Less than a year after the U.S. Center for SafeSport declared that it was banning Jean Lopez from taekwondo for a “decades long pattern of sexual misconduct,” the center has said Lopez can go back to coaching. Today, SafeSport notified Heidi Gilbert and Kay Poe, who had reported to SafeSport that Lopez had abused them, that an arbitrator had vacated the earlier decision. The ban already had been lifted during the appeals process and replaced with something dubbed a “temporary restriction.” Now that’s gone too. The news was first reported by USA Today.
A SafeSport ban on Lopez’s brother Steven was overturned on appeal just last month. Nina Zampetti, a former taekwondo athlete, had told SafeSport that Steven Lopez groomed her, then inappropriately touched her and asked her for oral sex when he was her coach, which was from the ages of 10 to 16. That ban was overturned after Zampetti declined to testify in person for the arbitrator, while Steven Lopez—who previously had not talked to SafeSport investigators—did testify in person, along with multiple witnesses he brought.
That means that a search for the names Jean Lopez and Steven Lopez in the SafeSport online database shows zero results.
Jean Lopez coached the national taekwondo team for more than a decade, while Steven Lopez won three Olympic medals in the sport. With another brother and a sister also in the sport, they became known as the “first family” of taekwondo. They face an ongoing civil lawsuit in which five women say they were sexually abused by Steven, Jean, or other people who at the time worked for USA Taekwondo. SafeSport also is a party in that lawsuit.
Attorney Steven Estey, who represents Gilbert, Poe, and Zampetti, said tonight that he didn’t know yet why the arbitrator had lifted the ban on Jean Lopez. It’s possible, though, that it was for the same reason that the ban was lifted on Steven Lopez. In this case, Gilbert and Poe declined to testify in person due to their ongoing civil lawsuit, in which they will be deposed, and Estey’s concerns about re-traumatizing them. Estey said that he suggested SafeSport depose Gilbert and Poe during the ongoing civil lawsuit and then use that for its arbitration hearing, and that SafeSport declined the offer.
The requirement that someone testify in person is not found in SafeSport’s policies and procedures.
With the ban lifted, does Jean Lopez plan to go back to coaching? His lawyer Howard Jacobs already told USA Today that his client does, saying, “He’s said all along that the allegations were false. He can get back to coaching now. That’s a good development.”
Gilbert told the publication: “People say, ‘I’m scared to speak up.’ This is why.”
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