COLUMBIA — “I do not believe coach Staley would promote such conduct, and I sincerely apologize to her for those comments.”
That’s all Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk ever had to say. Because he didn’t at the time, and because he refused to do so in the three months since, it wound up costing Sterk $25,000, his school $50,000 and each a lot of embarrassment.
Sterk and Missouri publicly apologized Thursday to South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley for alleging that she promoted a hostile environment when her Gamecocks beat Missouri on Jan. 28, and Missouri paid $50,000 to settle Staley’s lawsuit brought against Sterk on Feb. 22. The money will be evenly split between Staley’s attorneys and Staley’s Innersole initiative, which provides new sneakers to underprivileged youths.
“We are very pleased with the settlement. We believe that coach Staley’s name and reputation has been vindicated, and that’s what this was all about in the first place,” attorney Butch Bowers told The Post and Courier. “Coach Staley is an icon in the world of basketball, and anybody that knows her knows she would never promote that kind of toxic atmosphere.”
That’s what had Staley and USC athletics director Ray Tanner stunned when the whole mess began on Jan. 28. It was one thing for the Tigers to accuse fans at Colonial Life Arena for spitting on their players and using racial epithets — something claimed by former Missouri player Sierra Michaelis, who attended the game, and by Sterk and Missouri’s radio crew — but when Sterk blamed Staley for encouraging it, he crossed a line.
“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,” Sterk said on a Missouri radio program on Jan. 30.
The saga ended Thursday, after it took a lawsuit to get an apology.
Staley accepted and said, “I’m glad we can share in support of this worthy cause and I look forward to moving past this with a continued spirited but positive competition amongst our programs.”
Sterk refused to apologize after he made his original comments, even in meetings between he, Tanner and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. When Staley filed the lawsuit on Feb. 22, the SEC fined Sterk $25,000 three weeks after the fact and ordered a review of Colonial Life Arena’s security procedures, but otherwise washed its hands of the affair.
The review of CLA, Tanner confirmed to The Post and Courier, took place earlier this month. There has not been any correspondence from the SEC to USC about any changes it needs to make in its security protocol.
Missouri will pay the $50,000, since it ruled that Sterk was acting in good faith as an employee of the school.
"He was able to come up with a sincere apology and we were happy to get this case resolved,” said Bowers, who also thanked attorney Wally Fayssoux for his help. “We feel like we made lemonade out of lemons — not only did we get an apology that was deserved, but we were also pleased that he and the University of Missouri is paying for 5,000 pairs of sneakers for deserving kids.”
The Jan. 28 game was the latest in a series of intense games between USC and Missouri and followed a Mizzou win on its home court earlier in the season. Peeved by the Tigers’ physical play, Staley was ejected from that game and sounded off about the “non-basketball” plays afterward.
The Jan. 28 game featured an on-court tussle between the teams and Tigers star Sophie Cunningham shoving National Player of the Year A’ja Wilson in the back after the final whistle. The teams will play at least once this year, and if the SEC sticks to its usual scheduling, the game will be at CLA.