South Carolina women's basketball head coach Dawn Staley announced Thursday that she's reached a settlement in her defamation lawsuit versus University Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk following comments he made after a tense game between the two SEC rivals earlier this year.
A $50,000 settlement and Staley says she will donate $25,000 of the settlement to INNERSOLE, a nonprofit organization Staley co-founded, and the other half will go to attorney fees. A statement from the University of Missouri says:
The University of Missouri has settled a lawsuit brought against its Director of Athletics, Jim Sterk, by South Carolina Head Women’s Basketball Coach Dawn Staley for $50,000. One half of the settlement will be paid to Staley’s non-profit INNERSOLE and the other half of the settlement to her attorneys.
“Following a very spirited and intense game I attended in late January between the nationally ranked Missouri and South Carolina women’s basketball teams, I made comments in a local radio interview that were construed to suggest that Coach Staley promoted the negative experiences of racial epithets and spitting,” Sterk said. “I do not believe Coach Staley would promote such conduct, and I sincerely apologize to her for those comments.”
“I accept his apology and I appreciate the contribution of $25,000 to INNERSOLE, a not for profit organization I co-founded that provides new sneakers to children who are homeless or in need,” Staley said. “I’m glad we can share in support of this worthy cause and I look forward to moving past this with a continued spirited but positive competition amongst our programs.”
In accordance with University policy, the lawsuit settlement will be paid by the University since Sterk made his comments in good faith while performing his duties as a University employee.
In her lawsuit filed in February, Staley cited the "defendant's tortious and defamatory statements" made by Sterk as the reason for the filing and requested a jury trial, in addition to seeking $75,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.
In addition, the lawsuit also cites these comments as "false, defamatory, reckless and made with actual malice in the defendant knew that his statement was false and still made it with a reckless disregard for the truth."
Following the Jan. 28 game at Colonial Life Arena vs. the Mizzou Tigers, accusations were made that South Carolina fans made derogatory comments toward Tigers players and even allegedly spat on them.
Sterk made comments about fan conduct - and Staley's role in an interview with KTGR Radio in Missouri days after the game.
"It wasn't a great atmosphere," Sterk said on Jan. 30. "It was really kind of unhealthy if you will. We had our players spit on, and called the N-word and things like that. It was not a good environment and unfortunately, I think Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it's unfortunate that she felt she had to do that."
The lawsuit cites Sterk's unwillingness to retract his "slanderous allegations" as the reason for the filing.
"Coach Staley has no choice but to bring this action to clear her good name and excellent reputation, along with the reputation of the South Carolina fan base who were also falsely impugned and maligned by the defendant's false comments," the lawsuit said.
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey issued a statement after the announcement of the lawsuit and later fined Stern $25,000 for his comments, saying they were a violation of SEC Bylaws.
We've reached out to the SEC for comment on Thursday's settlement.
The University of Missouri released a separate statement from Sterk, saying that his concerns behind the events "continue."
In addition, #Mizzou releases statements from Sterk about the incidents which led to the dust up between he and Staley and Sterk says “My concerns about those incidents continue.” pic.twitter.com/NsufvfZYZf— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) May 24, 2018
South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner also issued a statement regarding the settlement Tuesday night:
I'm pleased that Jim Sterk and the University of Missouri have reached out to apologize to Dawn Staley. Commissioner Sankey has made it very clear that we should not speak publicly about other coaches, schools, or game officials. Therefore, I will adhere to those instructions. However, I reiteriate that I'm very happy with how Colonial Life Arena is managed and operated. Our fans are very special and they display their passion and enthusiasm whenever we play. Go Gamecocks!
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