Gymnastics coach Don Peters led the US women's team to eight Olympic medals. But according to a new exposé, he also sexually abused three teenage gymnasts.
The Orange County Register reports on allegations that Peters had sex with three gymnasts he coached in the 1980s. One, Doe Yamashiro, has gone on the record to accuse him of a years-long pattern of abuse. She describes the first time he made advances on her:
He asked to speak with me in his hotel room and he locked the door behind us. And then he began groping me. And that was the worst; that was really the worst of it because I had never been kissed by a boy, and I wasn't even interested in boys at that point. I didn't have breasts. I was totally pre-pubescent at 16. And, you know, if you spend your life in the gym, you're totally emotionally naive.
The following year, he had intercourse with her in a parked car:
I still couldn't say 'no' to him. That incident I had a very strong emotional reaction to. That was a real physical violation and I was disgusted. I was disgusted at him and myself. And that's it. I was in pain and I had just lost my virginity. And then I had to go to workout.
The age of consent in California is 18, so the alleged 1987 assault would constitute statutory rape — unfortunately, the statute of limitations has passed. Another woman, who did not give her name, told the Register that Peters "fondled" and had sex with her when she was 18. The woman had previously been molested by her father, which Peters knew, and she had already attempted suicide twice. She says, "I would include him in the people who have taken advantage of me. I was vulnerable and he knew that, and he really preys upon that kind of person." Peters's former office-mate Linda McNamara says he also confessed to having sex with a third teenager, this one under 18 — she has not come forward. Says Prof. Charol Shakeshaft,
There is a special relationship between a coach and an athlete, particularly in an individual event sport like gymnastics, swimming, tennis. The coach is very important to the success of the athlete, and there are no other places to find that support, or at least that's what the athlete believes, usually because the coach has taught the athlete that message: 'Without me, you wouldn't be able to do this.'
She adds, "they are afraid that if they speak up, they will lose all the good things and additional bad things will happen to them. The coach will hurt them, they will not be believed, they will lose their chances at the Olympics, etc." Other sports have suffered similar allegations in recent years: USA Swimming coaches have been accused of sexually abusing swimmers and secretly taping them while they changed. Yamashiro says the dangerous nature of gymnastics adds another layer of complexity: "you have this thing you're doing daily that is risking your life, and you have this coach who's spotting you and supposedly keeping you alive. So it just gets really twisted, the whole thing, twisted up." Peters is currently under investigation by USA Gymnastics — hopefully his case will draw attention to the need for oversight in the sport, and for alternative sources of support for young athletes who may currently feel they have nowhere to turn.