According to the Washington Post, ex-head coach of the University of Louisville men’s basketball team, Rick Pitino, has filed a federal lawsuit against Adidas for deliberately damaging his reputation and causing him emotional distress. This suit comes in the midst of an ongoing federal investigation into Adidas executives allegedly conspiring with partner schools to attract top basketball recruits by offering illegal cash payments to the recruits and their families, essentially bribing the recruits. In the course of the investigation, Louisville was revealed as one of the schools involved in the conspiracy, with Rick Pitino allegedly having known and facilitating these payments. Investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation have produced documents claiming the ousted coach assisted in funneling $100,000 in cash from Adidas to Brian Bowen, a five star recruit who committed to Louisville. On October 16th, The Louisville Athletic Association voted unanimously to fire Pitino, most likely in light of this new development. Within hours of this announcement, Adidas terminated its personal services agreement with Pitino.
On October 17th, Pitino filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, denying all accusations of his involvement in the conspiracy. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages on the grounds that Adidas knew, or recklessly avoided knowing, that Coach Pitino’s reputation “would be seriously damaged by the perception […] that he was involved with the illegal and wrongful payment of money to recruits.” Pitino’s attorney also issued a statement explaining that the lawsuit has less to do with actual financial compensation as it does with clearing Pitino’s name. According to complaint, Pitino has been “vilified, ridiculed, and criticized in the local and national media” throughout this investigation, making it difficult and painful for Pitino and his family to appear in public, especially in Louisville. Consequently, Pitino has sold his house in Louisville and moved to Florida. Pitino stands by his claims of innocence, while the FBI continues to investigate him and his involvement in the payment of prospective college recruits.
Jason Colin is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).