The University of Missouri has settled the civil lawsuit for defamation and slander that South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley brought against Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk.
The settlement total is $50,000. Half of that will go to INNERSOLE, a non-profit Staley co-founded that provides needy children with sneakers. The other half will go toward Staley’s attorney fees.
The lawsuit, filed in Richland County, S.C., stemmed from comments Sterk made after the Mizzou women’s basketball team’s lost at South Carolina on Jan. 28.
Sterk was in attendance for the physical game, which included a scuffle between the two teams. He later told KTGR radio in Columbia that Missouri players were spit on and called racial slurs by fans. He said at the time that Staley "promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it's unfortunate that she felt she had to do that."
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Staley later called the accusations “serious and false,” and her lawyer, Butch Bowers, told The Star in February that Sterk’s "refusal to retract his statement and apologize for it left coach Staley with no choice but to protect her reputation and integrity."
In a statement released on Thursday, Sterk did offer an apology: “I do not believe Coach Staley would promote such conduct, and I sincerely apologize to her for those comments.”
Staley, in her own statement, said she accepted Sterk’s apology. She also said she looks forward to “moving past this with a continued spirited but positive competition amongst our programs.”
The $50,000 payment will be made by the University of Missouri, as Sterk made his comments “in good faith while performing his duties as a University employee,” according to a news release.
Though he apologized to Staley, Sterk stands by his claims that MU players and staff said they were spit on and called derogatory names on the day of that game at South Carolina. He said he bases that belief in experiences that student-athletes and staff shared with him.
Coach Robin Pingeton has not provided specific examples of what happened, but she appeared to choke up on Jan. 30, when a reporter asked her about what her team experienced at South Carolina. She said only that she was "really disappointed with some things that transpired."
“Those actions have no place at any sporting event, and I’m truly sorry that our student-athletes and staff had to endure that type of treatment,” Sterk said in a statement on Thursday. “My concerns about those incidents continue.”
In February, on the same day Staley's lawsuit against Sterk became public, Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey fined Sterk $25,000 for violating SEC Bylaw 10.5.1 during his interview with KTGR. The bylaw states that "coaches and administrators shall refrain from public criticism of other member institutions, their staff or players."
Sankey also mandated a SEC office-led review of South Carolina’s game management procedures and visiting team security. South Carolina’s athletic director, Ray Tanner — who had asked Sterk to retract his comments back in January — has previously said that an internal investigation did not confirm any of Sterk’s claims.
“I appreciate that the Southeastern Conference takes seriously the reports of our student-athletes about inappropriate language and actions directed at them, as well as their efforts to engage in a review of game management issues with South Carolina, which I understand is ongoing,” Sterk said.
“All of us, Mizzou and South Carolina included, have obligations to promote a respectful environment for all student-athletes to compete in," Sterk added. "It is my sincere hope that we continue to encourage appropriate behavior at all college sporting events. We must condemn that type of negative behavior wherever it might occur and take steps to ensure that no team has to endure type of hostile behavior moving forward. I hope that efforts following the January 28 game will move us toward those goals.”
MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright offered his support for Sterk on Thursday.
“Jim and his team have done a great job over the last two years, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him,” Cartwright said in a statement. “Additionally, we pledge our support to creating better environments for our athletic competitors and fans, to root for our players and teams, and to end the games respectfully.”