MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (WJRT) - CMU's former gymnastics coach gets a legal victory as a state court reinstates a defamation lawsuit against ESPN.
Jerry Reighard was suspended by CMU in 2019 over an allegation he told a student-athlete to lie about a concussion and was eventually fired.
He is suing the school for wrongful termination, but in a separate lawsuit, he is accusing ESPN and a reporter of defamation.
The defamation claim has new legal life. An Isabella County Circuit Court dismissed that lawsuit earlier. That decision was appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and the three judges ruled that a jury should decide if this is defamation.
"I devoted my life to Central Michigan University," says Reighard.
He coached gymnastics for 45 years, 35 of them at Central Michigan University. That career ended when he was suspended by CMU and he is suing the school.
"I believe that he was wrongfully terminated, that there was discrimination that went on," says his attorney, Victor Mastromarco.
That lawsuit is still working it's way through the Isabella County courts.
When news broke that Reighard was suspended, ESPN reporter Dan Murphy put out two tweets, that Reighard says linked him to convicted gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser and former Olympic head coach John Geddet, a close friend of Nasser's, even though CMU said Reighard's suspension was not connected at all to Nasser.
Reighard sued Murphy and ESPN for defamation.
"It demoralized me and it has for the past three years, but more importantly, what I preached was questioned, my integrity was questioned, and for ESPN to link me to a convicted pedophile was unconscionable," says Reighard.
In 2020, Reighard's defamation lawsuit was dismissed, but this week, the Michigan Court of Appeals has reinstated that lawsuit, saying it found a lack of "minimal due diligence" by Murphy and that a reasonable person could infer that connection between Reighard and Nasser.
"It was a big relief for me and again my family to know, the legal system works and the judges saw what actually happened and was committed by ESPN," says Reighard.
"It holds new agencies that are using platforms such as Twitter, accountable," says Mastromarco.
Mastromarco agrees with the court's finding.
"The link was very clear there, and certainly its a question of fact for a jury, as to what exactly what was going on there, but I don't think they are going to have a hard time with it," says Mastromarco referring to a potential jury.
Mastromarco says the court's ruling should send a warning to all the media.
"You just can't sit there and put something out on a social platform that is going to go all over the world," he says.
"My real hope is that this kind of defamation will stop," says Reighard.
ESPN has released a statement saying the network continues to believe the trial courts decision was the correct one and it fully intends to appeal this decision from the court of appeals.