Former Central Michigan University Gymnastics Coach Wins Defamation Appeal Against ESPN – CBS Detroit

DETROIT (AP) – A Michigan court has reinstated a lawsuit brought by a former college gymnastics coach who claims he was defamed on Twitter by an ESPN reporter linking him to disgraced sports physician Larry Nassar and a controversial trainer.

The state appeals court’s 3-0 ruling means the case will go to a jury trial in Isabella County unless the two sides settle the matter.

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The court on Thursday found a lack of “minimal due diligence” on the part of investigative journalist Dan Murphy when he made a Twitter reference in 2019 to Jerry Reighard, who coached women’s gymnastics at Central Michigan University.

ESPN announced on Friday that it would appeal the decision. Murphy did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Murphy had tweeted that the Michigan Attorney General was investigating elite gymnastics coach John Geddert. He said Geddert was a “close friend” of Nassar and had been accused of physically assaulting gymnasts.

Murphy quickly followed up with another tweet about Reighard:

“On the same day as the GA announcement, Central Michigan said it was furloughing longtime gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard amid an internal review. No details of the exam have been shared, but Reighard has a long personal and professional relationship with Geddert.

CMU had said the Reighard case had nothing to do with sexual misconduct or Nassar, who was convicted of sexual assault. But Murphy refused to take down the tweets, according to a summary of the dispute.

He also admitted that he made no attempt to contact Reighard or CMU before posting the tweets.

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Weeks later, Murphy tweeted an update on CMU’s review of Reighard and said he was “unrelated” to the Nassar scandal or sexual misconduct.

Judge Eric Janes ruled in favor of ESPN and Murphy and dismissed the case, saying the initial tweets were essentially true. But the appeals court, in a 3-0 decision, said a jury should determine what happened.

“The implication that Reighard’s furloughing was linked to allegations that Geddert physically and mentally harmed gymnasts tended to damage Reighard’s reputation in ways that would lower him in the esteem of the community or deter third parties from associating or dealing with it,” the court said. mentioned.

Media lawyer Herschel Fink said he doubted the ruling would be widely applied to other cases.

“Any time you’re dealing with libel by implication, it’s going to be a very factual case. … But they found out here that the reporter had, in their own words, deliberately avoided the truth by not doing obvious research,” Fink said.

Reighard was fired by CMU, who had accused him of ignoring medical personnel in the injuries. His dismissal lawsuit is still active in Isabella County.

Nassar has worked at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He is serving decades in prison for crimes of sexual assault and child pornography. Geddert, a former U.S. Olympic coach, killed himself just hours after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced charges against him in 2021.

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