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Olympic Coach Banned for Sexual Misconduct

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USA TODAY

 

Jean Lopez, the older brother and longtime coach of two-time Olympic taekwondo champion Steven Lopez, has been declared permanently ineligible after the U.S. Center for SafeSport found him guilty of sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct involving a minor.

The decision reached Tuesday brings resolution to an investigation that began with USA Taekwondo three years ago and was turned over to SafeSport when it opened in March 2017. Three women who spoke with USA TODAY have described sexual misconduct by Jean Lopez dating to 1997, and one of those women filed a complaint with USA Taekwondo in 2006.

"This matter concerns a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by an older athlete/coach abusing his power to groom, manipulate and, ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes," SafeSport said in its decision obtained by USA TODAY.

"Given the number of incidents reported over a span of several years and by multiple reporting parties, most of whom have no reasonable motive to fabricate an allegation -- much less multiple, distinct incidents -- of misconduct, the totality of the circumstances clearly shows a recurrent pattern of behavior on the part of Jean."

SafeSport published Lopez's name in its database Wednesday morning, noting the decision is subject to appeal and not yet final.

From ABHow to Stop Sexual Abuse in Sports

Jean Lopez could not be reached for comment Wednesday. George Weissfisch, who served as Lopez's adviser through the process, did not respond to an email from USA TODAY.

USA TODAY reported the allegations against Jean Lopez in June, as well as separate allegations of sexual misconduct against Steven Lopez. In an interview with USA TODAY last spring, Steven Lopez denied the allegations.

Steven Lopez is taekwondo's biggest star and the most decorated athlete in that sport. He is a five-time Olympian with gold medals in 2000 and 2004 and a bronze in 2008, as well as five world titles.

USA Taekwondo turned over its investigation of Steven Lopez to SafeSport last year, and the status of his case is unclear. Mandy Meloon, who accused the two-time Olympic champion of rape and physical abuse, said SafeSport investigator Kathleen Smith told her last month that it was still trying to arrange an interview with him. Lopez, 39, qualified for his 24th national team in February, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he intends to keep competing through the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Steven Lopez has been coached throughout his career by Jean, who also coached siblings Mark and Diana Lopez to medals in Beijing in 2008. Jean Lopez, 44, coached the U.S. team in four Olympics.

USA TODAY reported in June that Jean and Steven Lopez were allowed to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics even though both had been accused of sexual assault and USA Taekwondo had been investigating them for more than a year. USA Taekwondo never held hearings that would have brought a resolution to the cases, but the attorney who conducted the investigation was concerned enough that he alerted the FBI.

"I am relieved and excited that he will no longer be able to coach young athletes or manipulate girls in these kinds of settings," said Heidi Gilbert, who accused Jean Lopez of sexually assaulting her in 2003 while they were at a tournament in Germany. "I am highly disappointed in the process. It seems like they handled the situation different for the Lopezes vs. other coaches.

"It just took way too long. But I am relieved. And very excited that no girl is ever going to have to deal with him again."

USA Taekwondo had no immediate response, citing its policy of not commenting on active cases. Jean Lopez has until Tuesday to contest the decision through an arbitrator. He has denied all the allegations, both in interviews with SafeSport and last spring with USA TODAY. "I've never been inappropriate with anyone," Jean Lopez told USA TODAY.

The decision makes Lopez permanently ineligible for membership to USA Taekwondo, which would prohibit Jean Lopez from coaching Steven or any other athlete on the U.S. team.

Last month, USA Taekwondo announced a collaboration to share information on misconduct issues involving members with Amateur Athletic Union.

Lopez has spoken at seminars or worked at camps in other countries, including Argentina and Chile. SafeSport's decision would not bar him from coaching in other countries. That would require a ban by World Taekwondo, and its rules require national federations to report misconduct complaints.

Jean Lopez has been coaching at a gym in Las Vegas, which touts his Olympic credentials.

On its website, Legacy Taekwondo says it is the "only taekwondo training center in Las Vegas who can boast instructors that have won and coached Olympic, World and National gold medalist on behalf of the United States of America."

The Olympic movement is under heavy criticism for its handling of sexual abuse cases following revelations that longtime USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar abused hundreds of women, including Olympic champions Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas. USA Taekwondo, USA Swimming, US Speedskating and USA Judo also have been criticized for how they've handled high-profile or wide-spread allegations of abuse.

In January, the bipartisan House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, USA Taekwondo, USA Swimming and Michigan State to provide information on how they have handled complaints. It has since expanded its inquiry to include all national governing bodies and is awaiting responses.

The USOC has long maintained it does not have the authority or resources to investigate abuse complaints. Instead, it created the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is charged with adjudicating all sexual abuse complaints in the Olympic movement.

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April 5, 2018
 
 
 

 

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