South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley settled her lawsuit against Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk on Thursday. The decision comes four months after Sterk went on a radio show and accused the Gamecocks coach of promoting a hostile fan atmosphere—back in January, when the two teams played at South Carolina, Missouri players reported being called the n-word and spat on by the home-crowd fans. Come February, after Sterk refused to apologize to Staley or retract his statement, she filed a defamation lawsuit against Sterk, calling for $75,000 in damages.
According to a Missouri press release issued on Thursday, because Sterk made the comments “in good faith while performing his duties as a University employee,” the university, not Sterk, will pay Staley $25,000 and contribute another $25,000 to Staley’s non-profit organization that provides shoes to children that are homeless or in need. Staley and Sterk released the following statements:
“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.”
Sterk then issued a separate set of statements, in which he said that “my concerns about those incidents continue,” and received a statement of support from Missouri chancellor Alexander Cartwright.
Sterk was already fined by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to the tune of $25,000 for spouting off on-air following the contentious January game. The lawsuit, and thus the settlement, could have been avoided had Sterk issued a public retraction of his statement soon after the incident; instead, he went on ESPN radio and claimed, “we’ve moved on,” and when pressed on the matter, responded, “In the words of the famous philosopher Forrest Gump, ‘That’s all I’ve got to say about that.’” Once Staley saw he wasn’t budging, she filed her lawsuit, and here we are.
I, for one, can think of no better way to spend $50,000 of public funds than on a petty beef between two public university employees that make a combined $3 million in salary and deferred compensation per year.