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Harvard ‘unaware’ that new head diving coach was accused of sending nudes to athletes

A class-action lawsuit filed against USA Diving Inc. says coaches sexually harassed athletes, whose complaints were ignored, and new Harvard head diving coach Chris Heaton is accused of inappropriate behavior.
A class-action lawsuit filed against USA Diving Inc. says coaches sexually harassed athletes, whose complaints were ignored, and new Harvard head diving coach Chris Heaton is accused of inappropriate behavior. Screenshot from @HarvardSwim

Officials at USA Diving — the national governing body of diving for the United States Olympic Committee — ignored complaints from athletes that some coaches were sexually assaulting them, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on Sunday.

Among those named is Chris Heaton, who CNN reported was hired as Harvard’s new head diving coach in August 2018.

The lawsuit accuses Heaton of sending pictures of his penis to athletes at Ripfest, a diving camp in Indianapolis that is sanctioned by USA Diving. The coach tried to get the female athletes to send pictures back, the lawsuit says, and that USA Diving head coach and Ripfest president John Wingfield didn’t act after athletes told him about the behavior.

The lawsuit says another coach at Ripfest, Chris Zukas, helped get Heaton to leave the camp once he was told the accusations of sexual harassment.

But the lawsuit says that Heaton is still a recognized USA Diving coach, and the organization “hosts events at the club where Heaton is currently coaching.”

In a statement to CNN, university spokeswoman Rachael Dane said that there was no knowledge of sexual assault allegations when he was hired to be the head diving coach this summer. Heaton didn’t respond to the outlet’s request for comment.

“Upon learning of allegations of sexual misconduct from media reports,” she wrote to CNN, “Harvard immediately placed Mr. Heaton on leave, pending a review by Harvard University.”

The university praised Heaton in a press release when he was hired, calling him “an outstanding coach and educator.”

The lawsuit says that USA Diving and the United States Olympic committee have prioritized profit — and accuses the organizations of “ignoring, denying, obstructing, or covering up complaints of sexual abuse, deferring and diverting investigations” about alleged misconduct from coaches.

It says that “predator coach” Johel Ramirez Suarez, who pleaded guilty last month to three counts of battery, subjected female divers to “disgusting and unnecessary” abuse. Suarez worked at Ripfest from 2015 to 2017, according to the lawsuit, but it was known that he raped and sexually assaulted athletes — some young — by 2016.

Suarez was arrested in 2017 for sexually assaulting a teenage diver, according to The Indianapolis Star. The lawsuit says Wingfield “fostered” an environment where alleged predators were able to have exposure to young athletes.

Larry Nassar was sentenced Monday to a third prison term of 40 to 125 years for molesting young athletes under the guise of medical treatment.

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