Investigation into John Coughlin shouldn't be dropped, USFSA says

DETROIT -- The leaders of U.S. Figure Skating called on the U.S. Center for SafeSport on Thursday afternoon to complete its investigation into accusations of abuse made against recently deceased coach and former national champion John Coughlin.

Coughlin was suspended last Thursday by SafeSport -- an organization tasked with investigating reports of sexual misconduct within the national governing bodies for Olympic sports -- while it continued to look into complaints made about him. USA Today reported earlier this month that three people have accused Coughlin of sexual misconduct, and at least two of them were minors.

Coughlin died by suicide last Friday at age 33, shocking the skating community and sparking debate about the public accusations and SafeSport's method of investigation. Dalilah Sappenfield, Coughlin's former coach, told People Magazine that social media comments about the accusations "led this beautiful young man to give up on life."

Dan Hill, a spokesman hired by the Center for SafeSport, said he did not know when a final decision would be made on whether the organization would continue to investigate the accusations made against Coughlin in the wake of his death. He did not respond to questions about who is responsible for making that decision.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon at the beginning of the sport's national championships event, U.S. Figure Skating president Anne Cammett and executive director David Raith urged the center to complete its investigation.

"We're concerned about all the parties involved," Cammett said. "It shouldn't just be dropped, and it needs to be thoroughly reviewed. If it just ends, there's not closure."

Raith said he and other USFSA officials emailed the SafeSport center with a request that they continue the investigation and are expecting an answer later this week. Raith said the same letter also encouraged the organization to seek help from a third party investigator or outside counsel to complete the process in a fair and efficient manner.

Coughlin, who won back-to-back U.S. championships in the pairs competition in 2011 and 2012, told USA Today earlier this month that the accusations made against him were "unfounded." Coughlin worked as a coach and remained an active member in the skating community after his retirement in 2014.

Raith said he does not know if Coughlin spoke to investigators at SafeSport before his death. He and Cammett said they believed it was "imperative" to continue the investigation even though Coughlin would not be able to respond to questions or further accusations.

Members of the Professional Skater's Association -- the body that oversees the sport's coaches -- said they wanted more transparency in the investigative process. SafeSport programs to educate and bring attention to issues of abuse in Olympic sports have existed for nearly a decade. The Center for SafeSport, which serves as a home for the team that investigates complaints, first opened in 2017.

Christine Fowler-Binder, president of the PSA, said she shares Cammett and Raith's desire for SafeSport to complete its investigation.

"We, as a skating and coaching community, need to come together with a clear and unified front that advocates for change and reform," Fowler-Binder said in a statement first released on Sunday. "PSA will do everything in its power to advocate and support our coaches in this effort."

Raith and Cammett encouraged any other members of the skating community to come forward if they have knowledge or suspicion of any misconduct related to Coughlin or others. Raith said it was unclear to him and other USFSA officials who determines when a SafeSport investigation is closed or what input and factors are considered before that decision is made.

"That's a question we're waiting for an answer from the center," Raith said. "Only the center knows that now."

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