Figure skating is one of the most popular sports in the Winter Olympics. Its athletes pair strength and power with beauty and grace. It can be hard to remember that many of the sport’s top competitors are young -- often teenagers. Over the last several years the United States Figure Skating (USFS) faced accusations, media attention, and lawsuits because of sexual abuse of its skaters. Now one of those lawsuits has reached a settlement, but the fight to end the coverup continues.
Richard Callaghan used to be one of the biggest names in U.S. figure skating. Now he is one of the most controversial. Callaghan was the coach of Olympic superstar Tara Lipinski when she won her gold medal in 1998. The next year, he faced allegations that he had been sexually grooming his former student, Craig Maurizi, since he was 15 years old.
But those allegations were quickly dismissed -- the skating bylaws required all misconduct claims to be reported within 60 days of the incident. Maurizi, a minor at the time, had missed his window. And so, Callaghan kept coaching and, according to the lawsuits against him, kept sexually assaulting the skaters in his charge.
In 2019, skater Adam Schmidt, formerly Baadani, filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court against U.S. Figure Skating, Onyx Ice Arena, and Callaghan himself for “numerous sexual assaults” he suffered while training with the U.S. figure skating team beginning in 1999. That was the same year Maurizi’s complaints against the figure skating coach were dismissed. Schmidt’s complaint said that decision allowed Callaghan’s abuse to “continue unabated,” causing him and other skaters to suffer anxiety, depression, fear, grief, and stress as the victims of sexual assault.
Then, in late 2020, Schmidt and the organization reached an agreement. U.S. Figure Skating agreed to pay the former competitive skater $1.45 million in exchange for dismissing his lawsuit. The settlement, which was accepted by the district court in early 2021, didn’t require U.S. Figure Skating to admit any fault or wrongdoing at all, but Schmidt says:
“I think the settlement speaks for itself. . . . People don’t settle things for millions of dollars for nothing.”
This payment was on top of an earlier settlement with defendant Onyx Ice Arena, located in Michigan, where the alleged sex abuse took place. Onyx also agreed to pay $1.75 million, bringing the total Schmidt will receive to $3.2 million. ABC News called that total “a landmark figure with potentially far-reaching implications.”
However, whether those implications will reach far enough to affect Callaghan remains to be seen. After Maurizi’s story went public in 2018, the U.S. Center for SafeSport permanently barred Callaghan from coaching based on complaints filed by Adam Schmidt and three other skaters. However, Callaghan appealed the suspension to an independent arbitrator, and it was eventually reduced to a three-year suspension. As it stands, in 2022, Callaghan will once again be eligible to coach young boys and girls hoping to become U.S. figure skaters.
Still, the fight continues. Maurizi himself has filed a lawsuit under the New York Child Victims Act, against Callaghan, U.S. Figure Skating, the Professional Skaters Association, and the Buffalo Skating Club. He, like Schmidt, says that the skating associations had known of Callaghan’s behavior decades -- after all, he had told them about it in 1999 -- but they willfully ignored his conduct because he was a successful figure skating coach.
Schmidt’s attorney told the New York Times that U.S. Figure Skating’s failure to apologize was indicative of “institutional arrogance combined with a view of skaters as a disposable commodity.” He continued:
“That’s a toxic brew for an organization that’s supposed to protect children under its care. . . . [I am] very concerned about children in the sport today — that they aren’t safe — and [I] want a cultural change in the organization.”
Schmidt’s settlement may have been the right choice for him. It allowed him to put figure skating behind him and find a way forward. But for others, including Maurizi, the fight to hold the industry responsible continues.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we understand what it takes to confront systems that cover up sex abuse and allow it to continue unchecked. We have a team of attorneys who know how to address sex abuse against professional athletes, and in other coaching arrangements. If you have been abused because of your participation in a sport, we will help you get the justice and compensation you need to move on. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.