Jahmel Binion, a Michigan man suffering from ectodermal dysplasia--a condition that can affect and even deform and alter a person's face and hair and nails and teeth--has filed a lawsuit against Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke, former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, seeking more than $25,000 in damages.
The lawsuit was filed based on an Instagram photo of Binion that Burke, O'Neal and the rapper had publicly mocked earlier this year. Initially, O'Neal posted a side-by-side photo of himself making a face alongside Binion's--who O'Neal also believed was making a face.
It turned out Binion wasn't making a face--that's how the Michigan man looked in real life. And so began the public mockery by the three celebrities and followers and the outcry that followed. Over 8.4 million people reportedly saw O'Neal's photo--which received over 17,000 likes and thousands of comments.
Burke and the rapper also joined in on Instagram teasing Binion--but both also later apologized for their actions after viewers and the media took the three to task. All three apologized in one form or another to Binion and Burke personally telephoned Binion, inviting the Michigan man to a Utah Jazz-Detroit Pistons game.
According to a Salt Lake Tribune report on Thursday, July 31, however, the celebrities' apologies weren't enough. Binion and his attorney opted to file suit this week. (That Burke, O'Neal and the rapper apologized to Binion several days after the media caught wind of the story was apparently the reasoning behind Binion's decision to sue.)
The reasons for the lawsuit are many, according to court papers filed in Michigan. “The defendants mocked and ridiculed the plaintiff, a person completely unknown to themselves in public forums where their activity would be widely disseminated,” the lawsuit said. “The defendants’ communications clearly implied that the plaintiff was an appropriate object of mockery, ridicule and shame” and “had the effect of lowering the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of those who respected the views and opinion of the defendants.”
Binion also started the Facebook group "Hug, Don't Judge" along with a family member following the mockery. It since has gained over 24,000 members. It was a public group everyone could join--until bullying comments reportedly caused the group's administrators to close the group's open status recently.
Binion, who has long since surpassed a life expectancy of five years since being diagnosed with the rare disease, has also become somewhat of a celebrity in Michigan, gaining ring-side access and a rousing introduction at a boxing match in Dearborn, Mich. thanks to a local promoter.
Burke has yet to comment on the lawsuit, filed months after Binion became a local and national celebrity. It's a curious case. That Binion himself posted a photo--and had it re-posted by O'Neal in a manner Binion's legal team deems embarrassing and with reckless disregard--illustrates a real problem here.
Is saying sorry enough though? It just goes to show you that anything you post on the Internet can become public fodder--even for a person as well-meaning and innocent as Binion at the time he released the photo in question. Waiting as long as Binion did to file a lawsuit, however, does raise questions about its validity going forward.