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Sports writer sues Nets coach John Calipari for ethnic remarks

July 15, 1997

PATERSON, N.J. (AP) _ A lawsuit filed by a Mexican-American reporter over a racial slur and other actions directed at him by New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari is an attempt ``to extract money for absolutely no legal reason,″ the team charged.

Attorneys for Dan Garcia of The Star-Ledger of Newark filed the lawsuit against the Nets and Calipari in state Superior Court on Monday. It alleges the sports writer suffered ``extreme humiliation and emotional distress″ because Calipari called him ``a Mexican idiot″ in an incident following a team practice March 20.

The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount in damages. However, Kenneth McElwee, one of Garcia’s attorneys, said today his research has revealed verdicts in excess of $5 million in similar cases.

Calipari publicly apologized for his comments, maintaining it was an ill-advised attempt at humor. He was fined $25,000 by the NBA.

McElwee said Calipari underplayed the significance of his remarks.

``Simply labeling this as a mere insult is wrong,″ he said today. ``This is hate speech that was designed to degrade and publicly stigmatize an American because of his ethnic origin.″

Garcia, who has covered the Nets the past nine seasons for the Star-Ledger, was vacationing in Utah and not immediately available for comment.

The suit charges Calipari and the Nets with four counts, including infliction of emotional distress, assault and negligence. It asks for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as any other relief deemed proper.

``This was Dan’s decision,″ Kevin Whitmer, The Star-Ledger sports editor, said in his paper’s Tuesday’s editions. ``It obviously means his assignment will change.″

The Nets confirmed they had been contacted by Garcia’s attorneys.

``In a letter to Michael Rowe, president of the New Jersey Nets, Mr. Garcia asked for $1 million as compensation for remarks made by John Calipari to Mr. Garcia last March,″ the Nets said in a statement issued by spokesman John Mertz.

``We were surprised and disappointed to receive that letter since Michael Rowe, on behalf of the Nets organization, and Coach Calipari publicly apologized to Mr. Garcia and he accepted our apology. Mr. Garcia’s threat of legal action is nothing more than an opportunistic ploy to extract money for absolutely no legal reason.″

Just prior to the incident, Calipari was being interviewed by New York Post reporter Fred Kerber in a parking lot at the college. The coach then gestured toward Garcia, who was talking to Mertz about 30 yards away.

Kerber reported that Calipari was complaining about media coverage and said ``Mexican idiot,″ along with an expletive, loudly enough for Garcia to hear.

Kerber said that started a scene that lasted for about 10 minutes, where Garcia said, ``I don’t appreciate any ethnic remarks,″ and Calipari responded, ``You can’t take a joke? If I’ve offended you, I apologize.″

Calipari also asked Garcia if he thought he was doing a good coaching job, to which Garcia apparently responded, ``No, I think you’re a 5-year-old coach.″

Kerber said the answer enraged Calipari, who said Garcia deserved to be punched for the comment.

Calipari read a public apology four days later, saying, ``I am sorry for the pain the remarks may have caused. I consider the matter closed.″

Garcia said at the time, ``If he apologized, that’s fine. He made a mistake. He’s apologized to me. Let him go on with the team.″

The Nets later issued a statement, saying the organization ``deplores any racial or ethnic remarks by any member of the organization or by anyone else.″

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