DENVER (AP) — When former members of the U.S. Snowboard Team wanted to report allegations of sexual abuse against a longtime coach, they received conflicting information that left them unsure of where to turn — or if they wanted to continue the business.
An Instagram post during the Olympics by a former member of the USA team led to allegations that coach Peter Foley sexually assaulted them, forced them to take nude pictures, crawled into bed with women and fostered an atmosphere in which women were treated as sex objects.
The episode raised questions about whether the sexual abuse reporting system in Olympic sports, revamped following former gym doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of athletes, is working. as it should be about five years after the redesign.
Foley has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Howard Jacobs, said as of March 30 – 10 days after Foley was fired by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Federation and more than seven weeks after the allegations began to surface – the 56-year-old coach years had not been contacted by the US Center for SafeSport, the organization formed to investigate allegations such as those involving Foley.
“We only received the allegations from the US Center for SafeSport after sending them an email asking them to provide them,” Jacobs said.
The Associated Press has reviewed a series of emails between the athletes, an attorney for the US Ski and Snowboard Federation and employees of the US Center for SafeSport that followed snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof’s initial social media post. The correspondence painted a picture of athletes who did not trust their own sports federation to handle the cases appropriately and a SafeSport center which had received information about the case but would not pursue them unless it had news from the accusers themselves.
An email to USSS attorney Alison Pitt from a SafeSport admissions coordinator said athletes “should be advised that if they are unwilling to come forward, be named and to participate in the process, they are actually choosing to participate in a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that nothing can or will be done to the accused.
The email went on to say that the accusers “appear to believe they can dismiss the allegations and that Foley will be removed.”
This correspondence conflicts with the center’s own policies, which state that “nothing in this code shall be construed to require a victim of child abuse or other misconduct to report themselves.” The statutes also warn that anonymous reports may limit the center’s ability to respond.
Asked about details about this and other emails, spokeswoman Annie Skinner said the center does not comment on individual cases “to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of those affected”.
“Correspondence with an NGB on a particular matter should not be considered a complete representation of the center’s information or investigative intentions,” Skinner said.
While the SafeSport Center demanded and waited for victims to come forward, USSS attorney Pitt could have had a potentially chilling effect on an athlete’s decision whether or not to contact the center. An ESPN report that detailed the allegations quoted an unnamed Olympic medalist as saying the attorney described an “extensive and difficult” reporting process.
“It made me wonder if I wanted to go through this process,” the athlete said.
USSS CEO Sophie Goldschmidt told AP that Pitt was “transparent that the process could take time” in her discussion with the athlete, but assured him that the report to the SafeSport Center was the only way to solve the case.
It took more than five weeks for either watchdog to take decisive action against Foley: US Ski & Snowboard fired him following its own workplace investigation on March 20 , two days after the SafeSport Center temporarily suspended him pending his investigation into the abuse. .
The SafeSport Center was formed after dozens of athletes from multiple sports detailed decades of abuse allegations that were not properly addressed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the sports organizations it oversees. One of the reasons it was formed was to prevent conflicts of interest that arise when officers or employees of a sports organization attempt to resolve sexual abuse disputes involving athletes in their sport.
What happened between Chythlook-Sifsof’s initial accusations and the ongoing investigation into Foley caught the attention of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who sent the USSS a letter suggesting he was bypassing the rules that require the center to have exclusive jurisdiction in the investigation. complaints of sexual abuse.
In his letter, Grassley said the USSS stepped in by conducting its own investigation instead of filtering the entire process through the SafeSport Center, and “did not send notifications regarding sexual misconduct to the center.”
The USSS responded to Grassley with its own letter which says there is a “serious misunderstanding” about the actions the federation took when it first heard of the allegations.
The USSS provided AP with multiple emails and documents indicating that it contacted the SafeSport Center immediately upon learning of Chythlook-Sifsof’s Instagram post.
But initial contact between the USSS and the SafeSport Center resulted in no sanction for Foley by the center. Although the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee imposed “temporary measures” to restrict Foley’s contact with athletes until the end of the Olympics, the USSS became more concerned as the snowboarding team approached a trip to Austria for a post-Olympic competition in early March. The USOPC measures expired after the Olympics.
In a Feb. 16 email to Pitt, SafeSport Center Vice President Bobby Click said “based on information available to the center, we have elected not to implement any type of measure.”
The next day, an admissions coordinator at the center emailed Pitt and said she had interviewed five “applicants”, all of whom denied wrongdoing.
“If I don’t get a participating applicant soon, we will close” the case, the coordinator wrote.
The emails further urging athletes to come forward were sent on March 14.
During the same period, USSS board member Lisa Kosglow reached out to the former Olympic medalist interviewed in ESPN’s story and told her “Peter is so devastated” by the allegations. . ESPN reported that Kosglow said medalist Foley asked Kosglow to contact her. The medalist told Kosglow she was one of the women Foley injured.
The USSS acknowledged that Kosglow reported none of this to the SafeSport Center and subsequently resigned his seat.
“It was a mistake, which we regret,” the USSS said in a statement.
But the USSS stood firm on its decision to temporarily suspend and ultimately fire Foley while it opens and then resolves its own investigation into workplace bullying and a toxic environment — an investigation that stemmed from the initial sexual abuse allegations. .
“Inevitably, there has been some overlap between the center’s sexual misconduct investigation and the US Ski & Snowboard investigation into other workplace misconduct,” the federation said.
Meanwhile, as emails between the USSS and the center went back and forth, a handful of athletes, including Chythlook-Sifsof, took their cases to the center, which opened an investigation that led to Foley’s temporary suspension. It happened two days before he was fired and more than five weeks after the original Instagram post.
“Were it not for the determination of the USSS that Coach Foley’s conduct (even outside of the Center’s sexual misconduct investigation) was inconsistent with USSS values, Coach Foley would have continued to have contact with the athletes until the Center decided to act nearly four weeks later,” Goldschmidt wrote in the USSS response to Grassley.