Four women are suing USA Taekwondo, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the U.S. Center for SafeSport for their roles in ignoring repeated reports of sexual abuse by Taekwondo star coach Jean Lopez and his brother, Olympic medalist Steven Lopez, going back to 1996. SafeSport has asked to be dismissed from the lawsuit, and one element of its defense is that the organization’s leaders couldn’t possibly have done anything about those reports, because it didn’t open its doors until March 2017.
But new documents show that people were employed at SafeSport at least 11 months before that date. In a motion filed this week, attorney Daniel Lipman wrote that a privilege log produced by the USOC showed emails sent from email addresses “@safesport.org” in April 2016. A year earlier, USA Taekwondo retained an attorney to investigate the Lopez brothers in response to online comments making abuse allegations against them, USA Today reported. That same USA Today report said that at some point in 2016 the USOC was consulted, after which the decision was made to pause the investigations until after the brothers traveled to Rio for the games held that August.
This also matters because SafeSport has continually asserted that it functions independently of the USOC as well as the national governing bodies it is supposed to police. The privilege log includes an email with a USOC lawyer, Chris McCleary, and a person at the law firm of Bryan Cave, which was used by multiple NGBs. From the motion:
The emails back up what board minutes and other documents showed—that the “independent” SafeSport is a creation of the USOC, with input from USOC leaders and lawyers from the start. The USOC trademarked the SafeSport name in 2012 and put up a website for it, USOC leaders attended early meetings that informed how the center would work, and SafeSport is funded in part by the USOC.
SafeSport responded to the plaintiffs’ motion yesterday, reasserting the importance of 2017, saying that there “is no legal basis for holding the Center liable for not having acted before March 2017.” While it did exist and have employees before that date, it “had no power to take any action against anybody until March 3 of 2017,” the center’s lawyer wrote.
So SafeSport existed. It had employees. But nearly four years after the USOC received a trademark and launched a website and told reporters over and over about this SafeSport program that was going to fix things, SafeSport still wasn’t ready to investigate reports of abuse. Got it.
The motions in full are below.