This story appears in the Sept. 10, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
Special reporting by Lauren Green. Portrait photographs by Chris Covatta and Kohjiro Kinno, inset photo by Al Tielemans.
In April 2006, 23-year-old Gaby Joslin was in Bonn, Germany, chasing her dream in the sport to which she had devoted herself, taekwondo. A recent graduate of Texas A&M and a member of the U.S. World University Games team in ’03, she hoped that a good showing at the German Open would improve her chances of making the ’08 Olympics.
Before college, Joslin had spent nine years at Elite Taekwondo, a gym in Sugar Land, Texas, run by Jean Lopez, who coached many athletes on the national team, and his younger brother Steven, who had won gold medals at the 2000 and ’04 Olympics. During junior high and high school, she lived in The Woodlands, and she would make the 60-minute trip to Sugar Land nearly every day. At A&M, while holding down assorted full-time jobs, she put taekwondo practice ahead of her studies. “I dedicated my everything to Jean and to Jean’s program,” she says.
Taekwondo is a martial art with roots that can be traced back 2,000 years. The South Korean military emphasized it after World War II and exported it around the world in the 1960s. It focuses on jumping and spinning kicks and features strict discipline and a regimented hierarchy; athletes address their coach as Master or Sir. Questioning any instruction is not done. According to the 1999 book, Taekwondo: The State of the Art: “It does not matter whether what the instructor asks is possible, or whether a student feels like doing that particular drill or not. In response to a command, the only proper response is ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘Yes, ma’am’. . . . Absolute respect takes on the form of something deeper—a willingness to obey.”
Joslin started taking taekwondo at the YMCA when she was six and earned a black belt at 12. She would put in extra work after practice and volunteer to teach other kids in her spare time. The move to Elite gave her the best shot at representing the U.S. in Beijing. “That’s where you went if you wanted to be an Olympian,” she says. “You trained under Jean Lopez.”
Jean was a U.S. coach of both men and women at the 2004, ’08 and ’12 Games. Now 45, he is one of four siblings, all Olympians. Steven, 39, a five-time world champion, is still competing. Mark, 36, won a silver in Beijing and Diana, 34, won a bronze. At the 2005 world championships in Madrid, Steven, Mark and Diana became the first three siblings to win world titles in the same sport. Jean has coached them all.
Taekwondo athletes typically train in small groups, and those groups often spend all day together. In Sugar Land, athletes were encouraged to get two tattoos: elite and the lopez four, which referred to Jean, Steven, Mark and Diana.
Shortly before the German Open, Joslin says Jean told her to lose 20 pounds so she could compete as a bantamweight, at 122 pounds. She was confused but didn’t question Jean—per the sport’s code. He also told her that he wouldn’t be traveling to Germany, so Steven offered to be her coach. “Jean has programmed me to have blind faith,” she recalls thinking at the time. “So I will rely on Steven.”
But Joslin wanted some guidance. She was battling a hip injury and was worried about competing in a different class. One day, after sitting in a sauna for six hours to lose weight, Joslin found herself with Steven in an elevator of their Bonn hotel. “Hello, Sir,” she said. Then, according to a complaint filed later in federal court, Joslin says that Steven didn’t answer but grabbed her hips, pushed her against the wall and told her, “You feel great as a bantam.”
Joslin was alarmed, but she felt she couldn’t confront him if she wanted his help making the Olympic team. She left the elevator and didn’t tell anyone about the incident for a dozen years.
The team would be in Germany for another week. Joslin says she kept trying to talk to Steven about the competition and her training, but he ignored her. She wrote him a letter, outlining her concerns, and she hoped it would be the start of a constructive athlete-coach relationship.
Shortly after she handed him the letter, Joslin recalls, Steven came to her room. He ignored the letter and, she alleges in a lawsuit filed in May, put a pornographic movie on the room’s TV and began to massage her. “Next thing I know, he’s rubbing my hips, where I had the injury,” she says. Then, Joslin says, Steven turned her over onto her stomach, pulled down her pants and penetrated her. “It hit me like freaking darkness,” she says. “At that point, what am I gonna do? In a foreign country? I just remember the weight of the world. I went somewhere else in my mind. I just waited for it to be over.”
Steven has not yet responded to Joslin’s allegations in court, and through his lawyer, declined to elaborate to SI on what he told USA Today in a June 2017 story that discussed some of the allegations. “I’ve never—nothing, nothing at all,” he said when asked if he had sexually assaulted or committed any inappropriate behavior with any woman. “Nothing like that. Nothing close to that.”
Joslin lost her first-round match in Bonn the next day. After returning home, she decided to leave taekwondo. Even now, she says, “I miss it so bad, but I can’t do it. It’s too broken.”
The Lopez family is the face of taekwondo in the U.S. In 2004, Steven was named one of People’s 50 Hottest Bachelors. He appeared on a celebrity dating show in ’12. The family has been featured on Ellen and Oprah. In 2009 the four siblings came out with a book called Family Power that focused on their hardscrabble upbringing, first in New York City and then in Texas, as the children of Nicaraguan immigrants.
But according to the class-action lawsuit filed by Joslin and three other women, and amended on Aug. 24 to include another plaintiff, Jean’s and Steven’s winning image hid a dark truth: They used their power and influence—enhanced by the sport’s code of obedience—to systematically rape and abuse women and underage girls. (Mark and Diana are not named in any complaint.) The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, not only accuses Steven and Jean of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking, but it also alleges that the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo, the sport’s governing body, “exposed hundreds of young female athletes to two known adult predators” from at least 2004 to April ’18. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say they have spoken with 29 other women who say they too were abused by Jean or Steven.
In response to the allegations, USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement to SI, “The United States Olympic Committee is deeply focused on critical initiatives and collaboration across the entire Olympic and Paralympic community to protect, support and empower America’s athletes. We have collectively made significant progress and will continue to make athlete safety our highest priority.”
A month before the suit was filed, the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which has exclusive authority over sexual-abuse cases in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements, ruled Jean “permanently ineligible” after finding, according to USA Today, that he was “guilty of sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct involving a minor.”
Like Steven, Jean, through his lawyer, declined to address the allegations for this story, but in the 2017 USA Today article he said, “I’ve never been inappropriate with anyone.” He appealed his ban, requesting arbitration, and in advance of that hearing SafeSport removed Jean’s name from its sanctions database.
Created by the USOC, SafeSport is an independent organization with a small staff to conduct its own investigations. It does not have subpoena power and can’t arrest anyone. As in Jean’s case, SafeSport need not state the specific accusation or name the accuser in releasing its findings. On May 7, three days after the lawsuit was filed, USA Taekwondo ruled that Steven, who had been under investigation for sexual misconduct for more than a year, was temporarily suspended. He competed at the U.S. Open last January and at the U.S. team trials a month after that, making his 24th national team.
Three of the plaintiffs in the suit spoke to SI. Their stories point to a pattern of grooming, assault and degradation in a sport where subservience to mentors made the women reluctant to come forward. They allege that Steven and Jean Lopez have taken advantage of that culture to prey on women for more than a decade.
In 2002, 20-year-old Heidi Gilbert was a rising star in taekwondo when she began to train with the Lopezes. She and Jean had been teammates on the national team in 1998. After two years at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, she decided to move to Sugar Land. “Their program was kicking ass,” Gilbert says. “Of course, you’re going to pick a successful program.”
As the famed Karolyi Ranch was to gymnastics, so Elite was to taekwondo—but for the fact that Elite, which opened in 1997, was bare-bones. As Gilbert recalls, there was a small lobby and an office, and beyond that, a training room with mats and a small weight room with a bike. There was also one room where men and women changed.
At Elite, each day was broken into three two-hour sessions. Many of the fighters were from Texas; those who couldn’t commute either lived with the Lopezes or in two houses owned by the family, to whom they paid rent. There were 10 to 15 martial artists training at Elite at any one time, most by invitation, and they would do almost everything together.
Gilbert started in taekwondo when she was eight, in Seattle. At first, she remembers, she was awful. “Like legit bad,” she says with a laugh. But she loved the sport and had a passion for the fighting. By eighth grade, her life revolved around taekwondo. After school she would run home, grab her bag, jump on a city bus and go to practice.
Gilbert made her first national team when she was in 11th grade. That year, 1998, she won the junior world championships in Istanbul and finished third at the Pan American championships in Lima. In 2002, in Quito, Ecuador, she won the event. “As an athlete,” she says, “I was on fire.”
In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, at the 2003 world championships, Gilbert lost in the quarterfinals. After the last match of the tournament, the team went to a party. Gilbert alleges in the suit and in statements to SI that Jean, the national coach, asked her to try a drink. She did and recalls, “I started feeling really bad. I walked outside and sat, and I’m not getting better. I can feel everything and hear everything, but I can’t stand up, and I can’t move.” At the end of the night, Jean carried Gilbert into a taxi. She says Jean started groping her breast and touching her vagina over her clothes.
According to Gilbert, Jean then dragged her into the hotel, into an elevator and to a lounge on one of the floors. There he started slapping her face and choking her. She says he tried to pull her pants down, but he couldn’t get them all the way off—his repeated attempts left her legs red. He performed oral sex on her, put his penis between her legs and ejaculated, then pulled her pants partway up and left, Gilbert says. She woke up in the morning in a chair in the lounge. She ran to her room and took a shower. “I felt so disgusting,” she says. She didn’t tell anyone about the incident at the time.
That morning, Gilbert says, Jean came to her hotel room. She recalls, “He was like, ‘Oh, my god, I woke up in the hallway. I can’t remember what I did last night.’ ”
On the plane back to the U.S., Gilbert says, Jean, who had gotten married in March 2002, was sitting next to her when he told her that he loved her, that he married his wife for the wrong reasons, that he wished they could be together and that he wanted to have “Olympic babies” with her. Jean declined to comment to SI, but in the 2017 USA Today story said, “I’ve never been inappropriate with Heidi. I can’t say anything negative about her. She was my athlete. I was her coach, but I’ve never been inappropriate with her.”
In 2007, Gilbert went to South Korea to train for a few months with her friend Anna Kim, who had been a successful taekwondo athlete in the U.S., “just to give myself a break,” Gilbert says. She immediately told Kim about the incident with Jean. “Heidi speaks very good Korean,” Kim says. “She was telling me in Korean because she didn’t want any Americans [training there] to hear.”
Gilbert says she was also assaulted by Steven Lopez. A few months before the 2003 worlds, she flew home to Seattle for her 21st birthday. When she returned to Texas, Steven picked her up at the airport. Before he would take her home, Gilbert says, he insisted she perform oral sex on him—though he was then dating her close friend and teammate Mandy Meloon, another plaintiff in the suit. “I remember him being like, I’m just so hot, I’m so good, girls just want to suck my d---.” Feeling compelled to submit (such demands were so common, says Gilbert, that she refers to submission as “enduring”), she did. She says that Steven told her that if she didn’t comply, he would tell Meloon that she had.
Later that year, Gilbert quit the national team. “I was a f------ disaster,” she says. “I had to get therapy. I was so distraught. I remember being a little bit suicidal.” She says Jean called her multiple times. He left messages, pleading for her to stay: “Please don’t do this to me.”
Gilbert, who now works at a taekwondo school in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., wasn’t ready to give up her Olympic dream. At the 2005 national team trials, according to Gilbert, Jean stood in the corner during her fights and stared at her. She lost in the finals. “It’s hard for every athlete to transition from an athlete to a normal person,” Gilbert says. “[My situation] was a little different. I had to quit the sport I loved because I was molested.”
In 2015, Gilbert learned that USA Taekwondo had hired a lawyer from Colorado Springs, Donald Alperstein, to look into misconduct allegations against Jean and Steven. Alperstein contacted Gilbert, who told him about her encounters with the two brothers and gave him a list of other athletes she believed had been abused, including at least one who was underage. (The age of consent in Texas is 17.)
Gilbert says she and Alperstein spoke on the phone a few times and exchanged emails. Then, a few weeks after Steven lost in the bronze medal match in Rio, Gilbert received this email from Alperstein: “Now that the Olympics are over and things are settling down, I want to get moving again on the Steven Lopez disciplinary case.” When asked about this by SI, Alperstein wrote in an email: “My involvement in the investigations and the development of subsequent litigation put me in a difficult position. Having considered the situation, I think it best if I decline to comment.”
In an Aug. 28 email to Meloon and Amber Means, another of the plaintiffs, Alperstein attached copies of two letters, both obtained by SI, that he says he wrote to the Sugar Land police department on Nov. 2, 2016. They read: “During the course of our work for [USA Taekwondo] we have received information that leads me to believe that sufficient evidence exists of criminal conduct in your jurisdiction involving an [sic] underage victims that the incidents and information need to be brought to your attention.” In the email to Meloon and Means, Alperstein writes that the Sugar Land police had forwarded his reports to the Fort Bend County (Texas) sheriff’s office, and that in January 2017 he had also had contact with that office regarding Meloon’s allegations. He attached a letter dated March 1, 2017, to the FBI, stating that the Fort Bend sheriff’s office, because of “the wide range of dates involved (going all the way back to 1994) and the multitude of locations (inside and outside the United States),” had suggested he contact a federal agency.
However, according to the Sugar Land police, no sexual assault reports have been filed on behalf of Gilbert or Meloon. Police reports, in most cases, must be signed by the complainant. The statute of limitations in cases of sexual assault in Texas is 15 years; if the offense involves a minor, the 15-year limit begins at the victim’s 18th birthday.
Says Gilbert, “He had collected information against Jean and Steven, but there came a point when he told us, ‘There’s nothing else I can do. I have to turn this over to SafeSport.’ ”
SafeSport was created in June 2014 by the USOC after multiple allegations of sexual assault in Olympic sports. Primarily funded by the USOC and the national governing bodies, the center does not require that a complaint come from a victim—anyone can make a report. Since its establishment, SafeSport has levied 345 sanctions to people across 50 organizations. Some sports have had no suspensions or bans. Taekwondo has had 12; gymnastics, which has had 57 coaches or athletes disciplined, has the most of any sport. Track and field has had 43, swimming 31 and hockey 30.
While most of the attention regarding sexual abuse in U.S. sports has focused on Larry Nassar—the gymnastics team doctor who’s been convicted of abusing multiple athletes—there are lawsuits from athletes or former athletes pending against USA Diving, USA Figure Skating, USA Swimming, USA Volleyball and U.S. Youth Soccer. There are numerous other suits involving coaches, trainers or athletes around the country in which a national governing body is not a defendant. An SI analysis found that since 2017, 60 coaches or trainers across 19 sports have been arrested for sexual abuse.
According to USA Today, in its original sanction of Jean Lopez, SafeSport wrote: “This matter concerns a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by an older athlete/coach abusing his power to groom, manipulate and, ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes. Given the number of incidents reported over a span of several years and by multiple reporting parties, most of whom have no reasonable motive to fabricate an allegation—much less multiple, distinct incidents—of misconduct, the totality of the circumstances clearly shows a recurrent pattern of behavior on the part of Jean.”
So when Jean’s name was removed from SafeSport’s sanctions database this summer, his accusers were furious. According to Dan Hill, a spokesperson for SafeSport, “The center imposed a permanent ban on Jean Lopez. Lopez requested an arbitration of the ban. The arbitration outcome is binding which is why it’s imperative the center put forward the strongest case possible. That requires live testimony from the reporting parties. The attorney for those individuals committed to provide that testimony in the near term. When he honors his commitment, the center will be best positioned to move forward on its decision to ban Jean Lopez permanently.” According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Steve Estey of San Diego and Jon Little of Indianapolis, SafeSport said it wouldn’t defend Jean’s ban before the arbitrator without in-person testimony from the accusers. Estey had asked SafeSport to postpone the hearing until depositions were taken in the civil case. In sum, Jean’s ban has not been reversed; it has been stayed until the accusers offer testimony—most likely through their depositions in the suit. “There are restrictions for Jean during the stay,” says Hill. “And we are working with USA Taekwondo to understand how far we can go.”
SafeSport’s initial findings in the Lopez cases gave their accusers hope. “When Jean was banned, that was amazing,” says Meloon. “Those are things that are hopefully stopping the behavior.” Now, though, even if the ban is upheld, the women are disillusioned. Says Gilbert, “The system has failed us.”
Victims of sexual assault often don’t come forward for years, if not decades, after they have been abused. Victims can feel ashamed, or they may doubt they’ll be believed. For these reasons there are proposals in several jurisdictions to extend the statute of limitations in cases of sexual assault, especially when they involve minors. The reluctance of victims to report abuse is compounded when their attacker is in a position of power.
In taekwondo, in the rare case when an athlete does question a coach, there can be consequences. As a training exercise in 2001, Gilbert says she and a teammate were left on Pikes Peak by their coach, Han Won Lee, with no water or food. They were to make their way down, and after 12 hours they did. The next year, when Lee ordered them to do the hike again, Gilbert refused. She says she was kicked out of the U.S. Training Center almost immediately. Says Lee, who is now a coach in Castle Rock, Colo., “I remember that event, but that’s not the reason they got kicked out. I don’t think she got kicked out. This is twenty-something years ago. I know that wasn’t the reason.” Lee did not offer further specifics.
The sport’s closed community left women who had been assaulted feeling that they had no avenue to come forward. “Everything’s very secretive,” says Joslin. “You don’t talk about anything, and you definitely don’t talk about anything [involving] Steven.” Even by taekwondo standards, life at Elite was especially insular. Says Gilbert, “It was like a cult.”
Mandy Meloon was 13 in 1994, when she met Jean Lopez at a junior training camp in Colorado Springs. He was 21. She says his first words to her were, “You look just like my girlfriend.” What followed, according to Meloon, was a series of acts—at first inappropriate and ultimately illegal—committed by Jean, who was then a competitor and captain of the U.S. team.
Meloon, who grew up an Army brat, moved to the Olympic Training Center shortly after meeting Jean. Taekwondo hadn’t been her favorite activity at first, but she was good at it. In 1996 she appeared in SI’s Faces in the Crowd after winning the girls’ bantamweight division at the world junior championships, as well as the flyweight division at nationals. Making the national team, which has 16 members, was the next step in making the Olympic team, which has only four.
According to Meloon, the Olympic Training Center was home to a nightly party, a confluence of underage drinking and sex. Meloon was 15, the minimum age for residence, when she moved in. Her mother was in Germany and her father was stationed at various military posts, and she was often unsupervised. She was attending Harrison High in Colorado Springs (she dropped out in 1997) and sometimes had to take a cab to get to school. Other times, she alleges in the suit, another athlete named Danny Kim would drive her and force her to perform oral sex on him. Meloon says that Kim repeatedly raped her, starting when she was 15. In an email to Meloon, Alperstein attached a letter, shown to SI, that he said he sent to the Colorado Springs police department. The letter details Meloon’s allegation that she was “15 or 16 years of age and the alleged perpetrator was 20 or 21 years old [when] she was sexually assaulted and penetrated by him in a dormitory room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.”
In April 2018, 22 years after the assault, Kim was suspended by SafeSport. He was operating a taekwondo school in Hawaii at the time. SI’s attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
“[The Olympic Training Center] was the Wild West,” says Anna Kim (no relation to Danny). “It was really bad. I witnessed the drunkenness. An assistant coach was the first person to ever get me drunk. You train six to eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. You had a two-hour workout on Saturday morning. Saturday nights and Sundays was drinking and mischief and hooking up.”
According to Meloon and to Anna Kim, the adults charged with looking after the kids were aware of what was happening. “Everyone knew about it,” says Meloon. Adds Anna, “Han Won Lee [the national-team coach] completely turned a blind eye to everything. He was negligent in his duties to take care of the younger athletes, period. Period.”
Lee denies this, saying, “I did not have knowledge of that. Absolutely not. And I don’t condone that.”
At the World Cup in Cairo in March 1997, Meloon was rooming with a teammate, Kay Poe, who was 14. Meloon says, and also alleges in the suit, that Jean knocked on the door of their hotel room one night and was let in by a teammate. He climbed into bed with Kay and Mandy, who had earlier pushed their beds together, and digitally penetrated Mandy, who had been asleep. Mandy pretended to be asleep throughout the assault. (Poe did not respond to SI’s repeated attempts for comment.)
“You are completely trapped,” says Meloon. “I had no option. I was stuck. I didn’t know about calling the cops. I definitely did not want to piss off my dad. I was never taught anything about sex or normal stuff. I always knew it wasn’t right.”
At 17, according to the suit, Meloon became pregnant by Danny Kim and had an abortion. Anna Kim told SI she took her to a local clinic, before Mandy went to Germany, where her mother was living. (Mandy was born in Germany and as a citizen was able to receive free medical care.) After the abortion she moved out of the Olympic Training Center. She was still a promising fighter, so in 1999 she decided to train in Sugar Land. Meloon says Jean told her, “I know this happened. We’re going to put it behind us, just don’t talk about it.”
Meloon felt she had no choice. “I was brainwashed that nothing matters other than making weight and going to competition,” she says. “That was it.”
By 2000, Meloon was living in Sugar Land in a house she had rented and was, she says, in a consensual relationship with Steven Lopez. He was 21; she was 18. After a few years, she says their relationship changed and she suspected Steven was seeing someone else. She confronted him, and a short time later, she alleges in the lawsuit, he broke into her house, raping her and beating her. Steven declined to comment to SI but in the 2017 USA Today story said, “It’s not true. At all.”
According to Meloon, Steven broke into her house at least twice more, which led her to contact the police. According to a report filed with the Sugar Land police on May 5, 2006, Meloon was “scared that he [might] return to her home” and that Steven did not “believe that the relationship was over.” Meloon, however, declined to follow up. After the first incident she called Anna Kim, who was then living in Denver. Later Anna flew Meloon out to train with her, away from Steven.
Nina Zampetti, who is not a named plaintiff in the suit, also trained at Elite. She says she was 11 when Steven, who lived next door in Sugar Land, gave her a promise ring and told her that they would be together forever and get married one day. He was 19.
When she was 14, Nina was alone with Steven in his bedroom. She says he demanded oral sex and she complied. Nina, an aspiring taekwondo athlete, says she was starstruck by Steven. But the incident left her feeling “disappointed and used.” According to both Nina and to Meloon, Nina told Meloon in 2018 what had happened in Steven’s room.
At the time of the incident, Steven was dating Meloon, who was fast becoming one of the Lopezes’ star students. That year she finished third at the Pan American championships. “Mandy had more talent in her little pinkie than both of the Lopezes combined,” says Anna Kim. “She was the most talented fighter I’ve ever seen—male or female. She could beat Steven, too. That’s what pissed them off. The only way he could control her was to physically and sexually abuse her.”
In 2006, Meloon handed a written complaint to David Askinas, who was then the CEO of USA Taekwondo, alleging that Jean had assaulted her for years, going back to 1997. It read in part: “I feel the USTA is putting Jean in an unsupervised environment with minors where it is very possible and likely from my observations he will resume his old habits again. . . . I know myself as a national team member I do not feel comfortable around him. I do not feel comfortable with him working with minors unsupervised.”
Meloon says Askinas told her that it was too late to report the allegations to the police. Askinas did not respond to multiple calls from SI for comment but told USA Today in the 2017 story that this was “not true.” Heidi Gilbert says that Askinas also called her because he knew that she and Meloon were close friends. She confirmed Meloon’s accusations and told Askinas of her own experiences with Jean. According to Gilbert, Askinas responded, “You need to keep your mouth shut. You’ll ruin his life.” Askinas, now a consultant and formerly a vice president and general counsel at a business-efficiency firm in Chadds Ford, Pa., told USA Today, “I never asked Ms. Gilbert to keep quiet about anything.”
Despite her bronze medal from the 2005 world championships, Meloon was dropped from the national team in ’07. She claims that Askinas told her that she could be on the Beijing Olympic squad if she withdrew her allegations against Jean. Meloon appealed her dismissal and a hearing was scheduled; the night before, USA Taekwondo convened an emergency meeting and revoked Meloon’s membership for violating its code of conduct, preventing her from competing in sanctioned events. She had made derogatory comments about USA Taekwondo leadership.
Meloon then spiralled downward. She spent time on the street and in domestic violence shelters before Denise Coyle, the mother of another USAT competitor, sent her an airplane ticket to Florida. While staying with Coyle in Palm Bay, Meloon unburdened herself. “She told me everything,” Coyle says. “Everything with Steven, everything with Jean. It was very heartfelt. She was breaking down. It was getting it out. It wasn’t bulls---. I didn’t know it was this bad. I had no clue.”
Coyle helped Meloon prepare for another arbitration hearing, this to allow her back into USA Taekwondo. Though he didn’t reinstate Meloon, an arbitrator suggested that the taekwondo governing body and the USOC had failed her: “This arbitrator hopes that the USOC and USAT do not abandon Ms. Meloon as a result of her recent actions,” said Lawrence A. Saichek in the 2007 decision. “She was, in essence, raised by the USOC and is a product of their system. Ms. Meloon’s core message went to the protection of the young girls in the Olympic movement who could be exposed to situations that are inappropriate and potentially damaging. One would hope that this message is not lost, and young children are properly supervised, protected and educated.”
Steve McNally, who has been executive director of USA Taekwondo since September 2017, told SI, “I can’t comment due to in-process litigation.”
In 2008, shortly before the Beijing Games, Meloon gave up the sport. She has since spent time in domestic violence shelters and struggled with alcohol abuse. In ’16 she began serving a two-year prison term for assaulting an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in Texas.
Released last January, Meloon, now 37, says she feels as if she’s “in my right mind. It’s a relief. There’s words like gaslighting, brainwashing. . . . To come out the other end, I’m not sick, I’m not crazy. It wasn’t my fault. I blamed myself, I can’t stop a 6' 3" man from attacking me. And that’s hard for someone who’s really good at what she did. I beat up people for a living. Behind closed doors this was happening.”
Almost immediately upon returning from the German Open in 2006, Gaby Joslin decided to leave taekwondo. She says that shame and fear were ruling her life, and competing only made her feel worse. However, like many victims of abuse, she couldn’t bring herself to leave her abuser, Steven. “I completely gave in,” says Joslin, now 35. “It’s kind of like leprosy or herpes. It never goes away. I’m like, I’m already infected, I’ve already submitted. I’m already part of this cult. It’s already taken everything that I’ve wanted.”
She was back in The Woodlands, living in her own place, and as part of their relationship, she says Steven insisted on “breaking” into her house, pretending he was a rapist. “It felt like this is what I have to do,” she says. “Whatever he wants, I do. That’s my role now.”
In 2009, Joslin and Jean, who was in the process of getting a divorce from his wife, Tabetha, and with whom he had three children, reconnected. He said he wanted to talk to her about preserving his relationship with his children as he went through the divorce. Shortly after, Steven came to Joslin’s house. “We had very intentional, immediate sex. Like goodbye sex. [I felt like he was saying,] It’s time to hand you off,” Joslin says.
Joslin, who had moved to Houston and was working in sales for an oil company, started dating Jean. She says Jean told her, “You and I would have amazing babies.” She thought her relationship with Jean was exclusive, albeit hidden. He would confide in her about business ideas and ask for advice, but he would disappear for weeks. He would demand suggestive photographs. “It wasn’t an, Oh, I miss you, send me a picture,” she says. “It started feeling very prostitutional.”
Joslin began to suspect that she wasn’t the only woman dating Jean. He had saved her number on his phone under the name Jason.
By 2011, Joslin was ready to end the relationship. Jean asked her to come over for one last discussion. Joslin insisted it happen during the day, to make it clear she wasn’t interested in sleeping with him. She says that while she sat on the floor, Jean grabbed her and raped her. “I emphatically asked him to stop, multiple times,” she says. The encounter left her pregnant. It was an ectopic pregnancy, though. Fourteen years after she met the Lopez family, Joslin finally got a tattoo: It was what would have been her baby’s initials.
“I went through a deep depression,” she says. “The hardest part has been the shame. I feel like I should’ve been smarter.”
In November 2012, Joslin says she informed Herb Perez, then a member of the USOC executive committee and a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo, of what had happened to her. When reached for comment, Perez said he didn’t recall speaking with Joslin but noted that “the Lopez thing” is not new, and that abuses—sexual and otherwise—by the Lopezes were “endemic.” Aside from that conversation with Perez, Joslin says she kept the details bottled up until earlier this year, when she told her fiancé, Patrick Hagler. (Now married, Joslin and Hagler live in Katy, Texas.) She says she also told her therapist.
“The person I am now . . . I’ve gotten so hard,” she says. “I don’t even know the extent of the trauma because I didn’t even address it.”
Joslin’s psychological scars have been slow to heal, and it’s especially difficult for her because the abuse dashed her Olympic dream. “It took everything that I’ve ever wanted,” she says.
Steven, on the other hand, has competed in three Olympics since Meloon first reported his abuse in 2006. Last February, after winning the U.S. Open, he said he would try to qualify for the 2020 Games in Tokyo—where, if his appeal is upheld, Jean would be his coach. When asked by the Houston Chronicle why, at age 39, he was still competing, Steven responded, “Why stop doing something you really love to do?”