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Coaches are meant to be mentors who inspire athletes to reach their highest potential — but in some cases, they can also be hidden predators who take advantage of their position of authority to manipulate, sexually abuse, and traumatize those in their care.
Emilie Morris was a bright, ambitious 16-year-old when her 29-year-old cross-country coach allegedly played a sexually charged game of “chicken” with her in a park one afternoon as other teammates played capture the flag nearby.
According to Morris, the abuse would only continue from there with the pair regularly having oral sex — whether it was at her home, in a park bathroom, or the high school wrestling room — during stolen moments. As a teen, Morris claimed she viewed the alleged relationship as a clandestine love affair, but as she got older, she saw the alleged relationship for what it was: sexual abuse.
Morris — whose story is featured in the upcoming Oxygen special “The Case Died With Her,” premiering Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7/6c on Oxygen — arranged to meet former coach Jim Wilder in a shopping mall parking lot 18 years after the alleged abuse took place and recorded an 87-minute conversation with Wilder, where he allegedly confessed to the relationship and insisted Morris had been the “persuasive” one, BuzzFeed News reported in 2018.
Morris took the recording to police and Wilder was arrested and charged with six counts of sodomy a short time later … but when Morris died in 2014, so did the case against Wilder.
Morris’ alleged experience is not unique. Disturbing cases of abuse between children and coaches have made headlines for decades.
A recent study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found that up to 7 percent of middle and high school students are the targets of sexual abuse by coaches or teachers, CBS News reported in 2014.
“It’s an epidemic. There’s no doubt about it,” Dave Ring, an attorney in Los Angeles who represents former students abused by teachers, told the news outlet. “You would think school districts put the children and their well-being first and a lot of times, they don’t.”
Numerous cases of abuse continue to occur each year. Here are some of the more disturbing coach sex scandals to play out in recent decades:
The shocking child sexual abuse allegations made against Jerry Sandusky catapulted the issue of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted coach into the public conscious — sparking controversy and costing Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno his job.
Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator at Penn State, was accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, NPR reported in 2012. Sandusky abused kids he met through his charity, The Second Mile, which was designed to help troubled boys.
Eight victims took the stand to testify about the abuse in Sandusky’s 2012 trial — which ranged from taking showers with the boys to kissing, groping, oral sex, and anal rape, ESPN. Jurors also heard testimony from coworkers of a university janitor who had allegedly witnessed Sandusky abusing a young boy in the showers. The janitor himself was not able to testify due to dementia, according to SB Nation Pittsburgh.
Graduate assistant Mike McQueary, also testified to witnessing the abuse, ESPN reports.
Sandusky — who continues to maintain his innocence — was ultimately found guilty of 45 of the 48 counts against him on June 22, 2012.
Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years behind bars, but that sentence was overturned in February 2019 by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, CNN reported at the time. Later that same year, he was resentenced to a term of 30 to 60 years in prison and remains behind bars today.
The scandal also brought down Paterno, who was fired just four days after Sandusky’s arrest. Paterno — who died at the age of 85 in January 2012 — called the scandal “one of the greatest sorrows of my life.”
“With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more,” he said, according to NPR.
After Sandusky’s conviction, attorneys Justine Andronici and Andrew Shubin, who represented two of the victims at trial, said the conviction finally brought the victims the justice they deserved.
“The verdict is the direct result of the victims’ inspiring courage,” they said in a statement obtained by ESPN. “The victims provided heart-wrenching accounts of abuse, manipulation and betrayal by one of the most powerful and protected members of the community.”
Kristen Cunnane’s harrowing story of sexual abuse, harassment, and manipulation by middle school teacher and coach Julie Correa is like something out of the movie “Fatal Attraction.”
Correa, once a teacher at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in Moraga, California, became so obsessed with her one-time student, she often broke into Cunnane’s home and hid in her closet for hours waiting for her to return home, CBS News reported in 2014.
Correa even forced Cunnane to have sex with her in her childhood bedroom as Cunnane’s parents slept down the hall after breaking in and hiding under her bed.
“I just felt this grab around my ankles,” Cunnane told the news outlet. “I like lost my breath and shook, like shook. She abused me in like every way she could have — I was just paralyzed with fear … it was … like the thrill of not being caught.”
Cunnane estimated she was sexually abused around 400 to 500 times over the years before she gained the courage at the age of 18 to tell Correa not to ever contact her again or she’d call the police.
The abuse began in 1996 when Cunnane was 14 years old. Cunnane had confided in Correa that she had been abused by another teacher at the school.
“She told me, ‘You don’t have to tell your parents … I can help you through this,’” Cunnane said.
Not long after, Cunnane said Correa kissed her after dropping her off at home and the abuse only escalated from there, with Correa even giving the teen a dictionary with the pages cut out to hide a secret cell phone they could use to communicate.
Cunnane eventually decided to go to the police, and after a series of secretly taped conversations between Cunnane and Correa, Correa was arrested and charged with 28 felony counts of child abuse.
As part of a plea agreement, she pleaded “no contest” to four felony counts, including rape.
“It was never, never my intention to hurt you,” she told Cunnane in court. “I cared deeply for you.”
Andrew King, a former head coach at San Jose Aquatics, was a respected coach in his field, often working with young Olympic swimming hopefuls.
But there was also a dark side to King, who was accused of having a long 31-year history of sexually abusing the young girls in his charge, according to The Mercury News.
It’s believed he molested at least a dozen girls during his coaching career dating back to 1978, the Associated Press reported in 2010.
According to court documents obtained by The Mercury News in 2009, King allegedly had a preference for girls 10 to 17 years old and often lavished his victims with gifts, took them to dinner, traveled alone with the girls to away meets, and took them sailing on his boat. He often promised marriage or threatened to end their swimming careers if they didn’t submit to his demands.
“Red flags should have gone up when King was only massaging girls behind closed doors,” Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Ray Mendoza said, according to The Mercury News, adding that “the warning signs were everywhere.”
One victim claims that he impregnated her when she was only 14 years old and then forced her to get an abortion, Aquatics International Magazine reported in 2010.
King was arrested in 2009 after one of his swimmers at San Jose Aquatics contacted police — but he had been investigated on child molestation allegations twice before. The previous investigations had occurred in Contra Costa County and Oak Harbor, Washington, but in both cases no charges were ever filed against him.
King’s luck ended in 2009 with his arrest in Santa Clara County. The following year, he pleaded no contest to 20 child molestation charges and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Earlier this year, six women filed a series of civil lawsuits against USA Swimming, alleging that the organization failed to do enough to protect them from high-profile coaches accused of abuse, The Washington Post reports. King was one of the coaches cited in the lawsuits.
“The sexual abuse began when I was 11 years old and ended when I was 16,” one of the plaintiffs, Debra Grodensky, said, according to KPIX-TV. “He groomed my family, my friends, my teammates. I believe my life trajectory would have been drastically different if USA Swimming didn’t have the culture that enabled coaches to sexually abuse their athletes. “
The arrest of respected USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar rocked the gymnastics community and uncovered decades of abuse perpetrated against hundreds of victims.
Nassar had been a world-renowned sports physician treating America’s Olympic gymnasts and other hopefuls when allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in The Indianapolis Star in 2016 by two former gymnasts who claimed that the doctor had molested them during routine medical visits.
The women said Nassar had fondled their genitals and breasts during the visits, with one woman reporting that Nassar had appeared visibly aroused during the exam.
The accusations would prompt hundreds of other young gymnasts to come forward with similar stories of abuse. As the number of gymnasts — including Olympic champions Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney — continued to grow, organizations such as the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and the FBI also fell under harsh criticism for failing to do more, even after receiving reports of the abuse, according to a 2019 NBC News article.
Nassar was arrested and sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after agreeing to plead guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Michigan in 2018, CNN reported at the time.
“I’ve just signed your death warrant,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said at the time. “I find that you don’t get it, that you’re a danger. That you remain a danger.”
More than 150 survivors recounted their abuse and the devastating effects it had on their lives in court during powerful victim impact statements, where many of the women spoke of the strength they had found by joining together.
"We, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing," Raisman said in court. "The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere."
Nassar was also sentenced to 60 years in prison for federal child pornography charges and pleaded guilty to an additional three charges of criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County in Michigan, ensuring he will likely never get out of prison.
The shocking scandal continues to have ripple effects as attention has now turned to the institutions that failed to protect the young victims.
In 2019, a Senate subcommittee overseeing the Olympics released a scathing report concluding that the organizations — including the U.S. Olympic Committee and the FBI — had “fundamentally failed” to protect the women from sexual abuse over the years, allowing Nassar to abuse more than 300 athletes over two decades, according to NBC News.
Earlier this year, USA Gymnastics offered a $215M settlement to the hundreds of athletes who have sued the organization after it filed for bankruptcy in 2018. However, the survivors rejected that offer and no settlement has been reached in the case, USA Today reported last month.
In 2006, popular high school tennis coach Normandie Burgos was accused of inappropriately touching his students during massages and physical exams — but four years later, the case would end in a mistrial and Burgos would resume coaching young boys.
Many of the parents rallied behind him, raising at least $15,000 to help with his defense fund and showing up in court proceedings to show their support, The New York Times reported in 2020.
As a gay man, he claimed that the charges against him had been the result of homophobia, the paper reported.
Burgos was fired from Tamalpais High School, where he had been a popular teacher and coach, as a result of the allegations and subsequent trial, but he went on to create the Burgos Tennis Foundation and began teaching private lessons for half the price.
He was known for having a rigorous program that focused on intense conditioning and required students to maintain good grades as they pushed themselves to perform on the court.
But in 2014, Burgos found himself at the center of controversy again after one of his top players told police that he had been sexually abused by the coach since he was 14 years old.
Prosecutors said the teen claimed Burgos had demanded oral copulation and other sex acts and threatened to derail his college recruitment or withhold practice times if he refused — but police and prosecutors lacked the evidence to make the case, and Burgos continued to coach.
Three years later, Burgos was arrested again after another top player, Stevie Gould, agreed to wear a hidden wire to record a conversation he had with Burgos confirming sexual abuse, the newspaper reports.
This time, Burgos was convicted of 60 counts of child molestation for abuse against two different teen students and was sentenced to 255 years behind bars, The Marin Independent Journal reported at the time.
“He is a child predator, however nice he may have been to friends and other athletes,” Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Jordan Sanders said in court in 2019. “Sexual grooming was a game to him. It was his sport.”
The mother of one of the victims also addressed the court, describing Burgos as “evil” in court, the local paper reports.
“I trusted him with my son…like idiots, we believed him,” she said.
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