First reported by WISTV’s Caroline Hecker, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk on Thursday.
The suit follows a public spat between the two college athletics leaders that sprung from a January incident in which, during a particularly scrappy conference rematch that included at least one bout of shoving, South Carolina fans reportedly spat on Missouri players and called them the N-word. The Jan. 28 clash and ensuing spitting incident was the second game in a tense series between the two SEC squads—a couple weeks prior, South Carolina players accused Missouri fans of calling them “thugs” when they faced the Tigers in Columbia, Mo.
Staley is suing Sterk for $75,000 for “tortious and defamatory statements” he made following a Jan. 28 game between the two women’s basketball programs in which he posited that Staley actively encouraged the behavior of the fans.
In an interview with KTGR, the Missouri AD said “unfortunately, I think, you know, Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it’s unfortunate that she felt she had to do that.” Per the Post & Courier, Staley responded to Sterk’s comments three days later at a press conference ahead of the team’s rematch with No. 1 UConn, saying “I stand by our fans” and opining that Sterk’s “accusations are serious and false. And they will be handled in a manner reflective of those facts.”
The SEC didn’t complete a full investigation of the matter, instead having commissioner Greg Sankey offer a short statement confirming that he spoke with the athletic directors at both schools about the Jan. 28 incident. After South Carolina completed an internal investigation, the school’s athletic director, Ray Tanner, defended Staley, writing in a Jan. 30 statement that the university backed her and that South Carolina found “no confirmation of the alleged behavior directed at the visiting team by the fans at the game.”
After Sterk refused to publicly retract his initial comment—in an interview with ESPN radio on Feb. 1, he only said “we’ve moved on” and quoted Forrest Gump when asked about his statements—Staley moved forward with her legal action.
The full lawsuit, which was filed in Richland County where the University of South Carolina is located, can be read in full below, via WISTV.