Fired College Basketball Coach Sues Adidas for ‘Emotional Distress’ After Federal Bribery Investigation

rick pitino sues adidas
Former University of Louisville Basketball Coach, Rick Pitino.
Rex Shutterstock

Rick Pitino, the former basketball coach whose Adidas contract was dropped in the wake of a federal bribery investigation, is now suing the sportswear company for “emotional distress.”

On Monday, the athletic giant cut its contract with Rick Pitino after the University of Louisville also fired the 65-year-old coach. Led by Pitino since 2001, the university’s prestigious sports program found itself under FBI investigation for an allegedly widespread use of bribes to recruit top athletes to the school earlier this year.

Less than a day later, Pitino filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, claiming that he was not aware of the company’s alleged use of bribes for top recruits.

“This lawsuit is about more than just money; it is coach Pitino’s vehicle for proving that he had nothing to do with Adidas’ outrageous, wrongful and illegal conspiracy,” the lawsuit reads.

Steve Pence, an attorney and former Kentucky Lieutenant Governor, confirmed that he was representing Pitino in his suit against Adidas. The former coach is seeking actual damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees for the “extreme embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress” caused by the scandal.

“Mr. Pitino’s lawsuit is clearly a reaction to his termination yesterday and is without merit,” an Adidas spokesperson told Footwear News. The company declined further questions on the lawsuit.

In September, Adidas executive Jim Gatto and four assistant basketball coaches at top-tier universities were among those arrested on charges of fraud, bribery and corruption following an FBI investigation dating back to 2015.

Coaches named in court documents include Chuck Person (Auburn), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Emanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona) and Tony Bland (University of Southern California) for allegedly taking thousands of dollars in exchange for getting student athletes to commit to certain schools or use the services of specific sports agents and financial advisers, according to a complaint filed by the FBI.

Also named in the documents are Merl Code, an Adidas employee; former member of ASM Sports’ management team Christian Dawkins; an AAU team program director, Jonathan Brad Augustine; investment adviser Munish Sood; and Rashan Michel, a former NBA and NCAA official, and founder of Thompson Bespoke Clothing.

The investigation determined that Gatto, Code, Dawkins, Augustine and Sood made bribes to multiple high school players, including one payout of $100,000 for a commitment to play at an Adidas-sponsored school, and another for a $150,000 payout for a high school player to play at an Adidas-sponsored school as well as commit to use Dawkins’ service and sign with Adidas once a pro.

“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one — coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits,” acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said at the time. “For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March. Month after month, the defendants allegedly exploited the hoop dreams of student athletes around the country, treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes. The defendants’ alleged criminal conduct not only sullied the spirit of amateur athletics, but showed contempt for the thousands of players and coaches who follow the rules, and play the game the right way.”