Fumbled Call

The Bear Bryant–Wally Butts Football Scandal That Split the Supreme Court and Changed American Libel Law


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About the Book

Atlanta insurance salesman George Burnett found himself at the center of a football scandal when he overheard a phone conversation between University of Georgia athletic director Wally Butts and University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Butts seemed to be giving Bryant play formations that would help Alabama defeat Georgia 35-0 in the 1962 season opener.
When Burnett’s story was published several months later in The Saturday Evening Post, Butts and Bryant sued for libel. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court in an historic 5–4 decision—Butts v. Curtis Publishing expanded the legal definition of “public figures.”
Referencing more than 3,000 pages of letters, depositions and trial transcripts, the author reveals new information about this scandal and its resulting trial.

About the Author(s)

David E. Sumner is a professor emeritus of journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where he taught for 25 years. He has written seven books.

Bibliographic Details

David E. Sumner
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Bibliographic Info: photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7141-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3234-6
Imprint: McFarland

Book Reviews

“Fumbled Call is the fascinating tale of how an innocently captured conversation changed lives, livelihoods and the law of the land. A careful researcher with a flair for telling a story, David E. Sumner dodges the myths and runs down the truth, and the result is a courtroom drama about college sports, journalism and celebrity that should be of interest to all.”—Peter C. Canfield, Atlanta First Amendment attorney; “What do you get when mystery and scandal merges with college football legend? One hell of a book. Fumbled Call is Sherlock Holmes meets George Gipp. Riveting, spellbinding, unique.”—Jeff Pearlman, author of Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, and Iconic Life of Brett Favre and Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton.