] . . . Seriously. The name of his company is rooferees.com. [Laughter]. R-O-O-F-E-R-E-E-S.com. Rooferees. Now I still don’t think you should troll the guy, but now I have less sympathy if his name is Rooferees.”
Later that day, Franklin posted an article on the radio show’s website titled “No More John Higgins Please,” discussing his officiating. The next day, in a regular roundup post titled “Barleycorn’s Tuesday Top 10,” he noted that fans had been leaving negative reviews for Weatherguard: “John Higgins’ business is getting CRUSHED on its Facebook page. I won’t link the page because I don’t completely agree with attacking his side hustle, but, man, Big Blue Nation is destroying Higgins in the comments and reviews of the business.... If you can stand to watch it, here you go,” with a link to a video titled “John Higgins Sabotage of Kentucky” that showed a compilation of his calls from the game and ended with a picture of Higgins next to a truck with his roofing company’s name on it, with his business phone number and website printed next to it, as well as his home phone number and instructions to write a review of the company on Facebook with the right URL.
Franklin posted another article focusing on Higgins later that day, this one titled “Kentucky fans are really lighting up John Higgins’ roofing business,” which opened with a disclaimer: “We here at Kentucky-Sports-Radio-dot-com do not condone the activity from Big Blue Nation on John Higgins’ roofing company’s Facebook page. But like Big Blue Nation, we are still upset over some of Higgins’ calls in the UK-UNC game, so we can and we will read the activity on the Facebook page.” It went on to quote various negative reviews that had been left for the company after Kentucky’s loss. (Some described obviously made-up business exchanges with Weatherguard, such as a reviewer who claimed that Higgins had pooped on his roof instead of laying down shingles, while others only discussed his officiating without pretending to be about the company.)
“Okay, but seriously, Big Blue Nation: maybe stop doing this. It’s not a good look for us, especially the handful of comments wishing death,” Franklin’s post concluded. “Let’s chill just a little bit. You can make fun of him all you want here, and we will.”
The next day on the show, Jones read several negative Weatherguard reviews on air. He opened by saying that he did not “advocate” the reviews, but that “doesn’t mean it’s not funny.” He also noted that Higgins “opens himself up” to the reviews with Weatherguard’s website name: “He doesn’t [have to] name it Rooferees.”
The complaint can be read in full below: