Local News

Ex-Lacrosse Coach Files Slander Suit Against Duke

Posted January 23, 2008 5:02 p.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2008 6:28 a.m. EST

Mike Pressler, the former coach of the Duke lacrosse team, says disbarred prosecutor Mike Nifong pursued the case for his own ambitions and political gain.

— Former Duke University men's lacrosse coach Mike Pressler filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday against the university and John Burness, the school's senior vice president for public affairs.

Pressler claims Burness falsely told a Newsday reporter that the decorated lacrosse coach was fired because "he had not adequately supervised his team," which was at the center of the high-profile criminal investigation into an exotic dancer's claims that three lacrosse team players raped her.

The complaint alleges that Burness "drew defamatory contrasts between" Pressler and Duke's new lacrosse coach, John Danowski, saying the difference between the two coaches was "night and day."

"These slanderous statements were published in that Defendant Burness knowingly communicated these slanderous statements to a third person with the intent that the third person spread the slanderous statements to the general public through 'Newsday,' The Associated Press and on the Internet for all the world to see," the complaint said.

Duke issued a statement Wednesday night in which Vice President and General Counsel Pamela Bernard said, “As we have said before, Mr. Pressler reached a fair and final financial settlement with Duke University in 2007. There is no merit to this lawsuit and it is yet another attempt to reopen a settled matter.”

Pressler's complaint also cites a June 7, 2007, statement to The Associated Press in which Burness wrote that Pressler's termination "was essential for the team to have a change of leadership in order to move forward."

The statements, according to Wednesday's court filing, "directly and proximately caused Coach Pressler to suffer actual damages in the form of ridicule, humiliation, public contempt, loss of reputation, damage to his business, profession and means of livelihood and monetary, economic and business loss.

Pressler was forced to resign on April 5, 2006, shortly after Durham police began investigating the rape allegations. As Bernard said, he and Duke reached an undisclosed financial settlement in March 2007. Pressler claims Burness' comments about him broke that agreement.

Last week, Pressler withdrew a request for the court to cancel a confidentiality agreement between himself and the university. His attorneys decided, instead, on the suit they filed Wednesday.

He now coaches at Bryant University in Rhode Island and helped write a book last year, "It's Not About the Truth," about his experience in the lacrosse case.