Ole Miss clothing store Rebel Rags is suing two NCAA prospects and others for defamation. The local business owner in Oxford, Mississippi is accused of providing free merchandise to Ole Miss recruits and their families. The retailer filed suit against two former prospects along with Lindsey Miller, the ex-stepfather of former Rebels All-American Offensive Lineman Laremy Tunsil.
The civil lawsuit filed in Lafayette County Superior Court on Friday by Rebel Rags accuses Mississippi State freshmen Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones and Tunsil’s estranged stepfather of slander, conspiracy, and commercial disparagement because of the allegations they made to NCAA investigators.
The lawsuit claims the group made false allegations to the NCAA “intentionally, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard for the consequences of their actions” and causing “economic and reputational damage to the plaintiff.”
According to ESPN, Attorney Charles Merkel Jr., who is representing Rebel Rags, said that since the allegations arose, the owner of Rebel Rags has received threats and boycott letters from Ole Miss fans who are disappointed with the store for breaking NCAA rules and providing recruits with improper benefits.
“My client’s entire business is merchandising Ole Miss licensed merchandise, and obviously he has caught heat since this came out in February,” Merkel said. “He’s received all sorts of threats from customers who say they’re going to boycott, and others have threatened him.”
According to the second NCAA notice of allegations sent to Ole Miss officials in February, former Ole Miss defensive line coach Chris Kiffin and staff member Barney Farrar are accused of giving $2,800 worth of improper recruiting inducements at Rebel Rags from 2013 to 2016 – to Jones, Lewis, and Miller.
However, the NCAA’s notice of allegations or Ole Miss’ response does not identify Jones, Lewis, and Miller.
“[There] is no proof that corroborates the claims of [Family Member 1], [Student-Athlete 39], or [Student-Athlete 40] that each of them received free merchandise from [Booster 8], much less at the direction of a football staff member,” Ole Miss officials wrote in their response to the NCAA, which was released to the public last week.
“Not a single witness corroborates these claims — in fact, every other witness denies it, including those closest to the prospects and without University affiliation.”
After back-to-back years of beating Nick Saban’s dominant Alabama Crimson Tide team and back-to-back years of New Year’s Six bowl games, it seemed as though Ole Miss football was primed to become a new contender in the SEC West and College Football.
However, last year, after the NCAA opened an investigation the Ole Miss athletic department, the Rebels returned to mediocrity, going 5-7 and failing to make it to a bowl game.
The NCAA is still in the process of investigating Ole Miss Athletics but has already charged the Rebels with 21 NCAA violations. Ole Miss Football announced earlier this year that the school is self-imposing a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 football season after the university received new NCAA allegations that accused the school of lack of institutional control and that Rebels coach Hugh Freeze failed to monitor his coaching staff.
The Rebels will also forfeit its share of the SEC’s bowl revenue this coming season, which is estimated to be more than $7 million.