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South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley files defamation lawsuit against Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk

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“The Defendant falsely accused Coach Staley of promoting an atmosphere of racism and physical assaults against the Missouri fan base.”

South Carolina v Notre Dame Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

At the end of January, Mizzou’s Jim Sterk discussed hostile behavior he and the Tigers’ women’s basketball team encountered in a tense road game — one that featured a first-half brawl — against South Carolina. In the process, he seemed to blame South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley for a lot of the hostility.

“Yeah it wasn’t a great atmosphere. It was really kind of unhealthy, if you will. We had, you know, players spit on, and called the “n-word,” and things like that. I mean it was not a good environment, and unfortunately I think, you know, Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it’s unfortunate she felt she had to do that,” Sterk said via the radio show.

This incident came after Staley encountered similar hostility earlier in January in Missouri, near the end of an intense, physical basketball game.

The story died down a bit in recent weeks, as both sides went back to their own corners. But on Thursday afternoon, Staley filed a civil lawsuit against Sterk.

The text shared above:

The Defendant defamed Coach Staley by orally publishing to third parties that Coach Staley willfully and intentionally created an atmosphere at a college basketball game designed to incite riotous conduct and behavior by players and fans alike, which is false. More specifically, the Defendant falsely accused Coach Staley of promoting an atmosphere of racism and physical assaults against the Missouri fan base. Despite being given multiple opportunities to publicly retract those allegations, the Defendant has refused to do so, only further promoting and suggesting veracity in his patently false allegations.

Staley is seeking damages of $75,000.

Staley both played and coaches with a chip on her shoulder; her players certainly follow her lead, and when the crowd gets into that, it can certainly create hostility. But Sterk likely went too far in calling her out personally, especially considering Mizzou fans were barely any less hostile to Staley weeks before. It was silly for Sterk, after stewing on this for a couple of days, to say what he said to KTGR, and when called out on it, he indeed bit his tongue and took nothing back.

Whether a lawsuit is the right response or not is up for debate — it would be a shock if this weren’t settled out of court in the near future — but this was a misstep from Sterk, the first of his athletic director tenure, and he will be forced to reckon with it again. We’ll see how he responds.

It’s hard to strike the right tone when talking about this. There were obvious potential elements of racism and/or sexism at play here, and neither fan base covered itself in glory in that regard. But on the other hand,

You want a rivalry? Fan bases yelling at opposing players, athletic directors blaming opposing coaches, and law suits getting filed are good ways to set up a pretty good one. Now hopefully both fan bases mind themselves just enough so we can enjoy it.

UPDATE: The SEC is getting involved now.