NCAA argues in sex abuse case it has no legal duty to protect athletes

Olympic high jumper Erin Aldrich was not surprised when she read the NCAA’s latest response to the lawsuit she and two other track and field athletes filed against the organization.

Frustrated, yes, but not surprised.

The NCAA, facing a potential landmark class action lawsuit, said it has no legal obligation to protect student athletes against sexual abuse and harassment, according to a filing in U.S. District Court Northern District of California.

“You don’t expect a coward to come out and take responsibility,” Aldrich said. “They’ve basically responded sadly in the way they’ve responded for years.”

The NCAA in the filing also said it will ask Judge Edward J. Davila in July to dismiss the suit in which Aldrich and former Texas track athletes Jessica Johnson and Londa Bevins allege the NCAA has helped create a national sexual abuse epidemic by choosing not to implement rules or impose sanctions that would require member schools to take steps to prevent and report abuse by coaches and deter perpetrators.

“We aren’t hoping for change here. We are demanding change from the NCAA,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich, Johnson and Bevins allege in the suit filed in March that they were sexually abused and harassed by their coach John Rembao, long considered one of the world’s top high jump coaches.

Rembao, a former SMU head coach and Texas, Arizona, Stanford, and a Cal Poly/SLO assistant, was placed on temporary suspension for allegations of misconduct by the U.S. Center for SafeSport in December.

That abuse was enabled, the women allege, by the NCAA’s failure to establish rules addressing sexual misconduct and thus creating deterrents to sexual abuse and harassment.

“I absolutely feel like they’re selling us out,” Aldrich said. “They’re selling out all athletes by taking this huge step back and not protecting against sexual assault that happened during a time when a student athlete is at an age when it’s an incredibly important developmental time in their life.

“That’s when you need to them to be most present when they’re not.”

While acknowledging that sexual abuse is a major problem on the campuses of its member institutions, NCAA attorneys argue that the organization does not “owe” student athletes a legal duty to protect them.

“Colleges and universities across the country recognize that sexual abuse on their campuses is a serious problem, and the NCAA has supported its member institutions with resources those members can use on their respective campuses to combat sexual abuse,” attorneys wr...

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