SafeSport’s Controversial Reversal of Taekwondo Coach Creates Concern for Other Sports

SafeSport was started to “end all forms of abuse in sport.”

But the reversal of a ban on a taekwondo coach could make athletes in every sport more uneasy about the process.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport temporarily removed taekwondo coach Jean Lopez from its sanctioned database this week “after telling alleged victims who reported him for sexual misconduct that SafeSport wouldn’t defend his ban without their in-person testimony at his appeal,” USA Today reported.

SafeSport does not have a rule that requires reporting parties to testify, so the decision is unprecedented and quickly became controversial.

Other sports, such as USA Swimming, that have a SafeSport division are left to wonder if previously banned coaches have a chance at reinstatement under similar circumstances.

Lopez was permanently banned by SafeSport in April after finding him in violation of the sexual misconduct code, including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

SafeSport found that Jean Lopez had assaulted multiple women including Mandy Meloon and Heidi Gilbert, who are listed in a federal lawsuit against Jean and Steven Lopez. According to the SafeSport report, Lopez had “a decades long pattern of sexual misconduct” and used his status as a respected athlete and coach to “groom, manipulate, and, ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes” — including minors, multiple news sources reported at the time.

Meloon told NPR after the ban: “I feel like we made it to the other side. It’s like now the system is working.”

Now, the feeling has changed.

“For me, I really wanted to believe in SafeSport. I was completely cooperating with them and I believed in the process,” Meloon told USA Today. “And now I’m just, I don’t know. It’s not helpful because now people who have been assaulted and will be assaulted by these guys are not going to have anywhere to report it.”

“(SafeSport is) a paper tiger. They’re hollow. They’re not fulfilling their obligation to the athletes,” attorney Stephen Estey told USA Today. “It gives people who have been banned a blueprint for how to get them lifted, he said. It also could have a chilling effect on those who’ve been abused, he said, because it sends the message that SafeSport will only go so far to protect them,” USA Today reported.

SafeSport released a statement about not commenting about specific instances: “When a sanction is changed the Center will typically discuss it with all of the involved parties and/or their advisors,” the statement said. “As each matter comes with its own unique set of circumstances, the Center’s decisions are dependent on factors such as the availability of information, the status of the matter or arbitration, the parties’ willingness or ability to participate, etc.”

Read the full USA Today report here.

1 Comment

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Dan Smith

    Making it up as they go along. They need to leave their positions, ASAP! Keep the athletes safe! Grow a spine!

Author: Daniel D'Addona

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Dan D'Addona is the lead college swim writer for Swimming World. He has covered swimming at all levels since 2003, including the NCAA championships, USA nationals, Duel in the Pool and Olympic trials. He is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a graduate of Central Michigan University. He currently lives in Holland, Michigan, where he also is the Sports Editor at The Holland Sentinel.

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