South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner addressed remarks by Missouri’s Jim Sterk on Wednesday, a day after his counterpart alleged South Carolina fans used racial epithets and spat on Tigers players — and also accused coach Dawn Staley of fostering such an environment.
In a radio interview on Tuesday evening, Sterk discussed Sunday’s heated women’s basketball game between Missouri and South Carolina, a physical battle that featured an on-court scuffle and the subsequent ejection of two Tigers players. The Gamecocks won, 64-54, in a matchup that has quickly taken on the intensity of a rivalry.
For her part, Mizzou head coach Robin Pingeton took a diplomatic approach in her postgame press conference, simply saying that she was disappointed with some of the behavior she saw in the stands:
There’s no place in our game for that. Fans have got to be better. … All around. Our side. Their side. Fans have got to be better.”
But Sterk escalated the situation, levying specific accusations about slurs and spitting, and called Staley out for supposedly playing a role in it:
“It wasn’t a great atmosphere. 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 she felt she had to do that. It wasn’t good.”
South Carolina didn’t address the comments on Tuesday other than to deny wrongdoing by the fans, citing an internal investigation that didn’t turn up any evidence of the claims. But on Wednesday afternoon, Tanner pushed back directly, defending Staley while also noting that he’s spoken with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey about the matter:
“I can’t share more than that with you. It’s being addressed. There’s conversation ongoing about things that have been said and where we are. And, hopefully, we’ll get back to basketball real soon.”
“It’s a great environment for women’s basketball, so I think that it’s obvious that we would disagree with some of the comments that were made about our environment and maybe some comments that were directed at coach Staley are beyond the understanding for me. It goes without saying, what she has done outside of basketball speaks for itself.
Staley also got a chance to share her thoughts, saying the accusations were “serious and false” before launching into her own defense of the Gamecock fan base:
“Our fans are great. They’re loyal, they’re passionate, they understand basketball, they understand how to act in the stands. And if I could uproot them and put them in every women’s basketball arena, every coach that represented that particular fanbase would be tremendously proud of what they bring to the table. And I stand by our fans, I stand by what they represent, I stand by how they cheer, I stand every single thing that they bring to the building, because it’s appropriate and well within the rules of the game.”
Men’s basketball coach Frank Martin chimed in with support for Staley, too:
I don’t handle things very well when some1 attacks my family/friends.As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned not 2give ignorance my emotions.Ive learned 2invest my emotions 2love.I love what @dawnstaley stands 4&who she s everyday.I’ll stand w her & #GamecockNation everyday ❤️ u guys— Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) January 31, 2018
It’s mind-boggling that someone would attempt to slander Staley in this way, given the incredible amount of respect she has earned within the sport not just as a coach, Olympic medalist, and Hall of Famer, but also as a person. Her involvement in the South Carolina community, via her foundation and other charitable acts, has her beloved by Gamecock fans for more reasons than just the performance of the women’s basketball team. While accusations of fan behavior are often hard to verify and come down to circular he said, she said arguments, there’s no reason to suspect that Staley encouraged anything of the sort, or that she should be held accountable in some way. Criticize the fans, sure; but proof is required with an attack of this nature on such a luminary within the sport.
We’ll see if, and how, Sterk and Missouri respond.