Screenshot: First Coast News

A mother whose daughter played volleyball under coach Rick Butler has filed a federal lawsuit against Butler and his wife, Cheryl, saying that Butler sexually abused “no fewer than six” underage girls and that the Butlers hid the abuses so their coaching business could continue. The lawsuit goes into detail about how the women say Butler used his clout as a highly influential volleyball coach with connections to major programs to first groom them, then abuse them.

According to the complaint, players who spoke out would have “dire consequences socially, physically, sexually, and for their future. They would be kicked off the team, embarrassed in front of their teammates, viewed as a failure by their parents, lose their scholarships, not go to college, and not play on the national team.” From the complaint:

Butler, his wife Cheryl, and GLV (among others) have actively concealed his abuses for years by pressuring his victims—often by threatening to end their futures in the game—to remain silent. Worse, they have persistently intimidated and attempted to discredit the few of his victims brave enough to come forward by exerting emotional and psychological control over them. Such concealment has allowed Defendants to not only to remain in business, but to thrive.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in federal court in Illinois. The plaintiff is Laura Mullen, a parent who sent her children to play volleyball at Sports Performance Volleyball Club, which Butler ran. In the lawsuit, Mullen said she never would have sent her two daughters there or given money to the program if she had known Butler’s history. The lawsuit names Butler, his wife, and their business, GLV, which did business as Sports Performance Volleyball Club. Its claims include violation of the Illinois Physical Fitness Services Act, unjust enrichment, and fraud.

The lawsuit starts out by giving the accounts of five women who say they were sexually abused by Butler: Sarah Powers-Barnhard, Beth Rose, Christine Tuzi, Julie Bremner, and one woman going by Jane Doe. It then goes into the different actions that were taken against Butler. USA Volleyball banned him for life in 1995, but five years later it partially lifted in the ban, and Butler’s coaching career continued. He switched to AAU, which didn’t ban him until this month, after months of pressure from members of the volleyball community as well as a four-part series in the Chicago Sun-Times. The AAU ban was followed by an “indefinite suspension” by the Junior Volleyball Association.

Even this has not ended Butler’s volleyball career. According to the lawsuit, “On information and belief, Butler continues to coach youth players.”

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The lawsuit goes into great detail about the different ways it asserts that the Butlers intimidate people who speak out. The lawsuit presents excerpts of letters it says were sent to the family of Bremner, implying that what happens could hurt their other daughter’s volleyball career. Cheryl Butler, according to the lawsuit, has attacked the women who came forward on Facebook, at one point calling Powers-Barnhard a “disgrace to true victims.” Cheryl Butler also created a website, which later came down, that she claimed gave their side of the story, although what it presented were, at best, documents selectively curated to only make her husband look good, according to the lawsuit.

Butler’s verbal and emotional abuse continued through the years, according to the lawsuit. Here is what happened to one of Mullen’s daughters:

Butler verbally and emotionally abused Laura’s daughter and other teammates. He regularly made comments about her weight and appearance. He attempted to force her to come back early from an injury. Laura’s daughter began to lose weight and to develop self-esteem issues as a result of Butler’s coaching techniques, which caused her to see a therapist. At one point, Butler commented that Laura’s daughter was “losing her butt” and looked like an “Ethiopia distance runner.”

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And Michigan State, already the subject of multiple investigations for how it enabled serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar, also comes up in the lawsuit. It is given as an example of how colleges helped Butler retain his power.

Indeed, as one example, Butler has a special relationship with Michigan State University. The current head coach of the women’s volleyball program there was one of Butler’s [coaches] at Sports Performance during the mid 1980’s (during which Butler was victimizing girls, as discussed below). And her current assistant coach for the women’s program served as the head coach for the Sports Performance Volleyball Club Summer Camp from 2000-2004.

Not only does Michigan State work with Butler and Sports Performance in identifying potential recruits, at least one Michigan State women’s volleyball coach has, as a proxy of Butler and Sports Performance, taken an active role in denying the accusations against Butler and discouraging victims from speaking out

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The full lawsuit can be read below.