2021 | News

UPDATED: Takoma Torch, Olney baseball team call truce after dust-up over satire story

Baseball team’s attorney had sent cease-and-desist letter to humor website

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This story was updated at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 15, 2021, to include a statement about the settlement.

A feud between a soon-to-be baseball team in Olney and the satirical website Takoma Torch over a spoof story is over, attorneys for both parties said Wednesday.

Wednesday evening, Takoma Torch posted this statement on Twitter: “Today’s agreement between Takoma Torch and the Olney Community Baseball Team benefits both parties and our community as a whole. Rather than fight in court or in the court of public opinion, we agreed to work together to resolve our differences directly and personally. That resolution is intended to put an end to what has become a very divisive public dispute that doesn’t serve the community or the Boys and Girls Club, and particularly not baseball fans.

“We came together to put an end to an end to that dispute, and in doing so, neither side admitted any wrongdoing and neither side agreed to compensate the other or correct any previous action. Instead, we agreed to put the past behind us and commit to the future. That may include a joint community event to raise money for a local philanthropy. We’ll let you know!”

Earlier this month, Takoma Torch, a humor site, published an article about the team and a fictional website called “OlneyFans,” a play on OnlyFans, a subscription-based website that is known for pornography. 

The article, titled “OlneyFans Website for MoCo’s New Baseball Team Crashes Due to Unusually High Traffic,” contains double entendre sexual references with a baseball theme.

A lawyer representing the Olney baseball team, which is expected to start playing next year in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League, sent a cease-and-desist letter last week to Takoma Torch, demanding that it remove the article from the website and wherever it was shared.

The letter says the story caused “confusion in the marketplace” among people and sponsors who think the team was involved. “No one from or on behalf of Olney Baseball was contacted, interviewed, or consulted about the Article,” the letter — from Andrew Schwartz, an attorney from Stein Sperling, a law firm in Rockville — states.

But Eric Saul, founder of the Takoma Torch, stood his ground — arguing that since his article is satire, it is protected under the First Amendment.

Media experts have confirmed Saul’s position that satire is protected First Amendment speech.

Saul’s attorney, Jennie Gross, said in an interview Wednesday that the matter had been resolved.

“Both sides consider the issue resolved, and they wish each other well,” Saul’s attorney, Jennie Gross, said in an interview Wednesday. “… There is not a financial settlement. There is no further agreement other than the parties agree to move on from this.”

She added that the Olney baseball article and all other articles will remain on the Takoma Torch website.

Earlier in the day on Twitter, before the statement about the settlement was posted, Takoma Torch declared victory, saying “the OlneyFans drama has been resolved entirely in the Torch’s favor!”

“The First Amendment did what it was always meant to do: protect the right of a smart ass with a satire website to make all of the baseball/pornography jokes he wants,” one post said.

The satire site wrote that all money from the sales of “OlneyFans” T-shirts — “$500 and counting” — is being donated to the Olney Boys and Girls Club, adding, “Now go watch some live baseball in your community!”

Jeff Schwaber, a managing partner at Stein Sperling, said in a phone interview: “The matter is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and the parties wish each other well.”

He declined to comment further.

Saul said in an interview that he is glad the matter is resolved, that his freedom of speech has been protected and that he can continue to write articles on Takoma Torch.

“I thank my pro bono attorney for going to bat for me,” Saul said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com