HBO Wins in Mitre Defamation Suit Over ‘Real Sports’ Segment

real sports Lawsuit
Courtesy of HBO

A federal jury has handed a victory to HBO over Mitre Sports International’s claim that a September 2008 segment of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” misled viewers into thinking that its soccer balls were made by low-paid, underage children in India.

“We are delighted with the jury’s decision, which confirms what we have said since the beginning of this legal proceeding in the fall of 2008: This case was without merit, and the ‘Real Sports’ reporting was unimpeachable,” an HBO spokesman said in a statement.  “We couldn’t be prouder of the ‘Real Sports’ franchise and the award-winning work done over the past 20 years.

“We are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence.”

Jurors listened to weeks of detailed testimony and closing arguments in Mitre’s defamation suit, in what HBO’s attorney Dane Butswinkas said was “a trial based on suggestion, not a trial by evidence.” He repeatedly showed footage of children sewing soccer balls with a degree of precision that he surmised could not have been learned recently.

Among other things, Mitre contended that it does not produce soccer balls in Meerut, which is where the children were filmed, even though that may not have been evident to viewers due to editing. Mitre claimed that the 2008 segment was manipulated, and that in fact it has been working to stem child labor practices internationally.

The report was called both “Children of Industry” and “Childhood Lost,” and Mitre contended that the segment made it look as if it was unconcerned with the use of child labor. It sued in 2008, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Mitre’s lawsuit contended that even though the segment mentions that 10 international brands were made by child labor, it targeted only Mitre.