DETROIT ( Associated Press) — A Michigan court has reopened a lawsuit filed by a former college gymnastics coach who alleges an ESPN reporter defamed him on Twitter and linked him to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar and a controversial coach.
The state appeals court’s 3-0 decision means the case will go to a jury trial in Isabella County unless both sides reach an agreement.
The court ruled Thursday that there was a lack of “minimal due diligence” by investigative reporter Dan Murphy when he referred on Twitter in 2019 to Jerry Reighard, who coached women’s gymnastics at Central Michigan University (CMU).
ESPN reported Friday that it will appeal the ruling. Murphy did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Murphy had tweeted that the Michigan Attorney General was investigating elite gymnastics coach John Geddert. He added that Geddert was a “close friend” of Nassar and had been accused of physically harming gymnasts.
Murphy quickly followed up with another tweet about Reighard:
“On the same day as the prosecution’s announcement, Central Michigan said it would be placing long-term gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard on furlough as part of an internal review. No details of the review were shared, but Reighard has a long personal and professional relationship with Geddert.”
CMU had stated that the Reighard affair had nothing to do with sexual misconduct or Nassar, who was convicted of sexual assault. But Murphy refused to retract the tweets, according to a summary of the dispute.
He also admitted that he did not attempt to contact Reighard or CMU before posting the tweets.
Weeks later, Murphy tweeted an update on the CMU review of Reighard, saying it was “not related” to the Nassar scandal or sexual misconduct.
Judge Eric Janes ruled in favor of ESPN and Murphy and dismissed the case, arguing that the initial tweets were substantially true. But the appeals court, in a 3-0 decision, said a jury would have to decide what happened.