Audrey Sterling may not have been able to dribble or shoot, but she enjoyed the prestige and privilege of being an NBA wife, basking in the reflected glory of her husband, former player and now lead assistant coach of the Toronto Raptors, Adrian Griffin. Until she didn’t, when the couple divorced in 2015.
While Griffin’s star continued to rise as his combination of skill as a coach and ability to work with players made him as sure a bet for a head coaching position as could be, Sterling no longer was part of that world, and she was pissed. But what could she do to improve her circumstances, or at least bring her ex-husband down in jealousy and revenge?
Enter #MeToo, the opportunity to do no more than level outrageous accusations against Griffin on Twitter and bask in the new prominence of victimhood, as set forth in a defamation action* in the Southern District of New York.
Plaintiff Adrian Griffin brings this libel action as the victim of a vicious campaign of lies by the Defendant, his ex-wife, Audrey R. Sterling. Her attack was launched by a Tweet on August 13, 2020, in which Defendant falsely accused Plaintiff of failure to pay child support and vivid accusations of horrifying physical abuse by Plaintiff. These were all lies, completely fabricated to take advantage of the current online climate where a woman’s unsupported accusation would be inherently believed, no matter how false or far-fetched. Sterling knew her accusations to be false. She made them anyway, and persisted in making them, using the now-common trope that athletes can get away with anything.
In a twit, as Sterling was about to lose the support payments she was getting from Griffin after she moved in with her boyfriend, she seized the chance to turn herself into the new status hero by the potent weapon of a social media accusation.
spent 22+ years keeping the abuse under wraps. I’ve lived within the realm of the nba for 20+ years. There is no desire for clout from me. Before breaking my silence I privately went to the NBA and the Raptors in October and November of 2019 about my ex-husband continual abuse and nothing was done. But enough is enough. Everyone has their breaking point, and with his recent actions I had to come forward.
Would anyone doubt her, challenge her? So what if Griffin denied it, as that’s exactly what you would expect an abuser to do. The #MeToo climate dictated that accusation, whether real or the lies of a woman scorned, be believed. The only two people who refuted Sterling’s claims were the couple’s two eldest children, both of whom backed their father. From his daughter:
I see that my mother’s story of lies has caught your eye. Please stay blessed and highly favored, not all you read on the internet is true…I have been dealing with my mother’s shenanigans for years now. Constantly having her back even when she’s in the wrong, I have always stuck up for her. In fear that every time my dad left on the road my life would be hell…I am grateful and beyond blessed. I could not have asked for a better father, dad, mentor spiritual guider. [Plaintiff’s social media handle] you did one heck of a job raising me as a father and I hope you know I am proud to call you my father.
From his son:
I’m not here to choose sides I’m here to speak the truth about my father. My father has never told any of us to hate our mother. My father has payed child support for over the past 5-6 years. My father has never done anything to harm us children. He has always been a father to us children no matter what. From the time we were kids and now as young adults he has never been abusive towards any of us. All he wants from his children is for us to do things the right way. My father is a hard-working man. It runs in the family as all of us GRIFFINS are.
His current team, the Raptors, didn’t fold in the heat of the moment, but the damage was done. While Griffin still held his position as lead assistant coach, his chance to break into the ranks of an NBA head coach evaporated. Nobody needed to take the risk of hiring an accused abuser.
Plaintiff was a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions in recent off-seasons. He would have obtained a head coaching position, he was informed, if not for the publicized attacks by Defendant.
Was it just about an ex-wife bringing down her husband with weaponized lies on social media? Not exactly.
Plaintiff contacted Defendant in an attempt to peacefully request that Defendant refrain from making false accusations and creating social media drama. Plaintiff urged Defendant to consider the Parties’ children, the effect her lies had on his career and his ability to further support their four children. Defendant’s response revealed her true motivation behind her libelous attacks: Defendant told Plaintiff he would have to pay her $500,000.00 to secure the peace he sought for his family and their shared children.
Griffin had two choices, suffer the taint that would end his ascent to a head coaching position or pay off Sterling to stop the lies, although paying for silence doesn’t guarantee future silence when the money runs out.
It seems unlikely that Griffin’s suit will bring him a damage award of much consequences. Sterling doesn’t have the ability to pay, and it’s likely not about money at all. Rather, Griffin found himself in the untenable position of being falsely accused of heinous conduct at a time when a million unduly passionate zealots will believe any accusation by a woman against a man, and there is no means by which to challenge the lies. What else could Griffin do but sue and put the falsity of Sterling’s accusation before a court where he could get a chance to vindicate himself and remove the taint?
Will it work? Is it a sufficient remedy for bald accusations? Even if Griffin wins, the taint of having been accused will still emit an unpleasant smell, because who can be sure? There is no burden on Sterling to prove that there is any truth to her claims; the burden in social media is on the accused to prove the negative, that these accusation didn’t happen. That, of course, is hard, if not impossible, to do.
But what of Adrian Griffin’s years of hard work to reach the pinnacle of NBA coaching by maintaining a reputation as an outstanding coach and human being? Tough nuggies, the unduly passionate respond. So what if some innocent men are ruined by lies. That’s the price of #MeToo, where revenge demands neither proof nor process, and if innocent men’s lives and careers are wrongfully ruined in the process, that’s just the way it goes. For Adrian Griffin, he’s not going down without mounting the best defense possible, just as he does as a coach.
*At Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene wrote of this case using the originally filed complaint, which has since been replaced with an amended complaint.