Attorney: AAU's Bobby Dodd innocent

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Six days after the Amateur Athletic Union severed ties with longtime president and CEO Bobby Dodd due to allegations of child sexual abuse, and Memphis police opened an investigation, an attorney for Dodd responded to the claims made by former players by saying they are false.

Attorney Steve Farese, hired Wednesday by Dodd, spoke Thursday with ESPN.

"It didn't happen," said Farese, a criminal defense lawyer from Ashland, Miss. "All of this is fantasy."

Farese told The Associated Press that Dodd is "absolutely" innocent, but is being put in the difficult position of proving a negative.

Farese declined to respond to questions on specific allegations made by two players in an ESPN "Outside the Lines" report last Friday. In that report, former player Ralph West and a second player whose identity was not disclosed alleged that they were molested in the 1980s, and that Dodd acted in a sexually inappropriate manner, including masturbating in one player's room during travel tournaments.

The denials by Farese come one day after the AAU held a news conference at its Lake Buena Vista, Fla., headquarters, where AAU leaders promised to rebuild trust in the 113-year-old organization, whose programs and tournaments serve more than 500,000 children.

Two task forces convened by the AAU are to make a series of recommendations on enhancing protections against sexual predators, with potential measures including protocols that prevent coaches from being alone with players on travel tournaments and the adoption of mandatory background checks of coaches and administrators.

Louis Stout, the former first vice president who replaced Dodd, said his 30-year friendship with Dodd had to be put aside when the decision was made Nov. 14 to place Dodd on indefinite leave due to allegations that had been emailed and phoned into AAU offices.

Stout said the AAU later decided not to allow Dodd to return to his positions, and that the organization has ended its relationship with Dodd.

Farese disputed the notion Dodd is no longer in contact with the AAU. "That's not correct," he said.

Asked about that contention, AAU crisis-management consultant Ron Sachs said only treasurer Ron Crawford has been authorized by Stout to communicate with Dodd and his instructions are to limit the conversations to matters related to his severance.

The lawyer also chastised AAU officials for firing Dodd, who had been AAU president since 1992.

"When you throw a firecracker into a pack of dogs, they all run away," he said of the abuse allegations. "Bobby Dodd built that organization and if they don't stand behind him, they should be ashamed."

He said Dodd will "mount an offensive" designed to counter the allegations that may include media interviews and the solicitation of affidavits by people who can help support his case. Farese said some supporters may be reluctant to come forward, however, "because they don't want to be infected by these salacious allegations."

Dodd is suffering from colon cancer, according to the AAU, which denied his request last month to retire officially for health reasons.

Until Thursday, the only response Dodd had registered to the allegations was to AAU officials in their private meeting with Stout and three other AAU officials on Nov. 14. That was when, according to Sachs, he vehemently denied the claims.

Dodd has not responded to multiple phone, email and other requests for comments from "Outside the Lines," before and after the airing of its investigative report.

"He's been tried in the media and on TV, and it's totally unfair," Farese said. Asked why it took until now for Dodd to respond publicly to the charges, he said, "I can't answer that. I don't know."

Along with the Memphis police, the AAU and YMCA have launched internal investigations. West alleges that Dodd's sexual abuse started when he tried to touch him in a shower at an East Memphis YMCA in the early 1980s, when Dodd managed the facility.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal on Wednesday quoted Dodd's former boss as saying Dodd was fired from the YMCA in 1992 for falsifying expense reports.

"When I made that change it was for reason, it was for cause," said Jim Havlick, who was local director of the YMCA at the time. "We had all the records to show he had been stealing. It wasn't big dollars, but it was the principle of the thing."

Dodd was elected AAU president shortly after that, and grew the organization into one of the largest in youth sports. His severance package with the AAU is still being worked out, but with unpaid vacation and sick pay, he should receive no more than $15,000, according to AAU officials. His salary last year was $270,000.

Tom Farrey is a reporter with ESPN's Enterprise Unit. He can be reached at tom.farrey@espn.com.