Rebel Rags, a retail store in Oxford, Miss., filed a defamation suit against Laremy Tunsil’s stepfather Lindsey Miller and former Ole Miss football recruits Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones this past Friday in an attempt to clear itself of involvement in the program’s booster scandal.
The suit is a response to statements the trio made in their interviews with the NCAA during its investigation of Ole Miss’s football program, in which all three claimed Rebel Rags, which is unaffiliated with the university, worked with football coaches to provide them with free Ole Miss merchandise during their recruitment processes. The store countered last week by suing the trio for “defamation, slander, conspiracy and commercial disparagement stemming from false statements made to the NCAA,” per the lawsuit.
According to the second Notice of Allegations the school received—allegation No. 9, to be specific—university employees were responsible for providing Miller and the two players, then high school prospects, with “approximately $2,800 in impermissible recruiting inducements in the form of free merchandise.” In its Notice, the NCAA claimed former Ole Miss coach Chris Kiffin and staffer Barney Farrar assisted Miller, Lewis, and Jones in obtaining free apparel.
The NCAA also alleged the store was knowledgable of the deal, naming Rebel Rags as “Booster 8” in the public document and store owner Terry Warren as “Booster 9,” per Yahoo Sports. The Level I violations are alleged to have occurred between Jan. 25-27, 2013, then again between March 28, 2014 and Jan. 31, 2016.
Lewis and Jones—now teammates at Mississippi State—reportedly told NCAA investigators they both received hundreds of dollars in free merchandise, the school denied the allegations in its response to the NCAA last week, writing that there is “no proof that corroborates the claims” and positing “not a single witness corroborates these claims – in fact, every other witness denies it.” Kiffin and Farrar have also denied the NCAA’s allegations, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Charles Merkel, the store’s lawyer, told Sports Illustrated that Rebel Rags “has caught the broadside of lies.” Merkel said the store—whose business is largely focused on the sale of Ole Miss athletics products—is at risk of losing a significant amount of foot traffic as well as the existing licensing deals it maintains with the university by being connected to the NCAA investigation. The lawsuit claims “multiple customers” have since informed Rebel Rags “they will no longer do business”with them due to their negative impact on the Ole Miss athletic department.
As pointed out by both Merkel and the lawsuit, should Rebel Rags’ case make it to court, Lewis, Jones, and Miller could all be required to provide evidence and give their accounts under oath, a stipulation missing from the NCAA’s in process. While the university is also rebutting the NCAA’s claims, restrictions in place due to its membership in the organization make it difficult for it to file a similar defamation lawsuit. Instead, Ole Miss will go through a protracted back-and-forth set in place by NCAA investigative guidelines.
Neither of the players or their legal representation have offered a response to the lawsuit; Miller’s lawyer told SI he plans to mount a “vigorous defense” in court.