In a devastating blow, powerhouse Chicago-area volleyball coach Rick Butler has been kicked out of the massive Amateur Athletic Union and “permanently disqualified” from participating in AAU activities, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
The surprise move follows months of silence by the AAU, which has refused to comment on sexual abuse allegations against the Aurora-based coach. Those allegations date to the 1980s but recently led to his banishment from volleyball’s national governing body, USA Volleyball.
However, the move by the AAU also comes at a moment of intense national scrutiny into the abuse of young athletes and authority figures who enable it.
An AAU spokeswoman confirmed the ban Friday night. Until now, the organization had repeatedly cited pending litigation in its refusal to comment on Butler. One of Butler’s accusers, Sarah Powers-Barnhard, has sued the AAU for turning a blind eye to Butler’s past.
Neither Butler nor his attorney responded to multiple messages seeking comment Friday evening. He has previously insisted he has “never sexually abused any individual.” He has also never been charged with a crime, though his accusers say the relevant statutes of limitations had expired before they came forward.
The Sun-Times obtained from multiple sources an emailed memo signed by AAU President Roger Goudy announcing that, as of Friday, “Mr. Butler is no longer a member of the AAU. His membership has been voided and he is permanently disqualified from participating in any activity involving the AAU.”
It was not immediately clear how that would affect Butler’s club in Aurora, Sports Performance Volleyball.
Powers-Barnhard — one of at least five alleged victims — called the AAU’s decision “everything we wanted.”
“I’m just floored,” she said. “I’ve been battling and battling.”
Another accuser, Christine Tuzi, said: “As I am filled with relief I am also saddened that it took so long and so many more victims of sexual abuse before this issue is finally being dealt with. I’m also amazed at Sarah’s strength and determination to protect all future young athletes from this abuse.”
A third, Julie Romias, told the Sun-Times: “I’m just so happy. I was not expecting this.”
She hopes other volleyball organizations take the same stand.
“It’s just a huge relief that we’re helping to get him away from other innocent girls that potentially he could abuse,” Romias said.
The sexual abuse allegations that have trailed Butler resulted in a so-called lifetime ban from USA Volleyball once before – in 1995. But that was partially rescinded five years later. And until now, the AAU has refused to take significant action.
But new allegations, first reported by the Sun-Times last November in the series “Net Pains,” led USA Volleyball to announce last month he was banned from its organization “forever.” Now it appears the AAU has done the same.
Meanwhile the Wisconsin-based Junior Volleyball Association has said it would follow AAU’s lead. Its executive director, Jenny Hahn, did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday night. Butler helped form the group.
Butler’s latest troubles began with a December 2016 USA Volleyball complaint based, in part, on the allegations of a woman named Beth 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 another 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 to the Sun-Times.
Though the JVA and AAU refused to bail on Butler immediately after the USA Volleyball ban, other athletic officials have already begun to steer clear. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University decided not to play an exhibition volleyball match at his facility in April. The match has been moved to Wisconsin.
In a text message to the Sun-Times Friday night, Rose declared: “AAU fostered him long enough. Thank God they have made the decision … finally.”