Tennis coach should not have been allowed by the USTA to continue abusing players, according to new lawsuit.
Gordon Smith, the United States Tennis Association (USTA)’s executive director and chief operating officer back in 2014 said at the time the organization would not support an initiative to protect athletes from abuse. The same initiative had already received support from the United State Olympic Committee. Smith explained he objected “single mandatory national entity overseeing abuse cases across federations and, over the objections of representatives” for various sports. He added a sport should be able to “opt out of the centralized structure if it could police itself.”
That same year, well-known USTA coach Normandie Burgos from the Bay Area, California, was arrested a second time abuse charges related to a case brought by a teen player. Despite the bad press, Burgos was allowed to continue coaching until 2017, when yet another abused player agreed to be an informant for police, recording Burgos admitting to having sex with a minor. The coach, now 56, was finally convicted in 2019 counts of child molestation. He is serving a 255-year prison sentence.
Despite being a convicted sex offender, however, Burgos is not listed in the database of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and there is no evidence the USTA did anything to draw attention to the abuse. In fact, back in 2006, Burgos was arrested after high school students he was coaching reported he had “touched them inappropriately during massages and various physical exams,” according to court documents. He was ultimately fired from the school, but the case ended in a mistrial and Burgos was allowed to go on to become a USTA coach.
“That’s three years after he was fired from Tamalpais High School for sexual misconduct. What’s truly amazing, though, is that even though Burgos was stripped of his California teaching credential in 2011, he was allowed to become a USTA tennis coach,” attorney Robert Allard said.
Now, a lawsuit has been filed against the organization for allegedly turning a blind eye while dozens of children were being sexually assaulted. The USTA’s Northern California affiliate and the coach’s tennis charity, the nonprofit Burgos Tennis Foundation, are also named in the suit. “The charity ran afoul of tax laws,” court records indicate.
The tennis player who recorded Burgos, Stevie Gould, said he was “repeatedly abused for two years at hotels during tournaments in other states.” He stated, “The light bulb went off to report what was happening when the coach started to groom another, younger player for sex.” The new victim, Gould said, was the child of immigrants. “I could see the patterns of targeting vulnerable children,” he explained. “I could see the kid becoming more and more indebted to Burgos” as the coach offered him free lessons and gear. Mary Gould, Stevie’s mother, “He rose up and stood up for all of the others who could have been next.”
USTA spokesperson Chris Widmaier said, “We’re not going to comment on specific litigation, but we are quite confident that we acted in the appropriate manner.” He added, “The association had taken the position in 2014 that other sports could not match what he described as the organization’s years-long and well-financed effort to make athlete safety a top priority…We didn’t want to go backwards.”
However, Alex Rodriguez, the mother of a player Burgos had coached who was not abused, said the USTA “dropped the ball, because they made it appear like this was a safe place for the kids to go. Shouldn’t there have been more oversight from the U.S.T.A. about him interacting with children?”
Another mother said something should have been done to stop it, explaining,“I trusted him with my son…like idiots, we believed him.”