A Jacksonville woman is suing the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), an umbrella group that governs sporting competitions for hundreds of thousands of kids across the country. She says the organization failed to ban a high-profile coach despite having “reasonable cause to believe” he sexually abused her years earlier, court records show.
First Coast News began to tell Sarah Powers-Barnhard's story in May.
Back in the '80s, Powers-Barnhard started playing club volleyball at Sport Performance Volleyball, just outside of Chicago, when she was 15. At the time, she says her coach, Rick Butler, promised to take her to the next level and succeed in the sport.
Butler runs one of the most successful junior volleyball programs in the country, Illinois-based Sports Performance Volleyball. He was Powers-Barnhard's surest path to a college scholarship, she said.
"Rick made it really clear that if you play for anybody else, you probably weren't going to get that scholarship; that this was the only place you're going to get it," she said. "So you're well aware, yet you were tied in it and you need to commit to whatever that meant."
What that meant for Powers-Barnhard, however, was something she described as completely out-of-bounds.
In 2016, Powers-Barnhard filed a lawsuit against the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), alleging Butler sexually abused her while he was her coach and she was his star player. She wants him banned from coaching with the AAU. Her lawsuit, which was re-filed last month, alleges Butler “sexually molested” her in the early 1980's.
"He took my virginity. He sexually me abused me more times than i ever even want to talk about in places, cars, in the season, out of the season. he was manipulative, very strong person who had control over the success or failure of my life I felt in the volleyball world." she said.
Olympic Gold Medalist and Jacksonville attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar runs an organization called Champion Women that provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports. Her organization started a change.org petition in June calling on the AAU to ban Butler. It has already garnered more than 2,700 signatures.
Powers-Barnhard is one of three women who came forward to the USA Volleyball Association with similar allegations against Butler in the 1990's.
Butler was never charged with a crime. By the time the allegations came to light, the statute of limitations had expired. Butler categorically denies ever sexually abusing anyone.
At the time, he acknowledged having sex with the women, but said the relationships were consensual, and didn't begin until after the women turned 18 and no longer played on his team.
Despite Butler's denial, USA Volleyball found the women's allegations credible, and banned him for life in 1995. The ban was rescinded a few years later by the USA Volleyball Association, with the provision that he not coach girls under 18.
Fast forward two decades later, Butler coaches in an AAU competition, as does Powers-Barnhard. The AAU and USA Volleyball are two separate organizations.
Last month their paths crossed in the arena at the AAU's national championships tournament in Orlando.
"I didn't expect it so quickly. Walked in the first court and there he was. I saw him." Powers-Barnhard said.
In Powers-Barnhard lawsuit she alleges Butler should be denied membership by the AAU. She argues her allegations against Butler gives the AAU reasonable cause to believe he engaged in sexual misconduct, a violation of AAU rules.
"How in the world can little kids, girls that play this sport feel safe when he's still coaching? There's no way. he needs to go."' Powers-Barnhard said.
First Coast News approached Butler and asked him to respond to the allegations. He told us, "you don't care about my side of the story."
While Butler declined to speak to us, his lawyer sent us this statement:
“Rick Butler has never sexually abused any individual and the allegation made by “change.org” that he did so over 30 years ago is absolutely false. Rick Butler has never been accused by USA Volleyball, AAU, or law enforcement of illegally abusing any player or committing any crime, and there is no factual basis for “change.org” to make such a defamatory allegation.
In 1995, USA Volleyball suspended Rick Butler from its organization without allowing him to present witnesses in his own defense at the hearing or cross examine his accusers. By doing so, USA Volleyball violated Rick Butler’s most fundamental due process rights and made baseless findings against him. In December 2000, USA Volleyball remedied the injustice and permitted Rick Butler to rejoin USA Volleyball. Rick Butler has remained a member of USA Volleyball in good standing for the last 16 years.
Likewise, Rick Butler has never been suspended or disciplined by AAU and has remained a member of good standing in the organization for over 35 years. During that time, Rick has coached over 20,000 junior age female athletes in his club and at hundreds of camps and clinics and not a single complaint or accusation has been made against him for any improper conduct against those athletes.
In 2016, Sarah Powers-Barnhard filed a false and maliciously motivated lawsuit against AAU for the sole purpose of defaming Rick Butler and AAU. That lawsuit, which included demonstratively false allegations against Rick Butler and AAU was properly dismissed by the Court.
Now, Ms. Powers-Barnhard has changed her story and invented new allegations about Rick Butler and AAU to file a second complaint against AAU. Rick is confident that just as the first lawsuit was dismissed, Ms. Powers-Barnhard’s second baseless lawsuit will also be dismissed by the Court and Ms. Powers-Barnhard will be held accountable for her false statements against Rick and AAU.Rick is extremely grateful for the tremendous amount of support that he has received from his former players, current players, and their families.
The AAU declined repeated requests from First Coast News to discuss the lawsuit's allegations against Butler, or its decision to allow him to continue coaching .Last week, the AAU filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and asked the judge to strike the sexual misconduct allegations. The motion argues in part that the sexual misconduct allegations are barred by the statute of limitations and have nothing to do with Butler’s time coaching in the AAU.
Powers-Barnhard says she she's not about to give up on or off the court and will keep on fighting until Butler is banned.
"I'm going to stand strong and be there for my team and be here standing on the side of right. This arena needs to be about a safe place for little girls to play and not have to deal with what we had to deal with."