SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Three former students claim in a federal class action Wednesday that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has categorically failed to prevent sexual harassment and abuse by coaches and should be forced to enact policies that protect student-athletes.
The 106-page lawsuit contains disturbing allegations about a former track and field coach who started grooming female students in high school to trust him and keep their interactions secret. After getting the young women scholarships, coach John Rembao allegedly used his position to verbally berate them, undermine their self-esteem, get them alone, touch them inappropriately and, for at least one alleged victim, perform oral sex on her.
Though much of the complaint focuses on the alleged trauma inflicted on three student-athletes by Rembao, the lawsuit also blames the NCAA for refusing to put in place enforceable rules to stop coaches and other athletics employees from abusing their positions and exploiting young athletes.
“Without NCAA rules requiring member institutions to report predators like Rembao to the NCAA, Rembao moved among NCAA schools, preying on female track and field student-athletes. Rembao’s unfettered sexual and emotional abuse physically and emotionally damaged multiple student-athletes, including plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
Lead plaintiff Erin Aldrich first met Rembao at a summer training camp when she was in high school in the mid-1990s. Rembao started frequently calling her on the phone and saying inappropriate things, including saying that her leg muscle looked “super sexy” in her senior picture, according to the complaint.
Aldrich got a scholarship to play volleyball at the University of Arizona, where she also trained for the high jump with Rembao, an assistant track and field coach. Rembao accompanied Aldrich on a plane ride to compete for a spot on Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Sydney, Australia, in 1996. During that plane ride, Rembao allegedly fondled Aldrich under a blanket.
“Coach Rembao penetrated Ms. Aldrich with his fingers and joked with her that they were now members of the ‘mile high club,’” the complaint states. “He also told her he was going to divorce his wife and move with Ms. Aldrich to Australia.”
Rembao started giving Aldrich massages at his home. He would also “perform oral sex” on her at his office, in his house, in the car and on road trips for competitions and matches, according to the lawsuit.
In 1996, Rembao was allegedly inside Aldrich’s dorm room when her roommate unexpectedly arrived. Rembao reportedly hopped up and hid in her roommate’s closet, where he was discovered by the roommate. After Aldrich’s roommate reported the incident to the University of Arizona, Rembao transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. Aldrich followed in her sophomore year.
After the move to Texas, Rembao allegedly started retaliating against Aldrich because she stopped responding to his advances. He would harshly criticize her for missing jumps or not adhering to his low-calorie diet demands, the lawsuit states.
As with other students he coached, Rembao strongly emphasized calorie counting and often scolded Aldrich, “making her feel that he knew where every fat cell was on her body; he would tell her she could always be leaner,” according to the complaint.
A similar pattern is alleged to have occurred with two other plaintiffs – Jessica Johnson and Londa Bevins – whom Rembao coached at the University of Texas.