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Mizzou AD settles lawsuit filed by South Carolina coach Dawn Staley over ‘defamatory statements’

Tigers AD Jim Sterk accused her of perpetuating a hostile environment in February.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Women's Final Four-Mississippi State vs South Carolina Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The lawsuit filed by South Carolina women’s head basketball coach Dawn Staley against Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was settled for $50,000 on Thursday, three months after the original suit was filed. The suit was in response to comments Sterk made suggesting Staley incited fans to act in the rowdy nature they did when the Gamecocks and Tigers met on Jan. 28.

The Gamecocks head coach filed the lawsuit for $75,000, according to WISTV Channel 10’s Tanita Gaither, citing the “defendant’s tortious and defamatory statements.” The SEC had reprimanded and fined Sterk $25,000, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dave Matter. The conference has also mandated a review of South Carolina’s game management procedures and security for visiting teams.

What all happened here?

The Gamecocks defeated the Tigers, 64-54, in a late January matchup, but the game had some chippiness. Specifically, there was one moment late in the game where a South Carolina and a Missouri player fell to the ground while jostling for a loose ball. That escalated into a larger scuffle, which led to Gamecocks’ Doniyah Cliney punching a Tigers player in the face.

Here are multiple angles of the altercation:

Missouri’s athletic director, Jim Sterk, later appeared on the Jan. 30 episode of KTGR 100.5 FM’s The Big Show Podcast, where he voiced his displeasure with the atmosphere created when the Tigers visited the Gamecocks. He revealed that some of his players were spit on and had racial slurs thrown at them. Sterk also said is was Staley who helped create that environment.

“Yeah it wasn’t a great atmosphere. It was really kind of unhealthy, if you will,” he said. “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.”

The atmosphere in the arena is one thing, but blaming the head coach for perpetuating that type of behavior is another. South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner defended his head coach when he addressed Sterk’s allegations in late January.

“Her involvement in this community, her personal foundation. She lives the talk,” Tanner said, via SB Nation’s Gamecocks blog, Garnet and Black Attack. “She’s not just a coach that gets out front once in a while. That is her lifestyle. We all know who she is. We certainly know what she stands for and we’re extremely proud of what she’s done her, so comments that were made, we don’t understand that and only Jim Sterk can explain his reasoning.”

And Staley addressed Sterk’s accusations head-on, calling his comments “serious and false” before defending Gamecocks fans in early February.

“Our fans are great,” she said, according to a local South Carolina news outlet. “They’re loyal, they’re passionate, they understand basketball, they understand how to act in the stands. And if I could uproot them and put them in every women’s basketball arena, every coach that represented that particular fanbase would be tremendously proud of what they bring to the table. And I stand by our fans, I stand by what they represent, I stand by how they cheer, I stand every single thing that they bring to the building, because it’s appropriate and well within the rules of the game.”

Now that the lawsuit is settled and Sterk has apologized, it appears as though everyone can move on. These two teams will have to play each other again next season though, so all of this will most certainly be brought up again.