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Report: Another SafeSport Ban Got Overturned, This Time In Weightlifting

Photo: Buda Mendes (Getty)

In February of last year, the U.S. Center for SafeSport found that American weightlifter Colin Burns had committed “non-consensual sexual acts” with another weightlifter and banned him—but that ban didn’t even last six months, the Orange County Register reported yesterday. Instead, the ban was overturned that July by an arbitration panel made up of three former federal judges, who found that SafeSport did not prove what had happened “by a preponderance of the evidence,” the Register reported.

The Register article, by Scott M. Reid, says that weightlifter Jennyfer Roberts told SafeSport investigators that Burns sexually assaulted her in a Rio de Janeiro hotel room in April of 2016. Roberts and Burns were there for a pre-Olympic event, and Roberts said she was assaulted while she was incapacitated by alcohol and asleep. She reported it to USA Weightlifting in March of 2017, per the report. During the investigation, Burns still competed for the United States as well as in events where Roberts was competing.

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SafeSport banned Burns in February of 2018, and Burns appealed the decision. Here’s how that went, according to the Register report:

The documents and interviews also reveal that Roberts was questioned about her sexual history by an arbitration panel member during an appeal hearing, and that the panel in overturning the SafeSport ruling relied heavily on the testimony of a controversial University of Texas psychologist who, without ever speaking with Roberts, determined Roberts was in an alcohol-induced blackout at the time of the incident that would not have prevented her from consenting to have sex with Burns. SafeSport did not offer a rebuttal witness to Kim Fromme, the psychologist, according to SafeSport documents.

The documents also show how it often took SafeSport officials days, sometimes weeks, to respond to Roberts questions and concerns if they responded at all.

If this strategy for getting out of a SafeSport ban sounds familiar, that’s because it’s worked for others. Jean and Steven Lopez—two brothers once considered part of the first family of taekwondo—both were banned by SafeSport after multiple women said they were sexually abused by them. Both men got their bans overturned on appeal.

In the meantime, SafeSport—the U.S. Olympic Committee’s answer to sexual abuse since even before the Larry Nassar scandal—remains underfunded, can’t enforce it’s own bans, lost its CEO, and relies on sports organizations that it’s supposed to police to get money while still claiming it acts independently of them. SafeSport did weigh in yesterday saying it had found a culture of “grooming and abuse” in American figure skating. A center spokesman did not provide any details about how the center would help fix figure skating beyond “hoping people who know of abuse in the sport are empowered to come forward.”

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Diana Moskovitz

Senior editor at Deadspin

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