ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Former Olympic high jumper Erin Aldrich claims one of her track coaches, John Rembao, began grooming her for a sexually abusive relationship when she was 16 before physically taking advantage of her two years later.
“What we had between us, was not something special,” Aldrich said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He was a predator.”
Aldrich was one of three women who filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, on Wednesday against the NCAA, its board of governors and Rembao.
The U.S. Olympic Committee established a code of ethics for coaches nearly three decades ago. While the NCAA acknowledged coaches should never have sexual relationships with athletes under any circumstances, the governing body has not required its member institutions to prohibit them from having such relationships, according to the lawsuit.
She said Rembao took advantage of his key role for USA Track and Field as well as being her coach at the University of Arizona and the University Texas from 1996 to 2000.
“He was a man that was an authority figure and powerful and well known in the world of track field and was showing special interest,” she recalled in a telephone interview. “It’s hard not to fall into that trap.”
Londa Bevins, Jessica Johnson and Erin Aldrich — who represented the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics — say they were sexually abused by Rembao in part because the NCAA put them at risk by failing to protect them in college.
The USOC in 1992 stated that sexual or romantic relationships between a coach and athlete should not happen because they’re likely exploitative.
Twenty years later, the NCAA published a report, “Staying in Bounds,” in which the governing body acknowledged the power differential between a coach and student-athletes allows them to be exploited.
“The dynamics of the coach-athlete relationship in intercollegiate sport make any sexual contact between a coach and an athlete abusive,” the NCAA wrote.
Rembao declined to comment, via email, on the lawsuit after denying allegations in an interview with USA Today.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said the alleged behavior is disturbing.
Messages were left with the NCAA and the University of Arizona on Thursday, seeking a comment for a second straight day on the allegations in the lawsuit.
A message was also left with USATAF, which Rembao served for a decade as its high jump development coordinator.
“For USA Track and Field, he was the most powerful person in the high jump,” Aldrich recalled.
The suit filed by law firms FeganScott and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein aims to include any NCAA student-athlete, who say they were put at risk by the governing body’s inaction since 1992.
“When a coach holds a student-athlete’s future in his hands – including her scholarship, playing time, roster spot, workouts and Olympic aspirations – any sexual contact constitutes an abuse of power,” attorney Elizabeth A. Fegan, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said on Thursday.
The filing comes in the wake of revelations at the University of Michigan along with allegations and investigations of sexual abuse made by patients of sports doctors at other universities, including Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota.
Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage
AP Sports writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, and John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this report.