Sport Authorities Accused Of Sexual Abuse: Lessons For Schools On Athlete Safety?

Craig Maurizi, an American figure skating coach, recently sued his former coach, Richard Callaghan, and alleged "years of sexual abuse" by Callaghan. Maurizi is also alleging that U.S. Figure Skating; the Professional Skaters Association; and the Buffalo Skating Club did not do enough to stop the abuse.

Maurizi, now 57, states that in 1999, Callaghan, 74, started an inappropriate sexual relationship with him when Maurizi was only 14. Maurizi said the exploitive relationship continued, off and on, for several years until the two men became coaching colleagues.

According to the allegations, as Maurizi's parents were ending their relationship, Callaghan began isolating him at the Buffalo Skating Club and grooming him for what turned out to be years of sexual abuse. Callaghan gave Maurizi alcohol and showed him pornography. This escalated to sexual banter, forcible touching of Maurizi's genitals, and sexual intercourse.

In August 2019, the U.S. Center for SafeSport barred Callaghan from figure skating permanently. The ban took place after Adam Schmidt, another former skating student of Callaghan, became the fourth male skater to publicly accuse him of inappropriate behavior during a period between the early 1990s and the early 2000s.

In December 2019, the ban was reduced to a three-year suspension after Callaghan appealed his penalty to an independent arbitrator.

Callaghan is best known for coaching Tara Lipinski to an Olympic gold medal in 1998 and coaching Todd Eldredge to a world title and six national championships. Callaghan has long denied any inappropriate conduct.

According to Maurizi's lawyer, accusations of sexual abuse by Callaghan "were widely known but were willfully ignored by the skating establishment because of his success as a coach."

The lawsuit was filed under New York's Child Victims Act which was signed into law in 2019. This law allows survivors of sexual abuse the opportunity to sue adults who allegedly abused them many years ago. Jeré Longman "Prominent U.S. Figure Skating Coach Accused of Sex Abuse in Lawsuit" (Jul. 20, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach for the Penn State football team under Joe Paterno, was convicted of rape and child sexual abuse in 2012. He molested several minor boys and faced 52 child rape charges. Sandusky worked with the boys he abused through The Second Mile, a Pennsylvania nonprofit serving underprivileged and at-risk youth. At the time of his arrest, 10 victims had come forward.

In 2017, Larry Nassar, a USA Gymnastics national team doctor, osteopathic physician, and professor at Michigan State, pled guilty to federal child pornography charges and first-degree sexual assault. By 2018, he was sentenced to 175 years. Many victims, both Olympic champions and hopefuls, testified against him.

Even as Nassar serves his sentence, more victims have been coming forward. As of October 2018, approximately 500 gymnastics participants have come forward to describe his sexual crimes against them, all conducted under the guise of providing medical treatments.

Like Sandusky and Nassar, Callaghan enjoyed notoriety and respect by reason of his unique position, professional qualifications, and experience that allowed him to have constant contact with children and teens. His stature in the professional figure skating world allowed him to hide his sexually abusive behaviors under the guise of providing expert coaching.

What lessons can schools with sports teams learn from these sports organization’s mistakes?

  • Hire only people with impeccable credentials. Look beyond the accomplishments. Conduct an exhaustive background check on all job applicants and volunteers who want to work with your students.
  • Find out if you there are parents of coached students that you can talk to. Ask if they ever saw the applicant behave in a suspicious or inappropriate manner.
  • Have strict guidelines on how coaches and other staff interact with athletes. Never allow a student athlete to be alone with a coach or other adult.
  • Practice times, games, and trips should always be well-supervised.
  • Know that there are certain high-risk places and situations for abuse such as the locker room, the playing field, social events, or trips away.
  • Make sure your safety policies forbid any student from being in a coach's car or home.
  • Prohibit all use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Make sure all digital communications between the coaches and the student players include the students' parents.
  • Have a reporting system in place that will help victims and witnesses of abuse come forward and report maltreatment against them or that they have witnessed or heard about.
  • Report suspicions of child sexual abuse immediately to law enforcement or to your local child protection agency. Those who work with students are mandatory reporters. Failure to report is a crime, as well. The duty to report is personal; do not rely on school officials to report.
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