Former Georgia baseball player Adam Sasser files suit against UGA

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Former Georgia baseball player Adam Sasser has filed a lawsuit against UGA.

ATHENS – Adam Sasser, a former Georgia baseball player who was kicked off the team for using racial epithets at a Georgia football game in 2018, has filed a federal lawsuit against UGA, the state board of regents and several other parties.

Identified only as “John Doe” in court documents, Sasser alleges violations of his constitutional rights for free speech under the first and 14th amendments as well as breach of contract. He seeks undisclosed “compensatory and punitive damages” for loss of income and employment opportunities as a result of UGA’s actions.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Northern District Court in Atlanta on Sept. 29 by attorney Dorothy Spinelli of Brookhaven. The suit comes almost two years to the day after Sasser was first dismissed from Georgia’s team by coach Scott Stricklin.

Spinelli acknowledged that the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sasser. He is easily identifiable in the document as a “baseball player from Evans who was dismissed from UGA” in the fall of 2018. Sasser went through an appeals process with UGA’s Equal Opportunity Office before he was permanently dismissed in October 2018.

“We saw what happened to (Sasser), and we stand behind the facts in the complaint,” Spinelli said Tuesday. “The decisions UGA made were unlawful, and the law is clear. That had a significant impact on (Sasser), and we want to make it right.”

Sasser was attending the Georgia-Tennessee game at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 29, 2018. Sitting in the student section in the North stands, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Sasser began to yelling for the Bulldogs to change quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. At the time, Jake Fromm was Georgia’s starting quarterback and Justin Fields was his backup.

Eyewitnesses told UGA Sasser was yelling “put the (expletive) in” repeatedly during the fourth quarter, even after spectators around him told him to stop. Spinelli’s complaint contends that Sasser’s remarks were not meant to be derogatory.

“(Sasser’s) public statement regarding race … was constitutional protected speech protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” the lawsuit reads. “(The) intent and context were in a positive manner and in support of a person. When the Plaintiff learned his statement was viewed negatively, he apologized.”

Several students who heard Sasser and recognized him as a UGA athlete reported the incident on some of UGA’s public social-media platforms and sent emails to McGarity and Stricklin. That led to an investigation by the athletic association and school’s EOO office.

Georgia’s actions were swift. Sasser was suspended by the baseball team the day after the football game and then permanently dismissed. The EOO added additional sanctions a day later, including suspending Sasser for the remainder of the semester and banning him from all athletic events through January 2020.

Sasser left UGA at the end of the fall semester. After his dismissal, Sasser issued a public apology.

“I want to apologize for my actions at the football game on Saturday,” he wrote in a message that has since been deleted in his Twitter account. “I totally understand why my actions were offensive, and I am deeply sorry for any pain and distress this has caused anyone.”

Fields transferred to Ohio State after that season. In his transfer paperwork, he cited the incident with Sasser as one of the reasons he left. Fields is now a junior at Ohio State.

Spinelli said Sasser’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process were violated by UGA.

“Georgia’s a great place; Adam loves UGA, and he’d never do anything to hurt it,” Spinelli said. “But they had the opportunity to handle this correctly, and they went to the other extreme. And so we’d just like to straighten it out for everybody.”

Stricklin said Tuesday he was unaware of the lawsuit and declined comment. Athletic director Greg McGarity also said he was unaware of the lawsuit.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it, but it’s not a shocker,” McGarity said. “Anybody can sue anybody for anything.”

A first baseman and power hitter, Sasser transferred to North Greenville College in South Carolina. Sasser set the single-season home-run record and finished second in the nation with 21 home runs and 63 RBIs.

After completing his eligibility, Sasser was not drafted in the 2018 MLB draft. He was unable to land any free-agent opportunities with any major league organizations.

Sasser played a year of independent league baseball in Sioux City, Iowa. Since the shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sasser has been unable to find any professional opportunities in baseball.

Spinelli said Sasser’s case was brought to her attention earlier this year. She believes UGA’s actions were unlawful and derailed a potentially lucrative baseball career for Sasser.

“I don’t like people to be treated unfairly,” Spinelli said. “And so, that’s why I’m doing this.”

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