USA Volleyball: West-suburban star coach Rick Butler banned ‘forever’

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Volleyball coach Rick Butler | Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star

New pressure landed immediately on groups like the massive Amateur Athletic Union after volleyball’s national governing body announced Wednesday that west-suburban coach Rick Butler had been banned from its ranks “forever.”

But the AAU has steadfastly refused to comment on the Aurora coach who has long been trailed by allegations of sexual abuse. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on new allegations against Butler last November in the series “Net Pains.”

“USA Volleyball is committed, through the U.S. Center for SafeSport program, to ridding our sport of coaches and others who engage in hurtful actions against athletes and young people,” Lori Okimura, the organization’s chairwoman, said in a statement.

USA Volleyball’s announcement left vague the accusations against Butler, referring simply to “allegations of misconduct and abuse” from “a number of individuals, including several former players” heard by an ethics committee Monday.

But that committee heard from at least two women — Sarah Powers-Barnhard and Beth Rose —who claim Butler sexually abused them in the 1980s. And a USA Volleyball attorney said the panel must have found their allegations credible to reach its decision.

The ban applies only to Butler, and not athletes who are members of his Aurora-based Sports Performance Volleyball club. It boasts four Olympic medalists and nearly 100 national championships. Butler also enjoys passionate support from parents, players and fellow coaches.

Butler has called USA Volleyball’s hearing process a “sham” and refused to participate. Butler’s attorney, Terry Ekl, declined to comment further Wednesday, but USA Volleyball attorney Steven Smith fired back at Butler’s previous remarks.

“(Butler) spent a lot of time and money trying to prevent USA Volleyball from holding a hearing,” Smith said in an email. “And, when USA Volleyball provided him with his opportunity to participate in a hearing, Mr. Butler chose not to participate.”

Butler’s accusers —Powers-Barnhard, Rose, Julie Romias and Christine Tuzi —mostly cheered Wednesday’s news.

“Oh my gosh, I’m tearing up,” Romias said. “I don’t even cry.”

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” Tuzi said.

“This is a huge necessary step,” Powers-Barnhard said.

Rose also called the ban a “good” thing. But she took USA Volleyball to task for not clearly articulating the alleged behavior that led to Butler’s ban.

“Let’s be absolutely transparent about what this is,” Rose said. “I’m really disappointed.”

USA Volleyball’s announcement is also tempered by the fact that Butler’s girls’ teams have not participated in USA Volleyball since 2007. Butler’s wife said he even let his membership in USA Volleyball lapse in October, ahead of the ban.

So Butler’s accusers want the AAU and the Milwaukee-based Junior Volleyball Association to take action.

“I just really hope the AAU and JVA follow the sport’s leading organization,” Tuzi said.

The AAU has allowed Butler to coach despite a national policy to deny participation “to any individual for whom there is reasonable cause to believe that they have engaged in sexual misconduct.”

An AAU spokeswoman has repeatedly said “pending litigation” prevents the organization from commenting on Butler. Powers-Barnhard is suing the AAU for turning a blind eye to his past, and a hearing in that case is set for later this month in Florida.

The AAU hosts part of its annual volleyball championship at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, according to its website. Disney officials have repeatedly failed to return phone messages regarding the AAU and Butler.

Meanwhile, Butler’s club also refers to itself as a “proud member of the JVA” on its website. But the JVA’s bylaws call membership “a privilege,” and “where the conduct of an individual or organization is determined to be inconsistent with the JVA’s Mission and Guiding Principles, that membership may be suspended or terminated” through due process.

The JVA’s executive director declined to comment Wednesday.

This is not the first time Butler has been banned from USA Volleyball. The organization expelled him in 1995 after Powers-Barnhard, Romias and Tuzi alleged he sexually abused them in the 1980s while he was their coach and they were under 18.

Butler has said through his attorney he has “never sexually abused any individual.” He has conceded he had sex with Powers-Barnhard, Romias and Tuzi, but only after they were no longer minors and no longer on his team.

USA Volleyball partially rescinded its first ban in 2000. However, the organization filed a new complaint against him in December 2016 based, in part, on the allegations by Rose. She alleged that Butler sexually abused her in 1983, when she was 16, while he was sharing an apartment with her mother.

That complaint also noted a fifth alleged sexual abuse victim had “elected to remain silent.” And it identified a woman —who asked that her name not be published —who claimed Butler made inappropriate comments toward her when she was a player on his team. She has declined to comment.

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