Former Olympic Gymnastics Coach Banned For Life After Abuse Allegations

BlogHer Original Post

It's not just in Penn State locker rooms where sexual abuse takes place. It's a common secret that coaches in training facilities and locker rooms across the country take advantage of young athletes. There is an atmosphere of exploitation whereby athletes repeatedly report stories of physical or sexual abuse by coaches and mentors they had come to depend on.

News this week of 1984 Olympic Gymnastics coach Don Peters' lifetime ban by USA Gymnastics following sexual abuse allegations is just the latest scandal rocking the sports world on the heels of the highly publicized Jerry Sandusky case.

'A USA Gymnastics hearing panel has concluded the investigation regarding Don Peters and has ruled that Peters will be listed as 'permanently ineligible' for membership in USA Gymnastics, and that Peters' membership in the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame will be revoked, along with any rights and privileges connected to either,' a statement from the federation said.

The former Olympic coach, accused of sexually abusing three athletes in the  1980s had already resigned from his coaching and director positions at SCATS,  the training facility he built into a superpower.gym in Huntington Beach, Calif..

Peters, 62,  was considered one of the country’s top coaches in the 1980s and his Huntington Beach gym  produced several national team members. As head coach of the U.S. team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Americans won eight medals (including two golds), a total that remains unsurpassed by any American women's Olympic team. The U.S. silver medal in the team all-around competition was the American women's first Olympic medal in gymnastics since 1948. Four of the six members on the U.S. team trained withPeters and he tutored nearly 60 U.S. national team members during his 32-year tenure at SCATS..

In late September, the Orange County Register reported allegations against Peters when three women accused him of having sex with them while they were training  at his gym. All three alleged victims were teenagers at the time and in some cases, the sexual contact was illegal, but because the statute of limitations had expired when the allegations came to light, Peters cannot be prosecuted criminally in California for his conduct.

According to the Register, Doe Yamashiro is one of the alleged victims. She was a member of the U.S. national team and trained with Peters at his Orange County gym. She claims that the abuse started when she was 16 years old, that he would fondle her repeatedly, and then had sex with her when she was 17. Yamashiro described the first incident:

“He asked to speak with me in his hotel room and he locked the door behind us. And then he began groping me. And that was the worst; that was really the worst of it because I had never been kissed by a boy, and I wasn’t even interested in boys at that point. I didn’t have breasts. I was totally pre-pubescent at 16. And, you know, if you spend your life in the gym, you’re totally emotionally naive.”

In 1987, Yamashiro moved into the ‘SCATS house’, which was a home rented by the club for the gymnasts who left home to train with Peters. During that summer, Yamashiro alleges that he had intercourse with her at the Huntington Beach library parking lot. She was only 17. She said:

“And I still couldn’t say ‘no’ to him. That incident I had a very strong emotional reaction to. That was a real physical violation and I was disgusted. I was disgusted at him and myself. And that’s it. I was in pain and I had just lost my virginity. And then I had to go to workout.”

The newspaper's report sparked a formal investigation, in which two other named coaches were dismissed by USA Gymnastics earlier this month.

Doug Boger was released by ArtSports World Gym in Colorado Springs, Colo., and had already been banned by USA Gymnastics after former gymnasts accused him of physical and sexual abuse.

The gym's owner, Michael Zapp, a convicted sex offender, also resigned and sold the gym.

Meanwhile USA Gymnastics Chairman Peter Vidmar, a former Olympic champion, moved immediately to tighten a loophole that allowed banned coaches to continue to teach. The policy change requiries any organization or individual hosting or organizing USAG events to be in compliance with the rule prohibiting employment of people on the permanently ineligible list. 

If you think the Peters case is an isolated incident, think again. A recent white paper was developed by members of the "Project to Address Coach-Athlete Sexual Harassment and Abuse", a group of former athletes and sport administrators who are in the initial process of organizing an effort to more effectively address this issue. According to the report,

The world of sports has been riddled with sexual abuse and harassment  of young athletes by their powerful and publicly respected coaches (respected for producing performance results) for many decades, across all sports, regardless of sex.   While there is no consistently collected data on the prevalence of these transgressions, there is reason to believe that news reports represent the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”:

The paper also notes that coaches associations and national and other sport governance organizations have a built-in conflict of interest in protecting the reputations of their sports or members. "There is need for an independent blue-ribbon group of sport, management, psychological, and legal experts to create a comprehensive blueprint for deterring sexual abuse and harassment by coaches in sport."  

Please, let's not see any more reports of predators tasked with mentoring our kids preying on them. These abuses of power are criminal and we need to help create a climate in which athletes feel safe in reporting such incidents. Ignoring the problem is not a solution.    



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