The National Collegiate Athletic Association defamed former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair, cost him his job and derailed his career after he was wrongfully punished in the Reggie Bush case, his attorney told a jury Monday, but an NCAA lawyer countered that the mistakes the organization made still don’t prove the plaintiff’s case.
In his opening statement to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing the trial of McNair’s lawsuit against the NCAA, lawyer Bruce Broillet said the organization relied on a “recklessly constructed record” to build its case against his client by “misrepresenting facts” that led to conclusions contradicted by the evidence.
NCAA attorney Kosta Stojilkovic acknowledged that errors were made by people within the organization, including an employee who wrote in a private email that McNair was a “lying, morally corrupt criminal.” He said the email writer was not involved in the decision-making in McNair’s case, but that the comments nonetheless were “completely unacceptable” and that even NCAA President Mark Emmert found them inappropriate.
“The process was not perfect,” Stojilkovic said. “We are going to take responsibility for these mistakes throughout the trial.”
But Stojilkovic said McNair had ample opportunity to make his case through the hearing and appeals process. He also said McNair has done little to minimize his damages, having only reached out to a few friends for work instead of sending out numerous resumes to colleges.
McNair’s lawsuit, filed in June 2011, seeks unspecified damages for defamation, breach of contract and negligence.
McNair received a show-cause penalty from the NCAA, meaning that he had to receive permission from the NCAA for any recruiting he did for one year. Stojilkovic displayed for jurors 24 photos of other coaches, some of them more well-known than McNair, who received harsher punishment for rules violations, yet still found work afterward.
Stojilkovic also said that McNair’s defamation case was not very strong since it is based in part on email correspondence not widely disseminated.
“I think everyone has had at least one nasty email,” he said.
McNair spent six seasons at USC coaching running backs under former head coach Pete Carroll, but his contract was not renewed after the NCAA allegations. According to the lawsuit, the NCAA report stated that McNair knew about Bush’s relationship with two sports agents, San Diego sports marketers Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, who were providing Bush with benefits.
McNair said he was unaware of the relationship, and that the NCAA committed misconduct in its investigation.
“They rewrote the evidence to fit their needs and their needs were for severe sanctions against USC,” Broillet said.
However, the NCAA court papers say McNair’s statements were contradicted by Lake.
“Lake informed the NCAA that he first met McNair at a party in March 2005 attended by McNair, Bush and Lake,” the NCAA court papers state. “According to Lake, he and McNair socialized again in October 2005. Three telephone calls from McNair to Lake and a photograph corroborated his claim.”
Lake also maintains he spoke with McNair in January 2006 to get his help in persuading Bush to return the marketer’s money, the NCAA court papers state. But when interviewed a second time, McNair continued to deny he knew Lake, according to the NCAA.
McNair’s phone records show he spoke with Lake for about two minutes and that the coach had a lengthy conversation with Bush the same day, the NCAA court papers state.
“Notwithstanding McNair’s repeated protestations that a conversation with Lake did not occur, the (NCAA) committee found it implausible that McNair would have stayed on the phone in the middle of the night with a person he did not know,” the NCAA court papers state.
The NCAA states in its papers that the publication of its findings concerning McNair “is protected conduct because the reports reflect free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.”
McNair, now 52, played professional football with the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. He was hired as USC’s running backs coach in February 2004.
Bush was chosen by the New Orleans Saints as the number two overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. He went on to play for a few more NFL teams before retiring in December 2017.
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