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Out Paralympians and other players allege abuse, force coach’s resignation

Kaitlyn Eaton, Courtney Ryan and others claim their coach in Tokyo was emotionally abusive and not fit to coach.

2020 Tokyo Paralympics - Day 11
Women who have won Paralympic medals for Team USA are speaking out against a coaching decision, saying they have been mistreated.
Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Update Dec. 10, 2021, 10pmET: Coach Trooper Johnson has resigned as the head basketball coach of the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Original story:

Two out LGBTQ members of the Team USA women’s wheelchair basketball team from the Tokyo Olympics are part of a group speaking up about abuse they say they endured from their coach, who was recently given a new contract by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

Kaitlyn Eaton says she was emotionally and mentally abused by coach Lawrence “Trooper” Johnson for years as the team prepared for the Tokyo Paralympics this past summer, as well as other international competition.

She has claimed that not only were qualified women overlooked to lead the team of women, but that Johnson has for years engaged in abusive behavior that has led to a SafeSport investigation.

Over the past 5 years, I have been emotionally and verbally abused by our head coach. ...

I have made multiple complaints to the @nwba and not a single one has been taken seriously. In fact, I was even once told to “stop perpetuating a story that just isn’t true”. The fact of the matter is, this organization is choosing to ignore their athletes and to turn a blind eye to any of the abuse that has occurred.

Eaton said in her Instagram post that she has tried to work with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, but she feels her issues have fallen on unwilling ears.

@nwba, we have tried to come to you in private and you chose not to listen, so maybe you will listen now that other people are watching. We want answers! Why was this man selected as our coach again? Why are you so willing to believe him over us? What are you going to do to protect us over the next 3 years with him as our coach? What are you going to do to prove that protecting female athletes is a priority for this organization?

Eaton told Outsports that the NWBA’s investigation of the allegations did not include an interview with her, one of the players leading the charge.

“They came back to us and said through their investigation they found nothing and just needed to help Trooper on his communication skills, and we needed to stop talking about things that were not true,” Eaton said.

Eaton told Outsports that she will “absolutely not” play for coach Johnson under any circumstances.

“They could have chosen essentially anyone else and I would have played,” Eaton said.

The NWBA did not immediately return a request for comment made through their website, and upon calling received a recorded message that “that mailbox is full.” The NWBA did publish a response to two key allegations on its website.

“For the avoidance of doubt, NWBA reaffirms its commitment to processes that ensure both the SafeSport Code is upheld and an environment / culture exists that is safe, healthy, and competitive for all members of High Performance, including athletes, coaches, and staff,” the NWBA wrote.

Joining the chorus is teammate Courtney Ryan:

“You had the opportunity to make change, and you didn’t,” Ryan wrote to the NWBA on Instagram. “I’m sad, I’m disappointed, and will not be silent.”

Eaton and Ryan were two of at least 36 publicly out LGBTQ athletes competing in the Tokyo Paralympics.

Hall of Fame player and coach Stephanie Wheeler — who coached the team to a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 — is standing by the players and has resigned from the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Board of Directors in protest of the rehiring of coach Johnson.

Wheeler wrote:

Effective yesterday, I have tendered my resignation to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Board of Directors. I joined the board in August of 2019 because I wanted to influence change within our organization, specifically for girls and women at all levels of our sport.

This most recent coaching hire and the NWBA’s silence in response to the allegations are born out of a systemic issue of gender discrimination within the NWBA, sport, and society at large.

Wheeler told Outsports she did not submit her name for consideration to coach the team going forward.

Team USA won a bronze medal in Tokyo.

Athletes — and in particular athletes in women’s sports — have seen a bit of an uprising recently, with women across the National Women’s Soccer League and other organizations demanding change. This is the latest chapter in that continually developing story.