(CN) — South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley claims in court that Missouri’s athletic director slandered her when he suggested she created an atmosphere that encouraged fans to spit on his players and use racial slurs.
The controversy began a day after South Carolina 64-54 victory over Missouri on Jan. 28. Asked about the game by a radio interviewer, Missouri A.D. Jim Sterk said “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.”
Staley responded by calling the accusations aired on KTGR radio in Columbia, Missouri “serious and false.”
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner investigated the alleged incidents, interviewing employees and others who were at the arena during the game and found no evidence of spitting or racial slurs.
He then asked Sterk to retract his comments, but when the Missouri athletic director next appeared on the radio, he neither took back his earlier statement nor apologized.
Instead he said he was simply moving on.
In a complaint filed Thursday in Richland County, South Carolina, Staley said the comments were particularly hurtful because they were picked up by national media outlets such as ESPN, the Washington Post and the New York Daily News, resulting in a fierce public reaction that diminished her reputation in the world of women’s basketball.
“Because the Defendant will not retract the slanderous allegations and has flatly refused to admit the falsity of the same, Coach Staley has no choice but to bring this action to clear her good name and excellent reputation, along with the reputation of the South Carolina fan base,” the complaint says.
Staley seeks $75,000 in damages.
A telephone call to the University of Missouri’s public relations department was not immediately returned.
Also on Thursday, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey fined Sterk $25,000 and reprimanded him for publicly criticizing Staley.
Sterk broke a conference rule banning public criticism of other member institutions, their staff or players, Sankey said in a statement that also said SEC officials would review how South Carolina handles its crowd during games.
“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,” Sankey said.