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The United States Tennis Association is defending itself against allegations that one of its top lawyers repeatedly tried to cover up sexual assault, including by warning 22-time Grand Slam champion and abuse survivor Pam Shriver to be careful when discussing the issue.
On Monday, former college player Stevie Gould, who successfully sued the USTA in 2020 for failing to protect young players in California from a sex predator who is now serving a 255-year prison sentence, filed a complaint with the Center for Safe Sports USA. USTA Deputy Chief Legal Officer and USTA Foundation Senior Legal Counsel Staceylen Michel has sought retribution in his case and the actions of another predatory tennis coach.
SafeSport is tasked with investigating sexual and physical abuse and harassment claims in sport.
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Safesport’s complaint He cited an incident in the spring of 2022, when Michelle followed International Tennis Hall of Famer Shriver to her car at a fundraising dinner and told her to “be careful” about her public statements about sexual assault. Tennis.
Shriver said she interpreted the speech’s message as “not to say too much.”
According to Gould’s complaint, Mitchell used the same tactics nine years before he was abused by his trainer. In the year In a 2014 email to the head of the USTA Northern California chapter, Michel stated that information about the police investigation and suspension of popular coach Normandie Burgos from USTA activities should be kept confidential. Burgos began abusing Gould the following year, and was charged with several counts of assault.
“She is not morally fit to serve in her current capacity as a national governing body,” Gold said in a statement to SafeSport. She said: “He has written that she poses a serious risk to children as long as she continues in this position.” Simply put, children are not safe in tennis until this person can make decisions about their safety.
USTA spokesman Chris Widmeier said last month that the organization does not stop anyone from telling their stories of abuse, certainly not Shriver. The organization declined to make Michelle available for an interview.
In the lawsuit, Michelle Shriver said she was acting as an attorney for the USTA because she had done fundraising work on behalf of the USTA in the past, and Shriver was warned by Robert Allard, the lead attorney for the private plaintiffs. Michelle said that she is not a “good person” in the case of sexual abuse in sports
In a statement on Wednesday, Widmaier We reported information appropriately and promptly to law enforcement and cooperated with the investigation. We believe Ms. Michel acted fairly and in accordance with the law in all respects.
Shriver has become an ally of sexual assault survivors in tennis after going public with her own story of abuse last year. In a pretrial filing by the USTA and Kylie McKenzie, a onetime hopeful, Shriver said Michelle approached her last year following a USTA fundraising dinner in California about her involvement in the case.
When an attorney representing the USTA in McKenzie’s lawsuit asked Shriver if she was discouraged from speaking out about sexual misconduct at the USTA, she responded, “It depends on how you interpret the conversation.” The interpretation part is that I have to be careful. Don’t talk too much about that interpretation.
That exchange between Michel and Shriver led to an uncomfortable clash between the USTA and one of the most decorated players in American tennis history, a popular television commentator and high-profile volunteer for ESPN and the Tennis Channel. for the organization.
After Shriver testified on McKenzie’s behalf, with only limited time for cross-examination, USTA attorneys tried to serve her with additional questions in the days after the US Open. Unwilling to submit to more cross-examination, Shriver spent most of her time in and around her home until the deadline for additional testimony passed.
McKenzie, 24, of Arizona, sued the USTA last year and was represented by Allard. In the year After she practiced in 2018, when she was 19 and he was 34, the USTA failed to protect her from an abusive coach. That coach had previously touched a USTA employee before meeting with McKenzie. McKenzie told her not to share her experience with anyone until the allegations were investigated.
Gold, a 23-year-old California native who played tennis for the University of San Francisco In 2021, he reached a good deal with the USTA, a well-known coach who trained him and other players from Burgos, children of immigrants at half the price of other top coaches.
Burgos was previously accused of sexually abusing young players at Tamalpais High School in Marin County, north of San Francisco. A jury was unable to reach a verdict in a 2010 lawsuit against the school’s players, and the verdict was reversed.
The USTA took no action against Burgos, and he set up a private practice in the East Bay town of Richmond, training young players at his condominium. The USTA provided travel grants that allowed the teams to represent Northern California at national tournaments.
Then in 2014, a player told police that Burgos asked him for sex, and when the boy refused, Burgos withheld gear or practice time and threatened to lose his college recruitment. After learning of the police investigation, the USTA banned Burgos from participating in any USTA tournaments, events or programs.
However, in the same email in which she informed Steve Lube, head of the USTA Northern California section, of Burgos’ suspension, Michele Lube asked to keep as quiet as possible about the allegations.
“All information about this matter must be handled with care and kept confidential,” Michel wrote.
Burgos lashed out at Gold, who didn’t recognize Michel’s e-mail years later, describing the experience as “mind-blowing.”
“If my parents knew about this, there’s no way they’d let me spend countless hours at this guy’s private compound,” said Gould, who has been coaching junior players at Marin County in recent months. He said the decision to revisit the issue after two years of dropping it was not an easy one, but it was something he couldn’t let go of in the end.
“There is this disconnect between how this should have been handled and how it was,” he said.
(Top photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)