A Tennis Coach Was Abusing Minors. Should the Sport’s Federation Have Known?

Written by on April 4, 2020

RICHMOND, Calif. — At a gathering in Chicago in September 2014, the pinnacle of the US Olympic Committee took be aware {that a} new initiative to guard athletes from abusers had assist from each sport’s governing physique besides one: the US Tennis Affiliation.

Gordon Smith, the tennis affiliation’s govt director and chief working officer on the time, stepped ahead to elucidate, based on minutes of the assembly. He objected to a “single obligatory nationwide entity” overseeing abuse circumstances throughout federations and, over the objections of representatives for gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling, he mentioned {that a} sport ought to be capable of “decide out of the centralized construction” if it might police itself.

Whether or not the united statesT.A. might police itself, although, was one other matter.

Simply months earlier, a outstanding U.S.T.A. coach from the Bay Space had been arrested a second time on fees of abusing considered one of his teenage gamers.

That coach, Normandie Burgos, would go on to educate for 3 extra years, till 2017, when one more abused participant, working with the police, secretly recorded him admitting to having intercourse with a minor. Convicted last May of 60 counts of kid molestation, Burgos, 56, is now serving a 255-year prison sentence.

There is no such thing as a public document of the united statesT.A. having taken any motion towards Burgos. Regardless of being a convicted intercourse offender, he’s not listed within the database of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an impartial physique created to trace abusive coaches, trainers and others with entry to athletes.

PictureNormandie Burgos in court in 2006, when he was arrested and accused of molesting students at the high school where he coached tennis. The case ended in a mistrial after jurors could not reach a verdict.
Credit score…Frankie Frost/Marin Impartial Journal

Burgos’s skill to have direct entry to youngsters for therefore a few years lies on the coronary heart of a brand new lawsuit filed by considered one of his victims towards the united statesT.A., its Northern California affiliate and the coach’s tennis charity. The charity additionally ran afoul of tax legal guidelines, information present.

The case highlights one of the urgent questions on sports activities in America: the extent to which governing our bodies, like the united statesT.A. and even the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee, are accountable for coaches underneath their umbrella who abuse youngsters.

The tennis participant who recorded Burgos, Stevie Gould, mentioned he was abused repeatedly for 2 years, together with at inns throughout U.S.T.A. tournaments in different states. “The sunshine bulb went off” to report what was taking place, he mentioned, when the coach began to groom one other, youthful participant for intercourse. That participant was the kid of working-class immigrants and, like Gould, was given free rackets, garments and classes.

“I might see the patterns” of concentrating on susceptible youngsters, Gould, 19, mentioned in an interview at his mother and father’ dwelling in Marin County, Calif. “I might see the child turning into an increasing number of indebted to Burgos.”

Stated his mom, Mary Gould, “He rose up and stood up for all the others who might have been subsequent.”

Credit score…Cayce Clifford for The New York Occasions
Credit score…Cayce Clifford for The New York Occasions

Chris Widmaier, a U.S.T.A. spokesman, mentioned, “We’re not going to touch upon particular litigation, however we’re fairly assured that we acted within the applicable method.”

He mentioned the affiliation had taken the place in 2014 that different sports activities couldn’t match what he described because the group’s yearslong and well-financed effort to make athlete security a high precedence.

“We didn’t wish to go backwards,” Widmaier mentioned. Since then, nevertheless, the group has endorsed the Olympic committee’s initiative, which turned the U.S. Middle for SafeSport in 2017.

But SafeSport compiles lists primarily based largely on motion taken by federations, which is why the disciplinary procedures of these organizations are usually the main target of scrutiny and complaints.

Alex Rodriguez, the mom of a participant Burgos had coached who was not abused, contended that the united statesT.A. “dropped the ball, as a result of they made it appear as if this was a secure place for the children to go. Shouldn’t there have been extra oversight from the united statesT.A. about him interacting with youngsters?”

An immigrant from the Philippines, Burgos grew up in Southern California because the son of a U.S. Navy veteran who had labored within the White Home as a prepare dinner, based on a police report. A former school tennis participant, Burgos turned a preferred trainer and coach at Tamalpais Excessive College, a part of an prosperous neighborhood amid the leafy, rugged hills of Marin County. Burgos catapulted a bottom-rung workforce right into a Marin powerhouse. Appreciative mother and father despatched him on an all-expenses-paid journey to Wimbledon one yr, based on courtroom paperwork and interviews.

Then, in 2006, Burgos was arrested after college students reported that he had touched them inappropriately throughout massages and numerous bodily exams.

Credit score…Cayce Clifford for The New York Occasions
Credit score…Cayce Clifford for The New York Occasions

He was fired from the varsity, and his instructing credentials have been revoked, however a big and vociferous band of tennis gamers and their mother and father rallied round him. They swarmed courtroom hearings and public conferences, unnerving witnesses, Lori E. Frugoli, who prosecuted the case and is now Marin’s district legal professional, recalled throughout an interview at her workplace. Supporters additionally raised not less than $15,000 for his authorized bills, mother and father mentioned.

In keeping with transcripts from the trial in 2010, one scholar testified that Burgos had put a sleeping masks over his head and eyes, supposedly to assist him loosen up, earlier than massaging him and touching his penis.

But jurors couldn’t attain a verdict. A mistrial was declared. And Burgos, a homosexual man who had accused his critics of homophobia, turned emboldened, prosecutors now say, doubling down on his efforts to grow to be one of many area’s main figures in youth tennis.

He created the Burgos Tennis Basis and provided gritty instruction at half the value of personal golf equipment. He careworn intense conditioning and relished utilizing well-worn tennis balls to apply on rundown public courts. Advertising and marketing himself as being “certified as a trainer at the highest levels” by the US Skilled Tennis Affiliation, he acquired U.S.T.A. journey grants permitting his groups to characterize Northern California in nationwide tournaments, based on interviews and information. He required pupils to earn good grades, and he sponsored an annual U.S.T.A. event geared towards underprivileged youngsters.

Burgos’s pitch, a number of mother and father mentioned, was that his basis was a nonprofit and that he acquired funding from the united statesT.A. to assist degree the enjoying subject for deprived gamers.

He drove his favourite gamers throughout the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, previous San Quentin State Jail, for personal classes and exercises at his condominium advanced in Richmond.

Then Burgos acquired into hassle once more. In 2014, a high participant informed the police he had been abused for nearly two years, starting at age 14.

Burgos had persuaded the athlete, who was raised by a single mom in sponsored housing in Marin County, and not less than one different boy to change to an alternate highschool with a versatile schedule, to be able to carve out extra one-on-one apply time.

“I used to be tremendous excited to play on the workforce and play precise matches with U.S.T.A. refs, U.S.T.A. coaches, and towards U.S.T.A. groups,” mentioned the participant who went to the police in 2014.

However Burgos demanded oral copulation and different intercourse acts, courtroom paperwork mentioned. When the boy refused, Burgos withheld gear or apply time, and threatened to derail his school recruitment, prosecutors mentioned.

The boy reported the abuse to the police and to the united statesT.A. However absent corroborating proof, Burgos was launched.

Burgos subsequent focused Gould, one other high prospect who dreamed of enjoying school tennis.

“Each of those boys realized that these doorways of alternative that have been being opened might have simply as simply been closed in the event that they refused,” Jordan R. Sanders, a Contra Costa deputy district legal professional who tried the case, mentioned in an interview at his workplace. “They realized, ‘He might simply blacklist me or say don’t recruit me.’”

Trying again, Gould wonders if tennis officers have been attempting to behave towards Burgos as early as 2015. At the united statesT.A. Junior Staff Tennis nationwide championships in South Carolina that yr, simply months after Burgos had begun abusing him, Gould was informed shortly earlier than a match that his coach wouldn’t be allowed on the courtroom.

Credit score…Cayce Clifford for The New York Occasions
Credit score…Cayce Clifford for The New York Occasions

Steve Leube, then the manager director of U.S.T.A. Northern California, who delivered the message to the Goulds, didn’t present a motive on the time, the household mentioned. Burgos coached and molested Gould for 2 extra years.

“It was very complicated,” mentioned Gould, now a tennis participant on the College of San Francisco.

Reached by cellphone, Leube mentioned, “I didn’t learn about this lawsuit, so I’m not going to have the ability to remark right now.”

The present govt director, Kevin Craig, didn’t reply to messages.

After reporting the abuse in February 2017, Gould confronted Burgos on a tennis courtroom and, on the course of the police, used a hidden wire to document what the coach was saying and to videotape him. However Burgos, maybe cautious, created sufficient background noise in order that his voice was not successfully recorded.

The police organized a second assembly, throughout which Burgos confirmed the crimes to Gould whereas being recorded. As Gould drove away, tailed by Burgos, cops surrounded the coach and arrested him.

Burgos was sentenced in August 2019 to 255 years in jail, regardless of letters from tennis mother and father and others asking for leniency. One longtime highschool coach, calling this system “a refuge for a lot of gamers,” credited Burgos with instilling “self-discipline, resiliency and toughness in these college students.”

Michael Coffino, a lawyer for Burgos, mentioned, “There have been important authorized errors within the trial which might be on enchantment proper now, so I can’t remark additional right now.”

What confounds Laurie Kimbrel, the Tamalpais faculties superintendent who pushed to revoke Burgos’s credentials, is that nobody within the tennis institution contacted the district to vet Burgos after the well-publicized 2010 trial.

“You may actually Google somebody’s identify and instructing certificates, and discover out it was a everlasting revocation,” mentioned Kimbrel, now a professor of training on the College of West Georgia. “There’s no larger purple flag than that.”

One other purple flag was Burgos’s basis. He by no means registered the charity, and the state’s Franchise Tax Board suspended the muse in 2013 for failing to file any tax returns.

After inquiries from The New York Occasions in February, Xavier Becerra, the California legal professional common, demanded that the muse stop doing enterprise and fined it $9,000 for a slew of violations. Becerra additionally ordered the preservation of all communications with donors and different information — a doable prelude to fees.

The athlete who reported Burgos in 2014 anonymously filed a lawsuit in January in Alameda County, contending that the united statesT.A. knew of Burgos’s historical past. Gould’s household is anticipated to hitch the lawsuit quickly, mentioned their lawyer, Robert Allard.

Final yr, shortly earlier than Gould testified within the felony trial, U.S.T.A. Northern California unexpectedly nominated him for a nationwide sportsmanship award with previous winners that included the skilled gamers Sam Querrey and Alison Riske. Gould was named considered one of two winners after the decision. He even acquired an electronic mail on Might 16 from Patrick J. Galbraith, president and board chairman of the united statesT.A., that learn, “Congrats Stevie!”

The usT.A. videotaped interviews with the Goulds and others as highlights for the award presentation. However solely after the Goulds flew to New York for a ceremony throughout the US Open did they notice how massive and highly effective the group was.

“I’m actually being given an award by the united statesT.A. in the course of this room of 500 folks in fits,” Gould mentioned. “I needed to shake palms with so many various people who did completely nothing all through your entire time once I was being abused.”

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