Due South // Nancy Jaffer
George Morris Ruled Permanently Ineligible by U.S. Center for SafeSport
Former US show jumping coach George Morris has been permanently banned by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on charges of “sexual misconduct involving a minor.”
George Morris, banned by the U.S. Center for SafeSport pending an appeal on charges of “sexual misconduct involving a minor,” has lost his bid for reversal of the judgment.
Following arbitration last week about incidents alleged to have taken place between 1968 and 1972, the 81-year-old trainer, author and Olympic medalist Tuesday was made permanently ineligible to be involved with the sport that was the center of his life. That means no more coaching, or even clinics that include U.S. Equestrian Federation members, who would be subject to penalties for putting them on or taking part.
“Today’s ruling is the result of the Center’s process, and we respect their decision,” USEF CEO Bill Moroney said yesterday.
George did not return a call for comment, but when the original decision came down in August, he said in a statement, “I have devoted my life to equestrian sport and the development of future riders, coaches and Olympians. Any allegations that suggest I have acted in ways that are harmful to any individual, the broader equestrian community, and sport that I love dearly are false and hurtful.”
SafeSport does not comment on specific allegations.
The news last summer that George was subject to the SafeSport decision drew a huge reaction from top-level equestrians. A group called, “I Stand with George,” was formed on Facebook to show support, with a variety of big names – from Robert Dover to Bernie Traurig and Eric Lamaze – speaking up for the trainer.
What happened to George was, for many people, the first time that they understood what SafeSport was about, and the effects it could have. Although the USEF requires all competing members and officials to pass an online course about safe sport, many didn’t realize what might happen if should they be accused of anything from bullying to physical abuse and sexual misconduct if their case was acted on by the center.
Rob Gage, a former American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year who was banned for life by SafeSport on charges of sexual misconduct with minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s, killed himself in June as his appeal was pending.
This fall, the non-profit Athletes for Equity in Sport was formed, seeking to correct what its organizers see as inequities involving all sports affected by SafeSport.
Its mission “is to ensure that any person involved in the investigation and disciplinary process related to misconduct in amateur sports subject to the jurisdiction of the USOPC (U.S. Olympic and Paralymic Committee) and its related NGBs (National Governing Bodies) and affiliates is afforded participation in a fair and equitable process, minimizing damage to reputation until final adjudication of any alleged offense on the merits.”
Here’s how the equity group came about.
“When George was banned on a 47-year-old alleged situation, I thought, ‘Wow. If they can do this to him they can to it to anybody,’” said the organization’s president, Diane Carney, an R-rated judge, show organizer, commentator and clinician, who has been very involved with the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.
She started a letter-writing campaign to Congressional representatives and the President, seeking changes in the SafeSport protocol. Her arguments included noting that the person accused by SafeSport “has their livelihood and sole means of financial support taken from them without recourse or due process, all based on hearsay.”
Reforms suggested in her letters include informing the accused of the complaint, referring credible SafeSport reports to law enforcement and maintaining confidentiality of the process until a determination is made in court.
By sanctioning SafeSport, she contended, Congress is denying citizens the right to due process protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Reacting to Tuesday’s ruling, she commented, “It’s all very sad for what a person goes through for the lack of fair fight. It showed us in a more personal way what the attorneys (for the group) had already been seeing.
“Everyone wants to protect children; that’s a given,” Diane emphasized.
“The topic here is how you go about it and not make extra victims in the process. How do you ruin people’s lives without evidence? What is it that they’re using as a burden of proof?”
The concern is that it’s not a fair fight, she said. “If George is guilty, then the process should have been at least something everyone would have understood. It’s behind closed doors, it’s like a witch hunt. That’s not the American way.”
Susie Schoellkopf, a board member of the equity group, has sponsored clinics with George at her Buffalo, N.Y., stable for 30 years.
“In 30 years, I’ve never, ever seen anything inappropriate,” she said, wondering why “if these people were so traumatized” they didn’t go to their parents or the police at the time of the alleged incidents.
George, she observed, “has given back so much to our industry and our horse world. What have these accusers given?”
“I want it to be fair for everyone,” she added, including both the accused and the accusers in that statement.
Diane emphasized that while “Nobody wants to see SafeSport go away,” her organization seeks “to create a dialogue with SafeSport, the USOPC and related NGBs and affiliates to address the status of the policies and procedures that lack legal equity and seek to make recommendations for a more fair process for all.
“This is not about defending bad actors; this is about defending American rights on a lot of levels,” Diane continued.
“Our hearts go out to George and what he’s been through…and the other people all over the sports community who have been adversely affected by a process that is not fair. It could have been built in such a way that it was.”
~ Nancy Jaffer