The Slatest

Report: Michigan State Kept Ties to Youth Volleyball Coach Accused of Sexual Abuse

Rick Butler.
Rick Butler, a nationally renowned volleyball coach from Chicago, watches a scrimmage at a volleyball camp at Abbott Sports Complex in Lincoln, Nebraska, in August 2014.
Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star via AP

A new report from the Associated Press found that Michigan State University, the school accused of protecting serial abuser and gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, has for decades maintained ties to a volleyball coach credibly accused of sexually abusing and raping six underage girls he trained in the 1980s.

The report, based on letters from advocates for the accusers, concluded that MSU had been under pressure for at least a year to cut all connections to the coach, 63-year-old Rick Butler. One of the women who accused Butler of abuse said he molested and raped her hundreds of times when she was 16. Butler admitted in a 1995 hearing that he had sex with three of the women, but he maintained that it had been consensual and that they had already turned 18. Relevant statutes of limitations had expired by the time these women came forward.

In February, a parent of a girl who trained with Butler in 2012 filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of other parents against Butler and his wife, who, the lawsuit claimed, threatened athletes to keep them quiet. The lawsuit lays out the ways Butler allegedly groomed the girls by convincing them he was their only hope for getting into elite colleges and professional volleyball. It also details the various times—in a car, an apartment, a weight room, and a bathroom—he allegedly abused and raped five teenage girls. Butler has said he “never sexually abused any individual.”

The school has said Butler is “not affiliated with MSU in any way” and that it is “not actively recruiting players from his program at this time.” However, MSU’s current head volleyball coach, Cathy George, once worked for Butler’s suburban Chicago training company, according to the AP, and continues to recruit athletes trained through his programs. MSU’s website mentions Butler by name, the AP reports, and references athletes who were trained by his program. And, in a more official capacity, MSU held exhibition games for years at his facilities, until at least 2014.

The allegations against Butler have long been public, and in 1995, a report by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services concluded that there was no evidence to suggest his accusers were lying. This year, USA Volleyball banned Butler from its events for life.