Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s trial and epic sentencing on multiple sexual assault charges earlier this year struck fear into the heart of every sports parent: could they really trust the coaches and sports personnel that their kids were spending hours and hours with? What about coaches of travel teams? I know Nassar’s trial and his victims’ impact statements caused many parents to have conversations with their young athletes about who could do what to their body, be it a coach, a sports doctor, or an athletic trainer.
Because surely, Larry Nassar wasn’t the only sports professional out there using his position to take advantage of young athletes.
This week in Iowa, there is definitive proof of that. The Iowa Register reports that 42-year-old Greg Stephen, a leading Iowa youth basketball coach, has admitted to exploiting or molesting over 400 young boys over a period of several years. His crimes range from secretly video taping boys showering to fondling them in their sleep to posing as a girl online to get them to send him nude photos and videos.
Last week, Greg Stephen plead guilty to five counts of sexual exploitation of minors, one count of possessing child pornography and one count of transporting child pornography in federal court in Cedar Rapids. His crimes are massive and heinous, and he perpetrated nearly all of them easily because of his position as the co-founder of the Iowa Barnstormers of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
Greg Stephen’s crimes came to light only because of an unlikely hero: his former brother-in-law, Vaughn Ellison. The Register reports that Ellison was re-modeling Stephen’s home when he found a video recording device in the bathroom. He took it to police when he discovered that it had videos of young boys showering on it. I imagine that Vaughn Ellison saved many more young boys from being abused and exploited.
Greg Stephen has not yet been sentenced for his crimes, but he will likely be in prison for the rest of his life; the charges against him do specify that he had “authority” over his victims and that constitutes some special circumstances.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Ryan Kedley said Stephen’s case should serve as a wake-up call to parents to take a second look at the people they are trusting their kids to and with.
“As a father and as a child of a sports coach, I view this as a cautionary tale that parents should look at,” he said.
Of course, I echo Hadley’s sentiments, and I really encourage parents of kids in sports and especially on travel teams and troupes, to talk with their kids about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior and touching or familiarity. Like…it’s probably never a great idea to shower at coach’s house, no matter what, you know? You shouldn’t tell your kids these things to scare them, but to make them aware that no one is immune from being victimized, and that those that do the victimizing and manipulative, savvy, and persistent. We need to make sure our kids are savvy as well, and not afraid to speak out when they feel uncomfortable.
To the Iowa kids and parents who have suffered at the hands of this monster, I am so sorry for what you’ve gone through. I pray for your healing, and that your stories can save other children from experiencing the same pain.