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Writer’s lawyer says coach’s remark was ‘hate speech’

July 15, 1997

PATERSON, N.J. (AP) _ A racial remark by New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari toward a Mexican-American reporter was ``hate speech,″ a lawyer representing the writer in a lawsuit against the team said Tuesday.

Dan Garcia of The Star-Ledger of Newark claims in his lawsuit that he suffered ``extreme humiliation and emotional distress″ because Calipari called him ``a Mexican idiot″ in a confrontation after a team practice at Ramapo College in Mahwah on March 20.

The lawsuit against the Nets and Calipari was filed Monday in state Superior Court. The team called it an attempt ``to extract money for absolutely no legal reason.″

The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount in damages. But Kenneth McElwee, one of Garcia’s attorneys, said Tuesday 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,″ the lawyer said. ``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 was not immediately available for comment.

``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.″

A statement issued by Nets spokesman John Mertz said Garcia had written to team president Michael Rowe asking for $1 million in compensation.

``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,″ the statement said.

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 10-minute confrontation in which 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 read a public apology four days later. Garcia said at the time, ``He’s apologized to me. Let him go on with the team.″

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