USA Taekwondo tries to prove sex abuse case against Steven Lopez and brother
Two-time Olympic champion Steven Lopez complained to the U.S. Olympic Committee that he was subject to an “institutionalized witch hunt” designed to undermine his success — a piece of Congressional testimony offered by USA Taekwondo to undercut the notion that the organization was unwilling to discipline its top athletes for sexual abuse and other cases.
Lopez is currently under suspension while the U.S. Center for SafeSport investigates a case against him. His brother and coach, Jean, has been permanently banned for sexual misconduct.
Lopez wrote a letter last June to then-CEO Scott Blackmun of the USOC referencing three attempts by USA Taekwondo from 2013 to 2015, all overturned in arbitration, to ban Jean Lopez for actions that weren’t related to the sex abuse cases.
Lopez said the attempts were designed “to create the best possible conditions for my failure.”
But USA Taekwondo CEO Steve McNally, who will speak to a House subcommittee Wednesday about sex abuse in Olympic sports, wrote in his testimony that he presented the letter to dismiss the idea that USA Taekwondo knowingly looked the other way so the brothers could keep adding to the U.S. win column.
“As this should make clear, the purported ‘protective treatment’ the Lopez brothers received, which creates understandable outrage in the public’s eye, is absolutely and unequivocally false,” McNally wrote.
His testimony was among the six opening statements posted on the subcommittee website in advance of Wednesday’s hearing.
The USOC’s acting CEO, Susanne Lyons, is also scheduled to speak, along with leaders of USA Gymnastics, USA Volleyball, USA Swimming and the SafeSport center, which opened in March 2017 in response to sexual abuse scandals in Olympic sports.
CEO Shellie Pfohl said the center responded to more than 500 reports that covered 38 of the 49 national governing bodies; the center has issued 142 lifetime bans.
One of those went to Jean Lopez, who, according to McNally’s testimony, had a reputation for flouting the rules — one that USA Taekwondo spent years trying to rein in. One incident involved what McNally called “crass behavior” at a tournament, the sanction for which would have barred him from upcoming international competition.
The repeated attempts to suspend his brother led Steven Lopez to write the letter to Blackmun last June, on the same day USA Today published a story detailing a series of sexual abuse allegations against the Lopez brothers that were being investigated but were not resolved in time to preclude them from the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Victims told the newspaper that the family’s celebrity, combined with the USOC’s emphasis on winning medals, led them to believe the case would get swept under the rug. The theme of athletes being valued for their medal potential is one that has been repeated by numerous gymnasts and other athletes in the wake of the past year’s revelations.
In his testimony, McNally gives a detailed account of USA Taekwondo’s handling of abuse cases involving the Lopezes before going into the letter Steven Lopez sent to Blackmun about the suspension attempts.
With five gold medals from world championships, and two golds and a bronze from the Olympics, Steven Lopez is arguably the best-known figure in his sport. The story was only enhanced in 2008 when Lopez’s brother and sister, Mark and Diana, also made the U.S. team. None of that, however, kept USA Taekwondo from pursuing their brother and coach, Jean, when he crossed the line, McNally said.
“USA Taekwondo’s actions wholly undercut the outrageous suggestion that USA Taekwondo knowingly looked the other way so as to avoid pursuit of any actions that might interfere with Steven or Jean Lopez’s ability to participate in international competitions,” McNally wrote.