ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Three former student-athletes who say they were sexually abused by a track coach on Wednesday sued the NCAA, its board of governors and the coach, alleging the governing body didn’t do enough to protect NCAA athletes.
Londa Bevins, Jessica Johnson and Erin Aldrich — who represented the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics — are seeking class action status for the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California. The women say they were sexually abused and harassed by John Rembao while he worked at the University of Texas and the University of Arizona.
The suit aims to include NCAA student-athletes, who also say they were put at risk by the inaction of the governing body since 1992.
Rembao led the Longhorns’ cross country program and was an assistant for their track team from 1997 to 2001. He was an assistant coach for the Wildcats’ track program from 1993 to 1997.
The suit filed by law firms FeganScott and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein says the NCAA failed to stop sexual abuse and harassment of student-athletes by coaches at all member schools.
The Associated Press left messages seeking comment with the NCAA and Rembao, as well as officials at Texas and Arizona.
The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, is a member-led organization comprised of nearly 11,000 colleges and universities and nearly a half-million student-athletes competing in 24 sports.
The plaintiffs are asking for new policies to be adopted immediately regarding coach-student relationships and for compensation for those subjected to abuse because the NCAA did not implement best practices.
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.
Aldrich was on Arizona’s track and field and volleyball teams during the 1996-97 season and she transferred to Texas to compete in the high jump from 1997 to 2000. Rembao was one of her coaches. The Olympian and NCAA champion runner claims Rembao sexually abused her at Arizona and later harassed when she was competing for the Longhorns.
Johnson and Bevins say Rembao sexually abused and harassed them while they were on Texas’ track team as a freshman during the 1999-2000 season. Both gave up their scholarships before transferring to Arkansas.
“The three brave women who brought this class action are standing up and speaking out, not just for themselves, but for all other student-athletes who the NCAA put at risk and allowed to be harmed,” said New York-based lawyer Annika K. Martin. “And they are not just asking the NCAA to pay for past wrongs, they are also asking the NCAA to change to protect current and future student-athletes.”
The lawsuit raises the second issue of serious misconduct by a Texas women’s track coach in the early 2000s. Former women’s head coach Bev Kearney was fired by the school in early 2013 after one of her former athletes alerted them to a consensual relationship between the pair a decade earlier.
In dismissing Kearney, Texas officials said she had crossed a line between athlete and coach. Kearney sued Texas on race and gender discrimination claims and later reached an undisclosed settlement with the university.
And in 2009, former football assistant Major Applewhite was disciplined for an improper relationship with a student trainer on a bowl game trip. He was not fired.
Martin said a team of attorneys is willing to represent anyone who says they were put at risk by the NCAA after the U.S. Olympic Committee stated all sexual contact between coaches and student-athletes should be prohibited 28 years ago.
“The NCAA should have made that same prohibition to its member schools in 1992, if not before,” Martin said.
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