NewsLocal NewsInvestigationsI-Team: U.S. Center for SafeSport


Survivors recount claims of abuse at hands of coaches disciplined by US Center for SafeSport

SafeSport Kim Bergman
SafeSport Adrienne Jensen
SafeSport Tess Ramirez
Posted at 1:00 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 17:40:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The KSHB 41 I-Team spent months reviewing the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an entity created in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal to protect athletes and hold abusive coaches accountable.

As part of its mission, the center publishes the names of disciplined coaches, athletes and others associated with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement.

The disciplinary actions against them range from temporary suspensions to lifetime bans from their sports, for everything from allegations of misconduct to criminal convictions for sexual abuse.

The I-Team dug deeper into the center’s public list, which includes more than 1,600 names when last checked, including 50 individuals from Missouri and Kansas.

RELATED | Inside the KSHB 41 News I-Team's reporting on US Center for SafeSport
Part 1 | Sexual-abuse survivors demand accountability for predators in Olympic sports

For survivors of two of the men on the list, they say seeing their coaches’ names brings some solace.

However, they found little comfort in the investigative process that led up to it.

'Fighting in silence'

“He was known as a great coach, and he produced great players, and we all aspired to be as good as those players,” Adrienne Jensen said.

Those aspirations led a young Jensen, a rising star on the tennis courts, to move to Kansas City when she was 14 to work with a coach named Rex Haultain.

But Jensen’s dreams of competing on the collegiate level quickly faded because of Haultain’s actions on and off the court.

“It really began with verbal abuse on the court and a criticism, praise technique. I was built up and praised, and then ripped down and degraded and abused, and I don’t think anyone is equipped to handle that,” she said.

Jensen described a “slow, calculated, manipulated technique” that Haultain used against her.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court against USTA, Haultain flooded Jensen’s phone with text messages, initially praising her body and appearance, then demanding nude photos and sexual favors.

It culminated at an out-of-town tournament in 2010, when Jensen says Haultain sexually assaulted her.

11 years later, the pain of her experience still echoes in her voice.

“I absolutely ache and hurt for my 14 and 15-year-old self because I felt like I was alone and fighting in silence,” she said. “[I] felt broken and that I was breaking every day, and I didn’t feel there was any way out.”

Jensen, however, did find her way out.

She reported Haultain to authorities, and in 2013 her action led to federal charges against him. He was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for soliciting child pornography.

rex haultain.png
Rex Haultain

But the I-Team discovered Haultain’s name didn’t appear on the Center for SafeSport’s list as permanently ineligible until 2020. That was three years after the center started its public disciplinary database and seven years after his conviction.

“It took that long to get on that list? I don’t understand that,” Jensen said when the I-Team revealed its findings.

She also doesn’t understand why, as she alleges in her lawsuit, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) didn’t publicly list Haultain or any other banned coaches on its website until 2021. USTA is the national governing body for the sport.

“They’re selling to kids and parents that the only way you’re going to get to the Olympics is through these national governing bodies, and they’ve got a responsibility to protect these athletes, and they’ve failed miserably at that,” Brian Cornwell, Jensen’s attorney, said.

The I-Team reached out to USTA, but it did not respond to our questions.

In a court document responding to Jensen's lawsuit, USTA says it did not receive notice of the abuse until 2019. The organization said it was not aware, nor should it have been aware, of Haultain’s alleged dangerous proclivities. USTA lawyers wrote it did not have a legal duty to warn or protect Jensen.

Emails the I-Team obtained, as well as letters cited in Jensen’s lawsuit, reveal that USTA fought the adoption of minimum SafeSport standards as early as 2012.

The head of USTA wrote that forcing it to adopt those standards “equates to the same bullying and harassment charges that the USOC wants to mandate that we keep out of our sport.”

According to the lawsuit, it wasn’t until 2014 that USTA implemented a SafeSport program.

In the years since her assault, Jensen found the courage to get back on the court, even playing on the collegiate level.

She doesn’t blame the sport, but says those in power failed her.

Jensen says officials with USTA never reached out to acknowledge her abuse.

“I feel that I represented them and the sport so well for so long and competed with integrity and honesty, and just to be discarded like I was hurtful,” she said.

A refuge ruined

Kim Bergman knows that pain, too.

“A lot of these predators, it’s not the creepy guy in the corner," she said. "It’s everybody’s best friend."

It was a “best friend” and coach who Bergman said preyed on her when she was a young gymnast.

“Parents loved him, kids loved him, and he was the ticket to being on the team. He was the head coach at the time,” Bergman said.

That man was convicted sex offender David Byrd of Kansas. His name is also on the Center for SafeSport’s list as permanently ineligible.

David Byrd.png
David Byrd

Bergman started training with him at 12. Gymnastics became a refuge from a troubled home life.

But that sense of shelter shattered after she says Byrd assaulted her at a gymnastics camp in Oklahoma.

“He was great at hiding what he would do,” Bergman said.

In a series of letters, she later confided in a trusted coach about the abuse she endured.

“It was always so frustrating because I thought he was a good coach, but then he would do all the bad stuff,” Bergman read aloud from one of the letters.

The letters show the scars she carried as a teen, including struggles with body image and depression.

Bergman also reported her abuse to police, and the Kansas Department for Children and Families substantiated her allegations.

But Byrd was never charged in that case.

Bergman, however, continued to warn other gymnasts about Byrd, who continued to coach.

But the I-Team's investigation revealed that years later other young gymnasts, including Tess Ramirez, accused Byrd of touching them inappropriately.

“It starts to happen so slowly that you don’t even realize it’s gone from coach to inappropriate best friend until he’s asking me to send him pictures,” Ramirez said.

Like Bergman, Ramirez considered the gym a shelter, one that offered refuge from her parents’ contentious divorce.

But that safe space soon turned dangerous because of coach David Byrd.

“He grabbed me from behind and started putting his hands under my shirt and feeling me everywhere, and I, I froze,” she said.

Ramirez reported the incident to police, and in 2009, Byrd pleaded guilty to indecent liberties with a child.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

Conviction records the I-Team obtained show several other women came forward after Byrd’s plea to report he also abused them. The accounts date back to 1995.

Yet we discovered his name wasn’t added to the Center for SafeSport’s database until 2018.

That was a year after the public list was created, and a decade after Byrd’s arrest.

Over the years, Bergman repeatedly made reports to the national governing body in the hopes of protecting other young athletes.

“The response I was given was that because he was never convicted of my abuse when he was an active USAG member, they couldn’t put him on the list. And [in Ramirez’s case], they couldn’t put him on the list because he was not an active member,” Bergman recalled.

Bergman recently joined more than 500 other survivors, including victims of Larry Nassar, in a lawsuit against USAG for failing to prevent their abuse. The suit was recently settled for $380 million.

Bergman also reported him to the Center for SafeSport in 2018, but she says the entity never responded.

“I’ve always searched for validation in my life. It would have been nice to say ‘thank you for your report...based on this information we’re putting him on the list for this reason,’” she said. “I always wonder, is he on the list because of me? Or is he on the list because of Tess? Or both?”

Despite the trauma Jensen, Bergman and Ramirez endured, they have each found their own roads to recovery.

Bergman became a social worker, interviewing abused children at the same police station where she reported David Byrd.

She is also coaching the sport she still loves and trying to protect the next generation of gymnasts.

“I think kids need those safe adults in their life. I think there are always going to be bad people, but it’s important to have the good people around to help when that happens,” Bergman said.

Meanwhile, Ramirez just graduated from law school, a move she made because of her own experience with the criminal justice system.

Jensen is in nursing school, with plans to become a nurse practitioner and specialize in child sexual abuse cases.

“I hope to help others move forward and be strong in the broken places, because this is not something that has to define a person, and it’s not something victims have to carry alone,” she said.

The I-Team tried to reach both David Byrd and Rex Haultain.

Immigration officials confirmed they deported Haultain back to New Zealand in 2020. He did not respond to an email from the I-Team.

David Byrd also didn’t respond to any of our messages, despite multiple attempts to reach him by phone and in person.

SafeSport declined multiple interview requests from the I-Team, but Dan Hill, a spokesperson for the center, responded to some questions via email. While athletes and attorneys have long criticized the center for a lack of transparency when it comes to the investigative process, Hill said SafeSport cannot discuss many cases due to the sensitive nature of its investigations.

The KSHB 41 I-Team conduced a four-part investigation into Center for SafeSport. You can read our coverage at the links below:

Part 1 | Sexual-abuse survivors demand accountability for predators in Olympic sports
Part 2 | Survivors recount claims of abuse at hands of coaches
Part 3 | Missouri boxing coach goes rounds with SafeSport after incorrect addition to database
Part 4 | Protecting young athletes from predators in sports

Explainer | Explaining what went into KSHB 41 News I-Team's reporting on US Center for SafeSport
Explainer | I-Team surveys NGBs about Center for SafeSport