Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk has apologized to USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley and settled a defamation lawsuit with her regarding the two programs' heated game on Jan. 28. In a statement issued Thursday, however, Sterk said he stands by concerns that Tigers players and coaches were spit on, called racial epithets and subjected to verbal abuse by fans at Colonial Life Arena.
In a statement put out by the University of Missouri in conjunction with Staley's legal team on Thursday, Sterk said his comments on a radio show that Staley promoted an "unhealthy atmosphere" that led to fan misconduct were misconstrued, and added that he did "not believe coach Staley would promote such conduct."
In a separate statement, he reiterated that he still thinks that conduct happened, a point that is currently under investigation by the SEC.
“Immediately after the game, several of our student-athletes and staff shared with me experiences they encountered before, during and after our game at South Carolina, including incidents of being spit on, a racial epithet, and other derogatory comments,” Sterk said in the statement. “Those actions have no place at any sporting event, and I’m truly sorry that our student-athletes and staff had to endure that type of treatment.
“My concerns about those incidents continue. I appreciate that the Southeastern Conference takes seriously the reports of our student-athletes about inappropriate language and actions directed at them, as well as their efforts to engage in a review of game management issues with South Carolina, which I understand is ongoing.
“All of us, Mizzou and South Carolina included, have obligations to promote a respectful environment for all student-athletes to compete in. It is my sincere hope that we continue to encourage appropriate behavior at all college sporting events. We must condemn that type of negative behavior wherever it might occur and take steps to ensure that no team has to endure that type of hostile behavior moving forward. I hope that efforts following the January 28 game will move us toward those goals.”
The SEC fined Sterk $25,000 in February and "mandated a Conference office-led review of South Carolina’s game management procedures and visiting team security."
Staley made a point to show support for USC fans during an interview Thursday on WIS News 10.
"Our fans have been gracious; they've been kind. They've been spirited in a way that, yes, they cheer hard for our women's basketball teams, but they do appreciate good play, good sportsmanship; and I'm glad we finally got to a point where our names are cleared when it comes to playing basketball and supporting basketball in a place like Columbia, South Carolina, and at the University of South Carolina, a place like no other," Staley told WIS.
The series between the teams has been testy for more than a year, but grew increasingly heated this past season, as Mizzou fans reportedly called Staley and her players "thugs" during a physical contest in Columbia, Missouri, and a brief shoving match erupted between the two teams on the floor of Colonial Life Arena during the Jan. 28 game.
One of Staley's lawyer, Wally Fayssoux, responded to Sterk's second statement in an email.
"Nonsense. I stand by Dawn and our fans. His second statement is simply another vague accusation directed at the USC fan base void of fact or details," Fayssoux wrote.
"What I do know for a fact is that he made reckless comments that wrongfully accused Coach Staley of misconduct, and less than two hours ago he issued a statement retracting the comments and publicly apologized for saying what he knew to be untrue about Coach Staley. At this point, whatever else he believes or spats about concerning the South Carolina fan base matters very little. We know our Coach and we know our fans — Sterk's apology and subsequent comments speak for themselves."