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South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley is suing Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk for defamation after Sterk’s comments in a radio interview late last month.

Staley, who filed the lawsuit in Richland County, S.C., on Thursday, is seeking $75,000 for damages, according to a copy of the suit obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

The litigation stems from comments Sterk made to a Missouri radio station in the days after the Tigers’ 64-54 loss at South Carolina last month. Sterk told KTGR Radio that Missouri players were “spit on and called the N-word” at South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena, and placed responsibility for the “unhealthy” atmosphere on Staley.

“I mean, it was not a good environment and unfortunately I think Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere,” Sterk said in the radio interview. “It’s unfortunate that she felt she had to do that.” 

South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said a subsequent investigation had found “no confirmation of the alleged behavior directed at the visiting team by fans at the game,” while Staley referred to Sterk’s allegations as “serious and false.”

The lawsuit cites Sterk’s unwillingness to retract his statement in a second radio interview, this one on Feb. 1, as partial grounds for the litigation. It also claims that Sterk’s comments were “made with actual malice and with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.”

“After Mr. Sterk’s refusal to retract and apologize for his false and defamatory statements, Coach Staley was left with no choice but to respond to his attack on her character, reputation and integrity by holding him accountable for his disappointing and false statement,” Staley’s attorney, Butch Bowers, wrote in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “Mr. Sterk not only slandered Coach Staley but the Gamecock fan base as well, and she will not let him destroy in one day the sterling reputation she has spent a lifetime building.”

Athletic department spokespeople for Missouri and South Carolina did not immediately reply to requests for comment from USA TODAY Sports.

Contact Tom Schad at or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.


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