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Amateur Athletic Union Launches Policy Review Following ESPN Inquiry

In a newsletter to members, the Amateur Athletic Union announced it has arranged for an independent review of its practices and procedures, "especially those that relate to our youth," in the wake of an ESPN inquiry about an AAU coach with an allegedly sordid past.

According to ESPN's Shaun Assael, the network's Outside the Lines reached out to AAU leadership to discuss volleyball coach Rick Butler, who had been "banned from life for coaching girls by a different organization in 1995 after an ethics panel found he had had sexual relationships with three underage players several years prior." In the letter to members, the AAU announced Butler would be stepping aside during the upcoming review.

In 1995, the Los Angeles Times shared the story of Julie Bremner, who, along with two other women, registered a complaint with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services against Butler alleging sexual misconduct. The three women likewise went to USA Volleyball's ethics and eligibility committee, charging him with having sex with them while they were 16 and 17 years old.

According to the Times, Butler "acknowledged having relationships with Bremner and the other women but said the relationships were consensual after the women had left his program and were legally adults." The DCFS classified the case as "indicated for risk of harm," according to Chicago magazine, which meant "authorities believe the evidence supports the allegations." Meanwhile, USA Volleyball banned him for life, making him the first such volleyball coach to receive that dubious distinction.

"The act by a coach of having sexual intercourse with a junior volleyball player entrusted to his care constitutes such immorality, lack of judgment, and unacceptable behavior as to cause USA Volleyball, at minimum, public embarrassment and ridicule by its merely having taken place," the ethics committee said in its verdict, according to Chicago. Butler appealed the decision, but USA Volleyball upheld it. His only route back to conditional membership, according to the Times, was waiting five years and applying "if there is no evidence of further relations with minors and if he agrees in writing to not coach junior girls."

In 2011, ESPN reported allegations from two players that then-president and chief executive officer of the AAU, Bobby Dodd, had sexually assaulted them in the 1980s. In response, Memphis, Tenn., police opened an investigation into Dodd, although he ultimately faced no charges.

In the wake of that investigation, the AAU began requiring all coaches, volunteers, and staff to undergo mandatory background checks. By Sept. 1, 2012, all AAU staff members and volunteers were required to undergo background checks, including screenings of their criminal history and the sex-offender registry, with no current members allowed to be grandfathered into the policy.

The task forces tabbed with reviewing the AAU's policies in the wake of the Dodd scandal specified that: "Criminal investigations, charges or convictions by a court are not needed to keep an adult from participating as a coach of volunteer in AAU programs. A determination of ineligibility to have access to youth by another youth-serving organization...is sufficient grounds to render the person ineligible to participate in AAU programs should the AAU make that determination." 

Henry Forrest, who served as the AAU's president until last year, told ESPN he first learned of the allegations against Butler last summer and supposedly tried to invite one of the accusers "to testify before the AAU's National Board of Review, which regulates membership, but was rejected."

"I got an opinion from the chairman that it was outside the scope of my authority," Forrest said. "I was floored."

Monday's edition of Outside the Lines featured a discussion about the AAU's child-protection policies and the Butler case in particular:

Butler, the club director of Sports Performance Volleyball Club in Aurora, Ill., was presented with the Emil Breitkreutz Leadership Award at the AAU's National Convention in 2012, which represents "outstanding leadership and dedication to AAU volleyball."

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