Leach sues ESPN and PR Firm for Slander, Libel

Former coach Mike Leach sued ESPN Inc. and Spaeth Communications, a public relations firm, on Wednesday, November 24, accusing them of libel and slander after he was fired by Texas Tech amid accusations that he mistreated a player suffering from a concussion.

The suit, filed in Texas district court, claims the network’s coverage of Leach’s firing last year was “willful and negligent defamation” and that it failed to “retract false and damaging statements” it made from “misinformation” provided to ESPN by Craig James, the father of the Texas Tech player.

Leach attorney Ted Liggett said the former coach wants “to set the record” straight. “Mike Leach is adamant,” Liggett said. “Mike Leach wants his name cleared. His reputation has taken a severe hit and been tarnished.”

The libel suit, which also names Spaeth Communications as a defendant, claims that James hired the firm for “purposes of creating public opinion hostile to Leach.” The suit claims that Spaeth, which orchestrated the “Swift Boat” campaign against 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry, played a central role in leaking the video footage and accuses the firm of “creating public opinion hostile to Leach.” Liggett said Spaeth was behind the Internet posting of a video showing Adam James standing in a dark space as punishment by Leach.

When first contacted an ESPN spokesman said the company has “not seen the lawsuit and therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”. Rebecca Shaw, the  executive vice president of Spaeth Communications told the Associated Press that Leach’s suit is “the predictable strategy of a man who is desperate to avoid accountability for his own behavior.”

The university fired Leach last Dec. 30, two days after suspending him amid allegations he mistreated Adam James. Leach has denied the claim.

Adam James has said his coach twice ordered him to stand for hours while confined in a dark place during practice. On Wednesday, Liggett claimed that Adam James under oath said he thought it was “humorous” what Leach told him to do and that he didn’t think Leach should have been fired.

Ted Liggett, Leach’s attorney, said the 49-year-old former coach simply wants to clear his name. “His reputation has taken a severe hit and been tarnished,” Liggett told the Associated Press. “On a daily basis we’re still seeing stories across the country with accounts Leach claims are counter to the truth.”

Leach is already pursuing litigation against Texas Tech. His suit against the school, which charges the university with libel, slander, and breach of contract, is now in Texas appellate court after a lower-court judge ruled that the school does not have “sovereign immunity” from breach of contract claims. Last month, lawyers for Leach and Texas Tech appeared before a three-judge panel, which will decide whether Leach’s suit can go to trial.