Richard Callaghan, the longtime U.S. figure skating coach best known for leading Tara Lipinski to a 1998 Olympic gold medal, was declared “permanently ineligible” Wednesday by the U.S. Center for SafeSport because of sexual misconduct allegations “involving a minor.”
The ban, first reported by USA Today, came 12 days after Adam Schmidt, now 34, filed a lawsuit in San Diego alleging that Callaghan had abused him from 1999 to 2001 while coaching him. The U.S. Figure Skating Association, the sport’s governing body, and Onyx Ice Arena in Detroit, where Callaghan coached Schmidt, were named as defendants in the lawsuit, which alleges “numerous sexual assaults.” Callaghan, who also coached Todd Eldredge to the 1996 world championship and six national titles, had been suspended by SafeSport and USFS in March 2018 pending allegations of abuse that were first lodged against him more than 20 years ago.
Callaghan, 73, has denied the allegations, and attorney John Manly, who represents Schmidt and has represented more than 180 victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. Gymnastics scandal, criticized USFS. “This should have been done in the ’90s when USFS first knew,” Manly wrote in a text message to USA Today’s Christine Brennan. “It’s good news but small comfort to those Callaghan hurt. Clearly this move is in response to the horrible press USFS received in response to Adam Schmidt’s filing. You shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to protect kids from child molesters in Olympic sports.”
The alleged abuse that triggered the ban dates to 1999, when USFS dismissed accusations by Craig Maurizi, now 56, that Callaghan had inappropriate sexual conduct with him in 1976, when Maurizi was 13. He later alleged that Callaghan had initiated a sexual relationship with him when he was 18 and continued it for four years. After that, the sexual conduct occurred sporadically for another 12 years, Maurizi told USA Today.
Maurizi’s allegations were reported to SafeSport, the two-year-old independent nonprofit that provides information on abuse prevention, policies and programs, on Jan. 31, 2018, and Callaghan was suspended March 6, with USFS’s suspension following. Callaghan sued SafeSport, but that lawsuit was dismissed by a judge last year. Schmidt’s lawsuit accuses USFS of not investigating Maurizi’s complaints and dismissing a grievance he filed with the national governing body in 1999 because the organization’s bylaws stipulated that alleged misconduct must be reported within 60 days. Callaghan at that point continued to coach and Schmidt’s complaint states that the decision allowed Callaghan’s alleged abuse to “continue unabated.” As a result, he experienced “anxiety, depression, fear, grief and stress,” the lawsuit states.
Earlier this month, USFS told ABC news that “Maurizi’s case prompted U.S. Figure Skating to examine its rules and procedures in the area of Athlete Safety.” It maintains that it “has acted promptly on every incident reported to it of suspected sexual abuse or misconduct since the new policy was enacted in May 2000.”
Dean Groulx, a Michigan-based attorney who represents Callaghan, said in a statement sent to ABC News earlier this month that the “allegations are 100 percent false. There is no truth to them.”
Maurizi told the New York Times Wednesday that he finally feels vindicated. “This guy’s a monster. This man has ruined the lives and careers of many people. I believe he should be punished to whatever extent is possible.”
Schmidt called the ban “a major victory” for skaters, telling the Times, “now he will be forever known as the predator who delivered medals to a corrupt organization who accepted them in exchange for the safety and protection of children.”
Earlier this year, SafeSport warned in a statement about “a culture” in figure skating, where athletes often are minors when they begin training, that creates and tolerates sexual abuse. John Coughlin, a coach and commentator, died by suicide in January after he received a temporary suspension from the federation while SafeSport was investigating sexual conduct allegations against him. Bridget Namiotka, Coughlin’s former pairs partner, and Ashley Wagner, the most decorated U.S. female skater of her era as a three-time national champion and winner of a team bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, accused him of sexually abusing them when they were minors.
“[I]t is evident that there was/is a culture in figure skating that allowed grooming and abuse to go unchecked for too long,” it said in March (via ABC). “The issues in this sport are similar to those the Center has seen in many others and cut across a wide population. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
USFS “strongly” refuted “the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s March 4 statement but shares the Center’s mission to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of American sports culture,” it said in a statement at the time. “With minors comprising the majority of U.S. Figure Skating membership, athlete safety is paramount. U.S. Figure Skating believes the best practices for protecting minor athletes from abuse are enforcing athlete protection policies; education and awareness training; requiring background checks for people who have regular contact with athletes; and mandating that all members report alleged and suspected child abuse to local law enforcement, the U.S. Center for SafeSport and U.S. Figure Skating.”
In a later statement, USFS reiterated that the safety and well-being of athletes continued to be a “top priority.”
“We fully support all victims of sexual abuse and misconduct and encourage anyone who either has been abused or suspects abuse or misconduct to report it to local law enforcement, the U.S. Center for SafeSport or U.S. Figure Skating,” it said. “We condemn any and all acts of bullying and shaming of those who share their story. Bullying and victim-shaming are wrong and will not be tolerated.”
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