Gerald Murphy served time in prison after being convicted of lewd and lascivious assault of a child. The state of Florida permanently revoked his teaching certificate for the crime. Murphy was also a youth coach, a member of USA Taekwondo. The elite sports organization's leadership eventually found out about his past. So did high-ranking officials at the U.S. Olympic Committee. Yet even after USA Taekwondo banned Murphy in 2014, the governing body and the U.S. Olympic Committee essentially forgot about him. Nobody raised an alarm when his wife filed paperwork with the state to take over the gym he'd once owned. Nobody thought to check if Murphy was still coaching. He was.
How to protect your child
For a full report including photos, video and a guide on how to determine if your kid might be at risk, visit us at usatoday.com. If you find someone on the "banned" list who is still coaching, please email us at: email@example.com
For four years, a USA TODAY investigation found, he continued to coach young athletes at the same gym, and that gym remains a member of USA Taekwondo.
"Do I coach at the school? Yeah, I am the teacher and owner," Murphy told a USA TODAY reporter in August as he opened the gym for class in a strip mall just north of downtown Tallahassee.
He's one of a half-dozen coaches banned for sexual misconduct who USA TODAY found were still active in their sport. Three of them were working at events or facilities affiliated with the national sports governing bodies that are supposed to be enforcing the bans.
Scandals sparked by coaches who sexually abuse young athletes have rocked Olympic sports for more than a decade, most recently with the case of Larry Nassar. More than 350 women and girls accused the USA Gymnastics national team doctor of molesting them under the guise of medical treatment. He's now serving an effective life sentence after pleading guilty last year to possession of child pornography and criminal sexual conduct.
In a damning review of what the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics knew about Nassar and when, investigators from the law firm Ropes & Gray said this week that the problem goes beyond individual predators. Structural flaws in the governance of both the Olympic committee and sports governing bodies have resulted in a hands-off approach that puts the priority on winning medals, not protecting athletes.
Former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun drew particularly harsh criticism in the Ropes & Gray report, issued Monday. Under his watch, the Olympic Committee vowed repeatedly to fix its child protection system and, over the past eight years, made intermittent attempts to reform it.
USA TODAY's investigation found that gaping holes remain.
USA TODAY winnowed hundreds of banned individuals to a smaller list of nearly five dozen based on the ability to determine the misconduct that led to their bans and any suggestion they might still be coaching. To identify those still involved in youth sports, reporters reviewed court records and social media posts, interviewed advocates and parents and visited gyms and other athletic facilities around the nation.
These programs range from those that train young athletes for the Olympics to those at the grassroots level.
Reporters also examined how the USOC and its 49 sports governing bodies track coaches who have been banned from participation in the Olympic movement. (USA Skateboarding, which was recognized by the USOC in June as its 50th governing body, was not included in the survey.) There they found a historically hands-off approach by the USOC, which left the job of protecting children largely to the governing bodies, many of which lack funding, staff and expertise.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was not surprised to learn banned coaches remained active.
"One is too many," said Blumenthal, ranking member of the Senate subcommittee that is investigating sexual abuse in the Olympic movement. "The six that you found probably are only the tip of the iceberg."
At least 931 people have been sanctioned by a national governing body or by the national U.S. Center for SafeSport, a USA TODAY analysis of their publicly available lists and database found. Those sanctions often follow criminal cases or an investigation by the governing body or the center. The people on those lists are spread across every state and 36 sports. More than two-thirds are permanently forbidden to participate in the U.S. Olympic movement.
Yet no cohesive system warns parents when coaches have been banned. The USOC and its governing bodies rarely follow up to ensure that they are being kept away from young athletes.
As a result, coaches who violate their bans - and the facilities and organizations that hire them - face few repercussions. Just 17 of 40 governing bodies that responded to a USA TODAY survey said they even have the power to take action against gyms and clubs that ignored the bans.
"What we've seen in more vigorous or effectual enforcement is close to zero," Blumenthal said. "And it's a major failure on the part of the USOC (that)... puts athletes at risk every day."
Lists of people barred from their sport form the backbone of the child protection system. But those lists have limitations.
A searchable database maintained by SafeSport, which now handles all sexual misconduct cases for the USOC and its governing bodies, includes only those banned or suspended since SafeSport opened in March 2017.
Finding coaches banned before that requires scouring the individual lists of the sports governing bodies. Only about half of the 40 governing bodies that responded to the USA TODAY survey maintain any sort of public list, however, and some of those simply duplicate what's on SafeSport's website. Three governing bodies - USA Climbing, USA Hockey and U.S. Soccer - have lists that they do not publish.
What's included varies widely as well. Of the 931 cases, nearly 200 provide no detail about why the person was sanctioned.
Figure skating's list includes Tonya Harding, who was banned in 1994 for her role in the physical assault of fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. SafeSport's database leaves out location details nearly a third of the time.
"They should also be erring on the side of caution so if there is a reason to think that someone has come forward and there was abuse of any variety, that person should be suspended and not permitted in the sport," said Marci Hamilton, chief executive officer of CHILD USA, a nonprofit think tank that works to prevent child abuse.
"It seems to me there's still an issue of too much concern about the adult and not nearly enough concern about the safety of the children."
Under pressure from Congress, which has held five hearings over the past eight months, the USOC in late May required for the first time that governing bodies share information on people they had banned. SafeSport is now working to add those banned for sexual misconduct before March 2017 to the center's database. CEO Shellie Pfohl said the goal is to complete that in early 2019.
At one of the hearings, the then-acting CEO of the Olympic movement, Susanne Lyons, acknowledged that the USOC needed centralized information on banned individuals across the movement. "It has not happened to date, and I regret that we did not exercise more of our authority to enforce that standard... prior to this," she said in May.
In a phone call after the release of the Ropes & Gray report, USA TODAY presented its findings to Lyons, who will become chairwoman of the USOC board Jan. 1.
Asked whether those findings undercut the USOC's assertions that it has taken meaningful action over the past eight years, Lyons said: "I think it's going to take some time.... We need to help the NGBs develop the right policies and procedures to enforce that all the way down to the grassroots level, because that is obviously a weakness in the system."
A felon and a coach
Murphy's case underscores how easy it can be for banned coaches to get around sanctions.
At 35, Murphy was convicted in 1989 of lewd and lascivious assault of a child after being found in bed with Mistie Diaz, who was 14 at the time and baby-sat Murphy's children. She had met Murphy while she was a student at a school where he was a teacher.
Murphy spent 18 months in prison after failing to meet the conditions of his sentencing.
Yet in 2014, Murphy was coaching at the statewide competition in Florida, which sends athletes to the national championship. Another coach alerted Ronda Sweet, a former USA Taekwondo board chairwoman, to Murphy's felony conviction. She in turn informed USA Taekwondo's attorney, board chairman and CEO.
Lyons was a USOC board member at the time and, while following up with her on another coach's case, Sweet mentioned Murphy's past to her, too.
"I know it was 25 years ago. SafeSport does not have a statute of limitations," Sweet wrote to Lyons in an email obtained by USA TODAY. "This guy can't teach in a Florida school. (B)ut he can teach and coach at (USA Taekwondo) events."
Lyons emailed Sweet back on April 4, 2014: "Very disappointing. I have asked that USOC look into this." USA Taekwondo announced Murphy's ban the same day.
The ban was supposed to get Murphy out of the USA Taekwondo system by stripping him of his membership. But USA TODAY found he has been coaching at the same gym in Tallahassee since he was banned.
"I don't think he should be teaching at all," said Diaz, now 44, who agreed to be identified for this story. "He did it to me. Who else has he done it to?"
Four days after Murphy was banned, his wife incorporated the Dragon System Institute of Martial Arts. Her name appears on its state incorporation paperwork, and Murphy's son is listed as general manager.
In August, Murphy showed a USA TODAY reporter three certificates his wife received for completing SafeSport training in March. His wife and son are USA Taekwondo members, Murphy said, and coach the school's athletes at events sanctioned by national governing bodies.
The club was still listed as a member on USA Taekwondo's website as of Nov.21. After USA TODAY sent the organization detailed questions about Murphy, the club was removed from the governing body's club locator app.
Most of the governing bodies surveyed told USA TODAY their membership systems would prevent a banned individual from obtaining a membership or participating in sanctioned events. But none checks with its member clubs to see if that's happening or monitors members to make sure they're not employing anyone who is banned.
While Murphy's wife owning a school should have raised a red flag, that would require someone on USA Taekwondo's small staff - listed as 11 people on its website - to notice similarities in names and addresses to people on the banned list.
Asked during a Senate hearing in October whether banned coaches are able to work at clubs, USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews responded: "That problem does exist.... I think the biggest issue is the fact that the club level, physically we are not in all of these cities ourselves. Physically, we're not there to investigate and to enforce these bans."
Instead, governing bodies rely on the public - individual members and parents, primarily - to do their investigative work.
Luquanda Colston's three children go to Dragon System Martial Arts, and she has taken classes there herself. Stopped in a nearby parking lot, she said she did not know USA Taekwondo had such a list or that Murphy was on it.
Colston said that if she had known Murphy was banned, it probably would have affected her decision to sign her children up at his school.
USA Taekwondo has the power to enforce Murphy's ban. It was one of 17 governing bodies that responded to USA TODAY's survey by saying it could revoke a club's membership or impose other sanctions for not abiding by the list. But only USA Gymnastics has ever taken that step.
The USOC did not respond to questions about the role its officials played in Murphy's case. USA Taekwondo executive director Steve McNally declined to answer questions about Murphy's case and its policies, saying the governing body was "involved in a legal process that prevents me from commenting."
USOC was slow to act
The USOC has long maintained that preventing sexual abuse in the Olympic movement is not its job.
The governing bodies are more likely to have day-to-day interaction with athletes and coaches. That, the Olympic committee has said, makes them better suited to enforce sexual misconduct policies, including the banned lists.
That long-standing resistance to taking the lead was reflected in Blackmun's acknowledgment that sexual abuse wasn't even on his radar when he took over as CEO.
"When I started in 2010 if someone said what are the top 15 priorities for the USOC, I wouldn't have had sex abuse on the list," Blackmun told the Ropes & Gray investigators.
That stance ignores the power the USOC has through the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the 1978 law that chartered the USOC and provides protections for athletes, coaches and officials. The USOC decides what nonprofit organization is recognized as the sport's governing body. And the USOC can revoke that recognition if it feels a governing body is not meeting its obligations to athletes.
The committee "literally can do whatever they want to," said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimming gold medalist and civil rights attorney who founded the nonprofit Champion Women to advocate for girls and women in sport.
Yet for years the USOC rebuffed requests from its governing bodies to exercise its authority. At one point the committee chastised USA Gymnastics for taking the initiative to crack down on coaches.
In 1999, the USOC threatened to revoke USA Gymnastics' national governing body status because it was automatically banning coaches convicted of sex crimes. The USOC was concerned that not giving those coaches a hearing could violate the Ted Stevens Act.
In a response, then-USA Gymnastics CEO Bob Colarossi foreshadowed the very scenario the Olympic movement now faces. "This is not an issue that can be wished away," he wrote. "The USOC can either position itself as a leader in the protection of young athletes or it can wait until it is forced to deal with the problem under much more difficult circumstances."
Only after the revelation in 2010 that USA Swimming had quietly banned more than 35 coaches for sexual misconduct did the USOC launch a working group to address the problem. The group produced recommendations but little immediate action. A centralized list of banned coaches was discussed at length, but the working group determined it "was not the best solution for all sports organizations."
It took three years for the group's other recommendations to be implemented. As a result, Dec. 31, 2013, marked the first time that national governing bodies were required to do criminal background checks of coaches and other officials.
In the meantime, a second group - convened to develop what would ultimately become SafeSport - also considered creating a universal banned list. The idea stalled again.
Because the Olympic committee was so focused on success at the Summer and Winter Games, investigators said it wasn't even in a position to know if the governing bodies had strong, effective policies to protect against abuse.
Only 15 of the 40 governing bodies that responded to USA TODAY's survey had a banned list before SafeSport opened in March 2017. In many cases, the reluctance to create a list stemmed from a fear of being sued by those on it.
That should no longer be an issue. A new federal law this year, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and SafeSport Authorization Act, shields SafeSport and the national governing bodies from defamation lawsuits without proof of actual malice.
While the USOC has touted SafeSport as a game-changer in protecting young athletes, even that did not come easily. The center opened nearly three years after the Olympic committee announced its creation as the USOC struggled to raise outside funding.
In contrast, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency began operating a year after the USOC approved its creation.
The USOC often compares the two efforts, but they continue to have drastically different resources. In 2017, the anti-doping agency received $9.5million from the federal government and $5.1million from the USOC. SafeSport's budget includes $3.1million from the USOC, and it expects an additional $2.3million starting this year under a three-year federal grant for prevention and education.
Inundated with more than 1,600 reports of sexual misconduct or abuse, SafeSport increased its staff from four employees to 29 as of late October.
Blumenthal said he supports increased funding from Congress.
"We're not talking about billions of dollars," he said. "In the total scheme of the federal budget, it's a rounding term."
Banned for life, but still active
Public lists of banned coaches are not a cure-all, as the father of a girl once coached by Randall Cates learned.
After a 2015 hearing in Lexington, Kentucky, US Equestrian gave Cates its first lifetime ban ever for what it said was his "systemic and insidious grooming" of a female rider that included thousands of lurid text messages and, eventually, sexual relations when the girl was 16 or 17 and Cates was in his mid-40s.
Even though the athlete defended Cates and claimed her mother had fabricated the text messages, the hearing panel revoked Cates' membership and permanently banned him from any affiliated training facilities or competitions.
Citing corroborating evidence found in the girl's journal as well as the technological improbability of the mother making up thousands of messages, the panel said the texts "revealed a sordid multi-year attempt by Mr. Cates to draw Victim under his influence and groom her for sexual interaction."
Cates was "constantly pushing for Victim to engage in sexual acts that she may have not been comfortable performing," US Equestrian's panel stated.
Asked for comment, Cates said the "supposed victim testified that the alleged acts did not occur" and referred USA TODAY to her attorney. That attorney issued a statement for her saying that she denies the allegations and that "the numerous texts were fabricated."
The girl did not cooperate with police, her father said, and no criminal charges were filed. USA TODAY is not naming the father so his daughter will not be identified.
US Equestrian added Cates to the banned list on its website and sent letters to other organizations with ties to US Equestrian, such as the American Saddle Horse Association.
But that didn't end Cates' coaching career.
A property he owns in Oklahoma offers lessons and camps to young riders, and a USA TODAY reporter saw several teenagers there in June. Facebook posts from his account indicate he continued to participate in horse shows.
A post on May 21, 2017, praised a regional event by the Texas American Saddle Horse Association.
"Spring TASHA horse show in the books. I want to thank the TASHA organization for putting on a really fun horse show!" the post read.
Another Facebook post, from May 20 of this year, read: "TASHA always puts on a fantastic horse show! 17 horses and 48 entries in 2 days. Thank you to our customers and crew. See you TASHA at College Station in December!"
Both posts were removed from public view in June, after USA TODAY began asking about them.
Around that same time, US Equestrian sent a letter to the American Saddlebred Horse Association saying Cates' activity was in "direct contravention to" the two organizations' "Affiliate Agreement and the spirit of the Safe Sport Movement." US Equestrian asked the association to ensure that competitions enforced suspensions and bans and "prohibit anyone on those lists from participating in any manner, including entering the competition show grounds."
"When Cates was banned in 2015, USEF notified ASHA leadership, as well as the leadership of all other USEF-related affiliates, in writing of Cates' ban," US Equestrian CEO Bill Moroney said in a statement to USA TODAY. "We cannot say why he was active at local ASHA events, as the USEF ban extends to all affiliate organizations and he should not have been allowed to participate."
The failure to make Cates' ban stick came as a shock to the father of the female rider, who found out Cates was still active from USA TODAY.
"I don't understand why they don't publish his face on a poster and stick it up in every arena in the country," the girl's father said. "If you're truly trying to protect these children, these little girls, then that's what you would do."
Armour reported from Aurora, Illinois, and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Axon reported from Tallahassee; Jacksonville, Florida; and Columbus, Ohio; Schrotenboer reported from Edmond, Oklahoma. Contributing: Matt Wynn, Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat
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