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Published: Saturday, 8/18/2007

Hoop scheme

KENNY Rogers put it succinctly: "You got to know when to hold 'em / know when to fold 'em." It's the kind of sensible and unpretentious advice that goes unheeded in ever-litigious times.

And it's the principle being ignored by Kia Vaughn, star center of the Rutgers University women's basketball team, who has sued radio shock jock Don Imus and CBS for defamation. In a nationally syndicated riff of stunning tastelessness last spring, Mr. Imus and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, referred to Ms. Vaughn and her black teammates as "nappy-headed hos."

The on-air remark was met by immediate calls for Mr. Imus' firing, although it was only the latest incident in a career defined by demeaning racial and gender-based humor.

In response, sponsors pulled advertising, MSNBC dropped the show, and CBS Radio suspended Imus. After the Rutgers team held a nationally televised press conference to respond to the slur, he was a chastened, humiliated figure whose broadcasting days were numbered and he was soon fired.

The sympathy the team generated for its poise was in direct proportion to the contempt poured on Mr. Imus, even after he apologized.

Now it appears the talk jock may have the last laugh. Within hours of settling a $120 million breach-of-contract suit with CBS Radio this week, in which Mr. Imus will receive a $20 million severance package, Ms. Vaughn sued him for unspecified damages for "ruining" her reputation and subjecting her to ridicule.

At the very least, the timing of the lawsuit is suspicious, though the student's lawyer insists his client's only concern is to vindicate her good name. But wasn't an appearance on Oprah vindication enough?

Suing for a big payday is an odd way to proclaim one's virtue. The lawsuit looks like a shakedown and cheapens the team's noble decision to take the high road.

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