Longtime TWT, Washington Star Sports Reporter Dies

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By Patrick Tutwiler Comment

Dick Heller, a native Washingtonian who wrote about District sports for more than 5 decades has died. Heller wrote for The Washington Times as well as the Washington Star and the Alexandria Gazette. He was also pivotal in a key Appeals court case regarding freedom of speech. From the WaPo obit:

In 1977, when the University of Maryland had one of the top men’s basketball teams in the country, The Washington Post published a story highlighting the players’ dismal academic records. Mr. Heller, then a columnist at the Star, went a step further, publishing the names of four players, with their photographs prominently displayed.. .Six members of the team sued Mr. Heller and the Star… for invasion of privacy, publishing confidential university records and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The players asked for $72 million in damages.

In 1979, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a lower-court decision and ruled in the papers’ favor in the case, known as Bilney v. Evening Star.

The players “achieved the status of public figures solely by virtue of their membership on the University basketball team,” the court ruled. “Their possible exclusion from the team — whether for academic or any other reason — was therefore a matter of legitimate public interest.”

Bilney v. Evening Star remains an important case in First Amendment law and has been cited in legal proceedings, textbooks and courses in media law.

You can read Heller’s whole obituary here.