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

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Declaring he “will forever be ineligible to participate” in USA Volleyball events, the sport’s national governing body announced a lifetime ban Wednesday of west-suburban volleyball coach Rick Butler.

The announcement by USA Volleyball follows the Chicago Sun-Times series “Net Pains,” which laid out new sexual abuse allegations against the powerhouse coach.

“We are very grateful to the courageous women who came forward,” Lori Okimura, chairwoman of the USA Volleyball board of directors, said in a statement. “USA Volleyball is committed, through the U.S. Center for SafeSport program, to ridding our sport of coaches and other who engage in hurtful actions against athletes and young people. We will continue to have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.”

Butler’s attorney did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Butler announced last week that he had been banned from the organization on a technical matter resulting from the Sun-Times’ series, but USA Volleyball had refused to comment on any discipline against Butler until now.

The organization just this week held a hearing in Colorado over the substance of the new allegations against Butler. Butler refused to participate. He and his wife labeled the hearing a “sham,” a “joke” and a “witch hunt.”

“USA Volleyball, through its actions, has indicated that it has no intention of providing me with a fair and impartial hearing or the opportunity to adequately defend myself at the hearing,” Butler said in a statement last week.

While USA Volleyball’s announcement is significant, it is tempered by the fact that Butler’s girls’ teams have not participated in USA Volleyball since 2007. Butler’s wife also said he let his membership in USA Volleyball lapse in October, before he was banned from the organization for life.

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However, the announcement puts new pressure on organizations like the massive Amateur Athletic Union, which 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.”

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

One of Butler’s accusers, Sarah Powers-Barnhard, also targeted the AAU in an ongoing lawsuit for turning a blind eye to Butler’s past.

Butler is one of the country’s most successful youth coaches. The Aurora-based club he built, Sports Performance Volleyball, boasts four Olympic medalists and nearly 100 national championships. He enjoys passionate support from parents, players and fellow coaches.

But he previously found himself banned from USA Volleyball in 1995 after three former players — Powers-Barnhard, Julie Romias and Christine 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 of a Norridge woman named Beth Rose. Rose alleged that Butler sexually abused her in 1983, when she was 16, while he was sharing an apartment with her mother.

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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.

The new allegations in the complaint were first reported by the Sun-Times in November. Butler says USA Volleyball also moved to ban him last month — less than three weeks after the Sun-Times’ report — on the grounds that an unsuccessful lawsuit he filed publicly exposed the contents of the complaint.

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