A prominent USA Badminton board member has recommended that the national governing body fire its chief executive Linda French, according to a letter obtained by the Southern California News Group.
The letter by the board member, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimming champion, comes against the backdrop of Congressional investigations into whether French and other USA Badminton handled allegations of sexual abuse against a former U.S. national team coach and another sex abuse case involving a young female player in accordance to U.S. Center for SafeSport guidelines.
Hogshead-Makar’s recommendation also comes a month after Alistair Casey, a USA Badminton employee who alerted the U.S. Center for SafeSport to French and the NGB’s handling of the two sexual abuse cases, was fired.
“I believe Linda should be terminated because, in the totality of circumstances, I no longer trust her actions to be in the best interests of the sport,” wrote Hogshead-Makar, who was appointed to the USA Badminton board in June 2020. “Rather, she is interested in defending herself to the detriment of the sport. She does not act definitively forward with any plan, one that presumably should have been changed during the pandemic to focus on issues that ‘normal times’ don’t allow for.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport on Nov. 4 placed temporary restrictions on French’s duties regarding sexual abuse cases, according to SafeSport documents obtained by SCNG.
French did not respond to a request for comment.
Hogshead-Makar declined to discuss the specifics of the letter, citing confidentiality issues.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in an October 1 letter warned USA Badminton about “potential criminal violations amid allegations that it sought to conceal claims of child sexual abuse and is obstructing an investigation by U.S. Center for SafeSport” in the two sex abuse cases.
According to Grassley, USA Badminton “discouraged reporting of sexual misconduct, encouraged the destruction or withholding of evidence, contested their obligations under the law, and refused to cooperate with SafeSport.”
Grassley said he alerted the FBI about the allegations.
“As the Nassar case exemplifies, inaction may lead to many more victims being harmed, which would be intolerable,” Grassley wrote, referring to the Larry Nassar case in which USA Gymnastics officials are accused of covering up allegations of sexual abuse against the former U.S. Olympic and U.S. national team physician, enabling Nassar to sexually assault dozens if not more than 100 new victims.
A day later Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-Mississippi), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate communication, science and transportation committee, wrote to USA Badminton that it has received allegations from the USA Center for SafeSport “detailing possible interference by senior USA Badminton officials, including allegations that on multiple occasions, senior USA Badminton officials discouraged staff with the organization from reporting possible sexual abuse of a minor to SafeSport.”
Hogshead-Makar in her December 1 letter to the other USA Badminton board members said she had been forwarded a letter from the House energy and commerce committee that stated “it has recently been brought to our attention that officials at USA Badminton may have failed to report allegations of child sexual abuse, discouraged others from reporting these allegations, and may be obstructing an investigation into those allegations undertaken by the U.S. Center for SafeSport. If true, this is unacceptable, deeply troubling, and a violation of federal law.”
Jon Little, an attorney for USA Badminton and a prominent survivors advocate who has frequently clashed with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and NGBs over their handling of sexual abuse cases, responded to the House committee that “the false allegations of not reporting in United States Badminton are currently being ‘investigated’ by the United States Center for Safe Sport and in the last month USA Badminton has produced over 1,000 pages records including multiple privilege logs to the USA Center For Safe Sport and the Senate Committee on Commerce; we are happy to produce the documents to your committee.”
Little was notified by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on October 13 that he was under investigation by the center.
The allegations, according to a U.S. Center for SafeSport letter included that Little was “made aware of allegations of sexual misconduct and failed to timely report such allegations to appropriate authorities; discouraged the reporting of sexual misconduct; encouraged the concealment and destruction of evidence on the subject; contested the need to follow federal reporting requirements; refused to cooperate in the Center’s investigation; and retaliated against a USA Badminton employee for reporting sexual misconduct to the Center. It has been further alleged that you engaged in Abuse of Process by improperly disclosing the identity of Claimants in communications with both the USOPC and the United States Congress.”
“The allegations are absolutely false,” Little said.
Little in an Oct. 13 letter to Senate aides wrote, “The Safe Sport complaint against me is part of a long running campaign by Safe Sport and its predecessors to silence the voices in sport that protect athletes in sports and I will publicly defend myself.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport and Congressional investigations are focused on whether USA Badminton discouraged the reporting and failed to report in a timely manner allegations that a former U.S. national team coach raped a young foreign female player training in Southern California and another rape of a young female by another USA Badminton member, according to U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Badminton documents. In the second case, the female became pregnant and underwent an abortion, according to two people familiar with the case.
Allegations in both cases were known by USA Badminton, including some board members, for years, according to USA Badminton, U.S. Center for SafeSport and Congressional documents.
In their Oct. 2 letter to French, Cantwell and Wicker wrote the U.S. Center for SafeSport allegations of interference against USA Badminton “were made in connection with SafeSport’s investigation into ‘allegations of child sexual abuse [by a USA Badminton coach] that were apparently known by an NGB official as far back as 2014.’”
“This behavior is exactly the sort of retaliatory abuse of process Safe Sport regularly utilizes to protect coaches who produce medals and money – in this case (the U.S. national team coach),” Little wrote in the Oct. 13 letter to Senate aides. “Safe Sport wants to perpetuate the narrative that Badminton failed to report (the U.S. national team coach) when in reality (the coach) had been the subject of a complaint made by the former athlete ombudsmen in 2009 and then again by USA Badminton in June/July 2020. Badminton correctly assumed that any additional complaints would be dismissed out of hand and without any sort of investigation by Safe Sport. This was the case regarding the August 2020 complaint as it was disposed of in less than three weeks.”
In an Oct. 5 email to French, Hogshead-Makar and USA Badminton chairman Ken Wong, Little wrote, “Bottomline in June of 2020 we discussed USA Badminton banning (the coach) and I think we need to do so now, I know it will be expensive as he is likely to fight but I think this guy is going to be a problem in the future, if he hurts a kid in the future we would get the pants sued off of us civilly – but besides that removing him is the right thing to do.”
Both cases were reported to USA Badminton on August 12, Little said.
U.S. Center for SafeSport officials were unable to locate the alleged victim in the first case which was closed September 1, Little said. The second case was closed on August 28, Little said. The center did not issue sanctions in either case, Little said.
“Linda did not understand the rules of SafeSport, and made the mistake of thinking she did not need to report some incidents of sexual abuse to the US Center for SafeSport,” Hogshead-Makar wrote in the letter. “After texts and a discussion with her, she did report them, and both reports were administratively closed. … But rather than clean up the mess her mistake caused, she got defensive and became unable to speak with Alistair, her only employee.
“Linda has made a SafeSport issue/ complaint into a federal case by failing to say what was true: that she did not think she had to report when she heard about a coach molesting a badminton player. She ultimately did report, and SafeSport has administratively closed those reports. In my mind, it was a good-faith mistake that didn’t get cleaned up swiftly.”
In an interview with SCNG, Hogshead-Makar said “in my impression was a mistake was made and my impression was that we cleaned it up.
“This was not in any way like (USA) Gymnastics where they knew about (Nassar) and they didn’t do anything about it.”
Hogshead-Makar in the letter also alleges “the 2022 budget was used to dismiss Alistair Casey from employment. To my mind, this ’emergency board meeting’ (on the budget) was created in order to give Linda ‘cover’ to fire Alistair. I feel she was not being straight with us about her intentions of our meeting, or why she was firing Alistair.”
Casey said he was fired because he was reporting to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Had I not reported to SafeSport, I would still be working there.”
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