Jean Lopez is the coach for his brother, Steven Lopez, who is taekwondo’s biggest star and the most decorated athlete in that sport.
USA TODAY Sports
Two-time Olympic champion Steven Lopez was temporarily suspended Monday by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Taekwondo pending resolution of an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations.
Lopez was already the subject of a SafeSport investigation that dates back more than a year, and was under interim restrictions since June 19. But a lawsuit filed Friday against the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Taekwondo and Lopez and his older brother and coach, Jean, revealed new information, said Stephen Hess, attorney for USA Taekwondo.
“The disclosure of additional victims and violations that fall within the scope of SafeSport’s investigation,” Hess told USA TODAY Sports when asked the reasoning for the suspension.
The lawsuit, filed by four women, accuses the Lopez brothers, USOC and USA Taekwondo of sex trafficking. The USOC and USA Taekwondo had been aware since 1996 that the Lopez brothers were sexual predators, according to the lawsuit, but continued to send young women with them to competitions and camps across the world.
Steven Lopez is taekwondo’s biggest star, winning Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004 as well as five world championships throughout his career. But for the past three years, he and Jean Lopez have been under investigation for sexual misconduct, first by USA Taekwondo and then by SafeSport.
On April 3, SafeSport declared Jean Lopez permanently ineligible after finding he had committed violations of sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct involving a minor. He is appealing the decision.
The investigation into complaints against Steven Lopez is now in its 15th month, well beyond the average of 63 days it takes SafeSport to resolve cases. While he has been under interim restrictions, it wasn’t clear what those were. He competed at the world championships in late June and this year competed in the U.S. Open and national team trials, where he made his 24th national team.
He told the Houston Chronicle this year that he planned to compete in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. But the suspension means he is barred from any taekwondo-related activity until SafeSport issues a decision in his case.
“While we cannot comment on a case in process, USA Taekwondo fully supports the important work of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and respects its exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct matters,” USA Taekwondo said in a statement. “We will resolutely enforce this immediate suspension and any other sanction imposed by the Center.”
Last June, USA TODAY Sports reported that two women had accused Steven Lopez of rape or sexual assault. Mandy Meloon, a bronze medalist at the world championships in 1997 and 2005, said she and Steven Lopez dated on and off for six years. In 2004, after a physical confrontation at Lopez’s parents’ home, Meloon said Steven Lopez followed her to her apartment, broke in through a window and sexually assaulted her.
Meloon said Steven Lopez also physically assaulted her on several occasions.
Amber Means, a former member of the junior national team, says she was drugged three times and that Steven Lopez sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious on one of those occasions. Means initially requested anonymity when she spoke to USA TODAY Sports, but has since identified herself publicly in a lawsuit she, Meloon and two other women filed against the Lopez brothers, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo.
In an interview with USA TODAY Sports in June, Steven Lopez denied the allegations against him.
Asked if he’s ever sexually assaulted or committed any kind of inappropriate behavior with any woman, Steven Lopez said, “I’ve never — nothing, nothing at all. Nothing like that. Nothing close to that.”