Former CMU gymnastics coach suing ESPN for defamation

Jerry Reighard claims 2019 tweet falsely connected him to Nassar scandal


Central Michigan University Gymnastics Head Coach Jerry Reighard watches a gymnast compete during exposition during the CMU vs. Illinois State University meet Jan. 11 at McGuirk Arena. 

Former Central Michigan University gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard is suing ESPN because of a tweet published during the university's internal investigation of the coach last year.

Reighard's attorneys filed a defamation lawsuit in Isabella County Circuit Court in March 2019. His attorneys, along with lawyers for ESPN, appeared in court Tuesday, Feb. 25, to proceed with the next phase of the lawsuit after spending the past year exchanging documents and information. 

The tweet in question was posted a day after Reighard was put on paid administrative leave by CMU on Feb. 20, 2019, during an internal investigation. Reighard claimed the tweet falsely connected him to the Larry Nassar scandal, despite the fact that the university's Athletics Department subsequently stated the investigation was not connected to Nassar. 

"Michigan's attorney general announced today her office is taking over an investigation of John Geddert, the 2012 Olympic team head coach and close friend of Larry Nassar. Several gymnasts have publicly [accused] Geddert of physically and mentally harming them," ESPN reporter Dan Murphy tweeted on Feb. 21, 2019. "On the same day as the AG's announcement, Central Michigan said it was putting longtime gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard on leave amid an internal review. No details of the review were shared, but Reighard has a long personal and professional relationship with Geddert."

Reighard's attorneys stated the tweet was false and defamatory, harming his reputation and "attempting to deter others from associating or dealing with him." The attorneys for Reighard said he did not have a personal relationship with Geddert, and that the coach's placement on administrative leave had nothing to do with Nassar or Geddart. 

Reighard's attorneys also claimed in the lawsuit that the tweet injured the former coach's trade, business and profession.

"As a direct and proximate result of (Murray's tweet), (Reighard) has sustained non-economic damages such as emotional distress, mental anguish, shock, fright, embarrassment, humiliation and disruption of lifestyle," the lawsuit stated.

Reighard is seeking $25,000 in damages and payment of his legal fees. He is suing both ESPN and Murphy, and is represented by Victor Mastromarco Jr. and Kevin Kelly, from the Saginaw-based Mastromarco Firm. 

Murphy and ESPN were represented by Erin Sedmak, of Lansing-based Dykema Gossett PLLC. 

The former gymnastics coach was fired from CMU April 18, 2019, after nearly two months of internal investigation. His dismissal came two weeks after the university delivered him a 121-page investigation report detailing the allegation that he told a gymnast to lie about an injury in order to compete. 

The defamation lawsuit will appear again in Isabella County Circuit Court on May 8, when the pending motions will be heard before Judge Eric R. Janes to consider whether or not to dismiss the case. 

If the case is not dismissed, there will be a case evaluation May 12, followed by a pre-trial conference June 12.