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ESPN Cleared of Causing Firing of College Coach

(CN) - Former ESPN announcer Craig James did not cause Texas Tech University to fire Mike Leach as its head coach, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Leach was fired in 2009 after 10 seasons coaching the Red Raiders. That December, ESPN reported how James' son, Adam, a player on Leach's team at Texas Tech, complained that Leach had "twice confined him to small, dark spaces while the team practiced" after he suffered a concussion.

Nearly a year after he sued Texas Tech, Leach sued James, ESPN and Spaeth Communications Inc. for defamation, tortious interference and civil conspiracy.

In a recent ruling affirming judgment for the defendants, the 7th District Court of Appeals notes that Leach had admitted that he instructed a subordinate to "lock [the athlete's fucking pussy ass in a place so dark that the only way he knows he has a dick is to reach down and touch it."

James was directed to stand in the dark equipment shed during one practice and in a dark media room for the next practice.

The ruling quotes Leach as saying that James "had been a distraction and was violating team rules, so I wanted him away from the team."

It was Craig James, a college football analyst for ESPN and former football star at Southern Methodist University, who contacted university officials and demanded that they fire Leach, according to the ruling.

Texas Tech reprimanded Leach after an investigation, but the coach's refusal to apologize led to a suspension. After Leach approached the media about the controversy, Texas Tech fired him.

Leach did not appeal the dismissal of his defamation claims, focusing instead on trying to revive his tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims.

The Amarillo-based court found on Nov. 21, however, that "accusing an employee of impropriety and demanding his termination does not ipso facto mean the allegation proximately caused the employee's termination."

Leach did not present evidence that the university made its decision as a result of pressure from Craig James, according to the nine-page opinion.

"Nor does he attempt to illustrate that a rational juror could infer that calling a concussed player a 'fucking pussy ass' and requiring that athlete to stand for long periods of time in a darkened room since he was 'a distraction' who 'defied team rules' was insufficient basis to warrant discipline or termination," Chief Judge Brian Quinn wrote for a three-person panel.James, who played for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, left ESPN to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost the election, and anti-gay comments James made during the campaign led Fox to back out of plans to hire him.

The Texas Supreme Court killed Leach's wrongful-termination suit in 2012. Leach failed earlier that year to reach a settlement with the Texas Tech Board of Regents. Days after making his settlement offer, Washington State University hired Leach as its head football coach.

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