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Dawn Staley files defamation suit against Missouri athletic director

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley reacts after calling a timeout during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley has filed a defamation suit against Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk for his comments following a game between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Sterk said in a January radio interview that Staley had promoted an environment that led to South Carolina fans allegedly hurling racial slurs at Missouri women’s basketball players following South Carolina’s Jan. 28 win over Mizzou in Columbia, South Carolina. Staley has taken such issue with that statement that she filed the suit in Richland County (South Carolina) court for slander on Thursday.

WIS-TV in South Carolina obtained a copy of the suit. The former WNBA All-Star and United States National Team star is asking for $75,000 in damages and says Sterk’s comments about her role in the incident are “false, defamatory, reckless and made with actual malice in that [Staley] knew that his statement was false and still made it with a reckless disregard for the truth.”

According to Sterk, Missouri players were allegedly spit on as well. Here are his comments to KTGR in Columbia (Missouri), on Jan. 30. 

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

The lawsuit also states that “despite being given multiple opportunities to publicly retract those allegations, [Sterk] has refused to do so, only further promoting and suggesting veracity in his patently false allegations.”

The Mizzou AD was unable to be reached for comment by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

After Staley’s suit became public, the SEC announced Thursday afternoon that Sterk had been reprimanded and fined $25,000.

“Both Missouri and South Carolina have cultivated highly successful women’s basketball programs, which enjoy tremendous fan support and have earned the respect of this office,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement.  “While we always appreciate a healthy level of competitive intensity on the court, there is no place in this league for discord inside or outside of the arena. I have had multiple conversations over the past few weeks with representatives of both schools about the problems emanating from their January 28 game and it has been my desire for those issues to be mutually resolved between the athletic programs and individuals involved. Unfortunately, a mutual resolution does not appear imminent.  Our hope is that we can direct our focus back where it belongs – on our student-athletes and on-court competition.”

Sterk’s fine comes as the league said he violated a bylaw that prohibits “public criticism of other member institutions, their staff or players.” It’s noteworthy that the SEC issued a statement about the feud between Missouri and South Carolina on Feb. 1 after Sterk’s comments and didn’t announce a penalty.

The league said it’s also assigned two staffers to work with South Carolina on a review of game management procedures.

“We take seriously the reports from Missouri’s student-athletes about inappropriate language and actions directed at them by individual fans, and appreciate South Carolina’s willingness to engage in a full review of fan behavior from January 28.  Our goal is to explore additional mechanisms for enhancing each visiting team’s experience before, during and after competition.  Any lessons learned on ways to improve sportsmanship, hospitality and team security will be shared across the SEC,” Sankey said.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!