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Jacksonville Olympian fighting $250 million lawsuit filed by coach she helped get banned

“He's suing us for $250 million because he's mad that we told the truth,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A First Coast Olympian on a mission to make sports safer for athletes is facing a $250 million lawsuit filed by a coach she helped get banned.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a civil rights attorney and CEO of the advocacy group, Champion Women, is named in a lawsuit filed by Rick Butler, his wife, and their volleyball club.

“What we did with Rick Butler, we've done lots of other times, with lots of other coaches,” Hogshead-Makar said.

Butler is a coach she helped get banned for life from USA Volleyball in 2017. He was one of the most powerful and successful junior volleyball coaches in the country.

RELATED: High-profile volleyball coach banned for life from USA Volleyball Association

A 2018 class action complaint accused him of sexually abusing six underage girls in his care. Most played for his Chicago area club in the 1980s. Just this month, a court of appeals affirmed a lower court’s summary judgment in his favor. Butler was never charged with a crime and denies the allegations.

One of his accusers, Sarah Powers-Barnhard, is now a volleyball coach in Jacksonville. Butler used to be her coach.  

"How it happened was the same, isolation, abuse, you must follow me blindly or you will lose everything," Powers-Barnhard told First Coast News in 2018.

“Sarah Powers was one of his survivors,” Hogshead-Makar explained. “She reached out to us and said, ‘Would you help me because I'm not able to coach without seeing him around everywhere?”

First Coast News was at the AAU National Volleyball Championships in 2017 when Butler and his team were just a few courts away from Powers-Barnhard and her team.

“When we looked at the record, of all of the ways that he has been able to use the legal process to be able to get back into sport, we got to town,” Hogshead-Makar said. "We got busy and made sure that the athletic community knew about what his past was."

The Butlers allege in a lawsuit they filed in December 2021 that Hogshead-Makar, her organization, and a woman who organized volleyball tournaments conspired to destroy the reputations of the Butlers and their volleyball club. They claim the defendants perpetuated a false narrative that Butler raped six players he coached.   

The Butlers’ lawsuit claims they used the threat of negative publicity, legal repercussions, and “cancel culture” to force hundreds of organizations to cut ties with them.

“It's not just an intimidation tactic to stop our work, I think it's an intimidation tactic for others, so that they won't get involved either,” Hogshead-Makar said.

The Butlers’ attorney sent First Coast News a statement calling the defendant’s actions “obsessive, unbridled and dangerous” saying in part Hogshead-Makar and Champion Women “repeatedly misrepresented the nature and significance of documents and other evidence related to the allegations”.

“He's suing us for $250 million because he's mad that we told the truth,” Hogshead-Makar said. “We told people the backstory that he didn't want people to know.”

She filed a motion this week to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“I don't think he has any grounds to be able to sue us. Unfortunately, it does take money to be right. It does take money to defend yourself,” Hogshead-Makar said. “But we think it's a worthwhile battle.”

You can read Rick Butler's full statement here.

RELATED: Fighting Back: Jax volleyball coach says she finally has justice 2 decades after speaking out

RELATED: Jacksonville woman part of class-action lawsuit against high-profile volleyball coach

RELATED: Out-of-bounds: A local volleyball coach's fight to get accused abuser banned from coaching



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