MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The most decorated taekwondo athlete in the world was suspended from the sport today. Steven Lopez was temporarily banned following mounting allegations of sexual assault. Joining me now to talk about this development is reporter Alexandra Starr, who has been covering the issue for NPR. Hey, Alexandra.
ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So I want to warn listeners some of what you're about to tell us will be graphic. Let me start, though - for those who haven't heard of Steven Lopez, tell us a little bit more about who he is, what role he has played in taekwondo.
STARR: So he's been the sport's undisputed star for about two decades. He's won three Olympic medals. He's won five world championships. And he also made his family the so-called first family of taekwondo. His brother Jean was this sport's national coach in the U.S. for more than 15 years. His other brother and his sister also represented the United States in the 2008 Olympics, and they both won medals as well.
KELLY: And I should mention that one of those brothers, Jean Lopez, is also caught up in these allegations. Lay out for us exactly what Steven and Jean Lopez have been accused of.
STARR: So a few days ago, four former female athletes filed suit in Colorado federal court accusing the brothers of rape and physical assault. Both brothers have also been accused of allegedly drugging women before assaulting them. And last Friday, we reported on a woman who is not part of that lawsuit who began training with Steven Lopez when she was 8 years old. She says that when she was 14 and he was 22, he had her perform oral sex on him.
KELLY: What are the Lopez brothers saying? Have they commented?
STARR: So about a year ago, when reports first started appearing, they said that none of this was true. They have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
KELLY: OK. Now, one other player to bring in here, which is the U.S. Center for SafeSport. This is this relatively new nonprofit that was set up to investigate abuse. What role have they played?
STARR: So this is kind of the center's first big case. The center was created by the U.S. Olympic Committee in March of last year. It was launched in March of last year.
KELLY: All right.
STARR: And it was launched after the allegations about Larry Nassar came to light. Larry Nassar of course is the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics who molested over 250 athletes over the course of several decades. He is now serving a life sentence in prison. So the USOC created this organization to handle sexual assault investigating across Olympic sports. And they got this case against the Lopezes in March of 2017.
KELLY: And do we know, Alexandra, whether anybody in Olympic leadership knew of these allegations, knew what might have been happening with the Lopez brothers?
STARR: So we know that USA Taekwondo first got a formal complaint in 2006, but there were rumors circulating well before that. I've spoken with members of the board who are very critical of how the old leadership there handled issues of sexual assault. But they do think that the new leadership there is trying to turn things around.
KELLY: Thanks, Alexandra.
STARR: Thank you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: That is reporter Alexandra Starr.
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