Bellevue police have reopened an investigation into alleged misconduct by a coach at a badminton club after several girls and young women have come forward with stories about inappropriate massages and other behavior that made them feel uncomfortable. The club says the coach was terminated last week.
In the summer of 2017, as a 15-year-old badminton athlete trained at the Bellevue Badminton Club, her coach — once at the top of the sport’s national rankings — offered the girl a massage in his office.
The teenager said she agreed, thinking that Coach Nick Jinadasa was just trying to be helpful, which he insists was his only goal. But over time and after other massages, she grew uncomfortable.
During the first massage, she said Jinadasa, now 33, asked her to remove her bra to make the massage easier, she said in an interview with The Seattle Times. She said she declined. Another time, the girl said he invited her for a massage at his home. Again, she said no. The last time he gave a massage, she said, she was lying on her back and he massaged up her leg to her hip, putting his fingers under her underwear. She objected, she said, and he backed off.
Most Read Local Stories
- Coronavirus daily news updates, July 12: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- 2 dead, 2 hurt in shooting and stabbing in downtown Bellevue
- Alaska flight forced to return to Sea-Tac Airport after man threatens passengers Saturday night WATCH
- Violence that killed two in Bellevue began with domestic dispute, police say
- Meet the Youth Liberation Front behind a militant marathon of Portland protests VIEW
The young girl, whom The Times is not naming due to her age and nature of her story, is one of six girls or young women who spoke to the newspaper about their concerns regarding Jinadasa. Four of the athletes said they were under the age of 18 when Jinadasa gave them private massages; the other two related additional stories of concern.
At least one of the women complained nearly a year ago to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit organized by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2017 as USA Gymnastics was embroiled in a sex-abuse scandal involving dozens of athletes and team doctor Larry Nassar. The center was designed to lead efforts to combat abuse in Olympic sports.
The organization launched an investigation in Bellevue and also told local law enforcement, the woman and Jinadasa said.
However, Jinadasa stayed on the job until last week, when center CEO Geoff Stensland said he was terminated after the woman published her story online and summarized the other stories she had heard about Jinadasa. SafeSport declined to discuss the investigation, but data shows it has received 1,368 reports over the span of 18 months, and that 800 of those remained open.
The Bellevue Police Department, which looked at the initial complaint and found no crime, said this week that it has opened a new investigation.
Jinadasa said in an interview that the massages he provided were a mistake but that he was only trying to help his athletes. He said all the contact was targeting specific injuries or muscle troubles the players had.
“I put myself at risk by offering to do that, and obviously it’s coming back to bite me,” Jinadasa said. “My intentions were not to make any student uncomfortable.”
Christine Chen, the young woman who filed the initial complaint and recently posted her allegations online, said she went public because she had grown frustrated with the slow pace of the SafeSport investigation.
“When I went the official route, it took a year. When I went the public route, it took two days,” Chen said. “That says a lot about the system.”
At a club meeting Wednesday night, parents expressed frustration that they weren’t made aware of the complaint and that the investigation had taken so long. Stensland, the club CEO, said investigators who did the preliminary work on the case had advised him earlier this year to reiterate policies with the coaches but continue as usual while the investigation progressed.
One parent said he wouldn’t have sent his kids with Jinadasa to travel to tournaments this past year if he had known about the complaint. Another parent, Srini Malladi, said he’d seen Jinadasa rubbing the shoulders of athletes at some point over the past year and would have approached it differently had he known of the issue. He said he would have liked to see USA Badminton be transparent with the community so that parents could be aware and more vigilant while any investigation remained ongoing.
“Any process that takes a year to investigate cannot be leaned on,” Malladi said at the meeting, referring to the SafeSport investigation.
Training ground for athletes
Launched in 2005, the Bellevue Badminton Club has emerged as a prominent training ground for athletes looking to advance in the Olympic sport.
Current and recent athletes said the club regularly sends about 30 players to the junior nationals competition, a launchpad for Olympic hopefuls. Some of the club’s coaches have earned national ranking in the past, including Jinadasa, who won gold medals at the World Junior Pan American Badminton Championships in 2002, according to his U.S. Olympic Committee biography. Jinadasa’s club bio said he had been ranked as high as No. 1 nationally.
Chen began working with Jinadasa when he arrived at the facility in 2011. She said she noticed smaller issues with him early on.
He was hanging out with female teammates at night when they traveled for junior nationals. He’d go to their hotel room to chat with them, Chen said. He texted one of Chen’s teammates. She recalled him remarking on players’ bodies.
Jenny, one of Chen’s teammates who asked that her last name not be used, provided copies of digital diary entries from 2011 and 2012, when she was 15 and 16 years old, in which she described a series of incidents that she found “creepy.”
In one, she said Jinadasa texted that he was “gonna miss your feisty butt: P” after having a conversation with another person about how he was attracted to feisty people, according to the diary. In another, he said he was attracted to Asian people “with big calves, like you.” In another, sent after 11 p.m., he told the teenager to “call me or drop by if you have a chance,” she wrote in the diary.
Jinadasa said in an interview that he thinks some of the comments attributed to him may be taken out of context. But he conceded that he mistakenly tried to act like a friend with the athletes, including playful comments and invitations for players to come to hang out at his place.
“I didn’t quite understand the impact of what I was saying,” Jinadasa said.
Chen said she has kept communicating with athletes in the club. More recently, when she heard stories about younger girls getting massages, she began collecting stories and filed her complaint.
Tumultuous year for organization
Chen provided records showing she first complained to the chief executive officer of USA Badminton in December 2017.
The organization has had a tumultuous year. In January, the organization moved the location of its junior nationals competition after initially placing it at an Illinois gym owned by Rick Butler, a volleyball coach who USA Volleyball banned for life for allegations of misconduct and abuse. In July, a prominent coach at a California badminton academy was arrested on suspicion of molesting a minor.
Then, two months ago, an audit of USA Badminton identified a series of “high risk” issues, finding that the organization was not following its SafeSport background-check process. In a sampling of 25 individuals who should have had background checks, auditors found 11 did not have current background checks.
Similarly, the auditors found that more than half of those examined didn’t have records showing complaint training on SafeSport matters. USA Badminton said it has added an operations manager to better track and enforce the requirements.
Jinadasa said he went through SafeSport training this year and believes he did so in a previous year as well, but he didn’t recall specifics. USA Badminton CEO Jeff Dyrek said in an interview that Jinadasa was up to date on his requirements.
Chen said her complaint to USA Badminton last year drew a prompt response from Dyrek, who helped her file a complaint with SafeSport. She said SafeSport initially referred the case to Bellevue police.
Bellevue police spokesman Seth Tyler said officers investigated, determined no crime had been committed and the case was closed. He said a new case on Jinadasa was opened last week but he couldn’t provide information on that.
SafeSport has continued to investigate, but Chen said she found herself nagging the investigator for updates.
Dyrek said athlete safety is paramount.
“The sooner we can get answers and resolution, the better,” Dyrek said. “But conducting a proper investigation is also important.”
After months of silence from SafeSport, Chen decided she was going to post details online about her account.
Stensland, the CEO at Bellevue Badminton, said he learned of the SafeSport investigation into Jinadasa early on. He said investigators told him to emphasize policies for the coaches, but didn’t recommend ending Jinadasa’s work with kids. Stensland changed course and fired Jinadasa last week when he started hearing additional stories.
Stensland said coaches are subject to strict rules about conduct, including not being alone with players, not communicating with them privately, such as through text messages, and not having contact with them in a physical way such as a massage.
“The actions by the coach clearly crossed the line,” Stensland told parents.
Others come forward
Since Chen published her account online, she said, others have come forward.
The Times interviewed four girls or young women who said they received private massages from Jinadasa while they were under 18.
The now 16-year-old girl who last year was invited to the office for a massage — she still trains at the badminton club — said Jinadasa had suggested she accompany him to an upstairs office last year to massage sore muscles more than once. At the time, she believed he was well-intentioned, so she agreed.
She recalled an incident last year in which he had her lie on a massage table and asked if she wanted to take off her sports bra so it wouldn’t be in the way, but she declined. Jinadasa, in an interview, acknowledged doing massages but did not recall making that suggestion. The girl said that, after one session, he asked her to return the favor and give him a massage.
The girl recalled that the coach once massaged her where her chest meets her shoulder. During a third massage, the girl was on her back when the coach massaged up her leg. She said his fingers went up farther, to go beneath her underwear at her hip. She also said he invited her over to his place for a massage but she didn’t go.
Another girl recalled that when the team traveled to junior nationals in Florida in 2015, she shared a hotel room with three other girls, all about 14 or 15 years old. At one point, Jinadasa dropped by their hotel room and massaged each one of them on the bed, the girl said.
Jinadasa said he did massages at the request of the players. He named some male players that he had also helped with massages.
The girl said she and her female peers mentioned the massages to one of the female coaches. She didn’t recall the exact response from the female coach but said the coach was not pleased.
But two years later, at the national tournament in California, the girl said Jinadasa invited her to his hotel room for a massage, which she said occurred without incident. Jinadasa said he didn’t recall a private massage in his hotel room. But during a massage at his office in Bellevue in 2017, she recalled having a thigh injury and the coach massaging higher than was necessary on her inner thigh. Jinadasa said the leg would have been targeted to help the injury.
A third girl who received massages said Jinadasa, as head coach, was in a powerful position to influence their efforts to advance in the sport. She said he could make students miserable if they spoke up, and there was a lot of fear among students reluctant to challenge him because they all cared about their sport.
Now an adult, the woman said she took private lessons from Jinadasa to help her advance. When she grew uncomfortable and felt unsafe around him, she talked to her parents and quit the private lessons. She said the coach seemed to pick on her more after that, humiliating her in front of the class.
A fourth athlete who received a private massage from the coach when she was 17 said was uncomfortable with the encounter but didn’t believe Jinadasa’s intentions were harmful. She said she hopes the community will not dismiss his other dimensions as a person and that the focus going forward is on how things can improve.
Stensland, the club CEO, said he would look at getting a counselor for students at the club and is working to restructure the organization. He encouraged parents and students to report even the slightest concern about a coach to SafeSport.