Home Sport Former U.S. Olympic Coach Under Scrutiny, but Not for What You Think

Former U.S. Olympic Coach Under Scrutiny, but Not for What You Think

SHARE

Kevin Mazeika, a longtime fixture in American gymnastics who coached the United States men’s team at three Olympics, said his reputation has been irreparably damaged by U.S.A. Gymnastics because of the carelessness with which it has handled a current misconduct claim against him.

He said U.S.A. Gymnastics’ overzealousness to publicly shame anyone accused of any wrongdoing and its presumption of guilt are emblematic of the federation’s desperation to win back public trust after the Lawrence G. Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

Mazeika, the men’s national team program coordinator from 2009-16, said he is being investigated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for a claim that he failed to report child abuse that allegedly occurred at his Houston gym. SafeSport is the independent organization with exclusive jurisdiction in the United States to investigate and resolve accusations of sexual misconduct in Olympic and Paralympic sports, and it sometimes also handles matters involving physical and emotional abuse.

Mazeika’s lawyer, Russell Prince, said Mazeika wasn’t even in the gym at the time and characterized the incident involving a young girl as “a kid who was playing around in a club and got hurt” and “a basic injury within the context of the sport.”

Robert Lapin, a lawyer for the gymnast, said on Tuesday that the girl suffered a serious back injury but that “there is no allegation of any sexual abuse of any kind with respect to my client, and saying that would be totally unfair and untrue.”

But even before Mazeika was officially notified of the failure-to-report accusation through an email from SafeSport on Tuesday, U.S.A. Gymnastics had placed him on its public list of people facing misconduct allegations in the sport. His entry on that list included no specifics of the case but carried the notation that he could have no unsupervised contact with minors.

The wording of the listing and the lack of detail, Prince said, sparked speculation among the public that Mazeika was “some kind of sexual abuser of children.” Erroneous news reports that he had been suspended for misconduct only made his situation worse.

“I don’t know what to say except that I’m shocked,” Mazeika said in an interview on Tuesday, adding that he had done nothing to warrant any type of misconduct investigation. “When I saw, ‘No unsupervised contact with minors,’ I thought, what in the world is going on? I know what those words suggest. The implications are horrific. It’s tremendously damaging and heartbreaking.”

He added that he “completely supports SafeSport in its important role to protect our athletes,” but “U.S.A. Gymnastics did this to me in order to look good” after the Nassar case revealed widespread abuse in the sport. Nassar, a former United States gymnastics national team doctor, is serving what amounts to life in prison after molesting hundreds of girls and women under the guise of medical treatment. In the wake of that scandal, U.S.A. Gymnastics faced possible decertification by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and it filed for bankruptcy protection because of a multitude of Nassar-related civil claims.

When asked about Mazeika’s case, Carol Fabrizio, a spokeswoman for the governing body, responded in a text message that the organization could not comment in detail because it seeks “to preserve the integrity of the process and the privacy of all participants.” Daniel Hill, a spokesman for SafeSport, declined to comment because the organization does not discuss specific cases.

Prince, Mazeika’s lawyer, said people, including a lawyer representing many Nassar victims, this week have posted on social media suggesting that Mazeika was just another Nassar. Yet U.S.A. Gymnastics did nothing to correct the record, Prince said.

He added, “This is a 100 percent fail and the reality of the situation is they have a set of rules that doesn’t effectively work.”

The SafeSport investigation of Mazeika involves an 8-year-old girl who faults two tumbling and trampoline coaches at Houston Gymnastics Academy in Texas for injuring her during post-training session play last September. Mazeika is president of the gym, but he did not coach her, Prince said. Neither of the coaches directly involved in the situation — Oybek and George Mamataliyev — could be reached for comment. Both remain on U.S.A. Gymnastics’ suspended and restricted list.

Mazeika said he received a letter in November from the girl’s lawyer, informing him that the lawyer had been retained to pursue any legal claims. The date of the alleged injury lines up with the date of the failure-to-report claim that was filed with SafeSport.

Prince said Mazeika was under no obligation to report a typical gym injury to SafeSport or law enforcement, and that resources are being wasted with a baseless claim that is “in no way an issue for SafeSport.” He also criticized U.S.A. Gymnastics’ need to place any interim measures on Mazeika when the coach was not accused of abusing any athletes, and thus was not an imminent danger to them.

Those interim measures, he said, were just for show, considering coaching rules already dictate that coaches cannot be alone with unrelated minors.

On Tuesday, SafeSport modified U.S.A. Gymnastics’s order that Mazeika not have unsupervised contact with minors at a U.S.A. Gymnastics club or sanctioned event, and may not be in their presence without another adult there. Instead, it barred him from traveling with a minor athlete, coaching athletes without the supervision of another adult, and having one-on-one unsupervised contact with athletes.

Mazeika said those measures are ones he was required to follow as a U.S.A. Gymnastics coach in the first place and that the whole situation is an example of the federation failing to handle cases fairly.

“A lot of really good coaches are living in fear and are walking on eggshells all the time because it’s a one-way street right now,” he said. “We understand that there are bad people that need to be taken to the floor, but right now you could lift a kid to the high bar and be reported or you could be reported because of the way you look at a kid. And that’s not right.”