Sexual predators may commit their crimes in private, but they are often enabled by large institutions that, as in the case of the Chicago Blackhawks and their failure to comprehensively investigate allegations made by Kyle Beach against Brad Aldrich, prioritize achievement over disclosure.
For decades, Larry Nassar sexually assaulted gymnasts in his care under the guise of medical treatment. A doctor of osteopathic medicine, which involves the stretching of muscles, gentle pressure and resistance, Nassar joined the medical staff of USA Gymnastics national team in 1986, and rose to become the organization’s national medical co-ordinator. Hundreds of gymnasts accused him of assault, including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas.
In 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to child pornography charges.
Among those caught up in Nassar’s case was Steve Penny, the onetime CEO of USA Gymnastics, who in 2018 was charged with evidence tampering related to the alleged destruction or hiding of documents. He pleaded not guilty; the case is still outstanding.
Sara Teristi, a survivor of Nassar’s assaults, told Time magazine that his behaviour had been condoned by John Geddert, an abusive coach who swiftly cut loose any girls who challenged his absolute authority. The culture of high-performance sports, she said, is a toxic one. “People don’t understand how many broken girls it takes to produce an elite athlete,” she explained. “A coach can easily go through 300 girls, or more.”
Critics accused USA Gymnastics of frequently looking the other way on allegations of abuse by other coaches.
Last February, after U.S. prosecutors charged Geddert with human trafficking and sexual assault, he died by suicide. But the case carries implications even after his death, with the prosecutor saying that the charge of human trafficking – which includes forced labour of any kind – stemmed from the fact that Geddert “subjected his athletes to forced labour or services under extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm.” They hope that the threat of such a charge might deter other coaches from engaging in abusive behaviour.
French sports federations
In February, 2020, after skating champion Sarah Abitbol accused her former coach Gilles Beyer of sexually assaulting her decades earlier, when she was a teenager, French authorities launched a year-long nationwide probe into the culture of sexual violence in sports. Last spring, they identified more than 400 coaches, teachers and others, across 48 sports federations, who were suspected of abuse or involved in coverups.
Among those who spoke out was Isabelle Demongeot, a Wimbledon finalist who told of the pushback she got after accusing her former coach Régis de Camaret of sexual assault. In 2012, after de Camaret was accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen of his former students – most of the alleged crimes were past the statute of limitations – he was convicted of assaulting two minors and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Ugliness in the beautiful game
Sexual predators had free run across English soccer for decades, from youth clubs to the professional leagues, according to a damning 700-page report into historical child sexual abuse that was issued last spring. The report, commissioned by the Football Association after players such as Andy Woodward revealed they had been the victims of sexual abuse by coaches, scouts and others associated with clubs, found at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors.
Still, the report noted grimly, those figures were likely undercounts. At least eight pro clubs were chastised for their insufficient responses to predators within their ranks, including failure to report information to police. Even after 1995, when Woodward’s abuser, Barry Bennell, was convicted in Florida, the report found the FA was guilty of “significant institutional failings,” which put children at risk until new procedures were put in place in 2000.
In an interview with The Guardian, Woodward said he had been suicidal “on probably 10 occasions,” and that his life “has been ruined until the age of 43.”
Baylor University’s ‘culture of sexual violence’
After a number of Baylor football players were accused of sexual assault between 2012 and 2015, those in positions of responsibility failed so badly that the scandal took down the school’s president. According to a report, officials “affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence” to police and school officials, shielded student-athletes from investigation, failed to interview key witnesses and worked to discredit alleged victims.
The report noted that the investigation had uncovered “significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.”
The scandal led to the resignation of the head football coach, Art Briles, and Ken Starr, Baylor’s president.
Still, last summer, a panel convened by the NCAA found it could not reprimand Baylor for its lack of action. In a release, the NCAA panel noted that “Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued that those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA legislation. Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees.”
More allegations against the Whitecaps
On Thursday, a former player for the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team accused her onetime coach of attempting to solicit sex in exchange for a place on the squad. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Malloree Enoch said that Hubert Busby Jr. repeatedly made her share hotel rooms and attempted to pressure her into having sex while he was head coach in 2011. She said she shared her concerns with Dan Lenarduzzi, who was the Whitecaps’ soccer development director at the time, but that no action was immediately taken. Later, she said that a group of Whitecaps women’s team players brought their concerns to management; Busby’s contract was not renewed.
Busby did not respond to The Guardian.
The allegations about Busby come less than one week after Canada Soccer said it would commit to a “transparent independent review of the investigation of allegations” against Bob Birarda, a previous Whitecaps coach who last December was charged with a number of sexual offences, including sexual exploitation and child luring, related to activity between 1988 and 2008.
After the retired Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack spoke out in 2019 about abuse from Birarda she alleged occurred in 2008, other athletes supported her, promoting fan walkouts at Whitecaps games and an apology by the team. The charges have not been tested in court.