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Memphis YMCA head 'gut-punched' by child sex abuse claims against ex-coach

From George Howell and Meridith Edwards, CNN
updated 10:42 AM EST, Tue December 13, 2011
Two former players have accused Robert Dodd, former CEO of the Amateur Athletic Union, of molestation.
Two former players have accused Robert Dodd, former CEO of the Amateur Athletic Union, of molestation.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Memphis police says no accusers have contacted them, making their probe challenging
  • Going "on TV and (making) accusations is not notifying" police, a deputy chief says
  • Robert "Bobby" Dodd, recently AAU's CEO, is accused of sexually abusing boys in the '80s
  • He was a Memphis-based YMCA coach at the time, a YMCA executive says

Memphis, Tennessee (CNN) -- The leader of a Memphis-based YMCA group said he felt "gut-punched" by a televised report in which two men alleged a former coach with that organization had sexually abused them as boys.

Keith Johnson, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South, said he first heard of the allegations against Robert "Bobby" Dodd while watching ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program on Sunday.

He said the sports network didn't contact him in advance of the piece. As of Monday, several days after Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong announced his department would investigate the claims against Dodd, Johnson said that law enforcement had not touched base with his YMCA organization.

In the ESPN report, Dodd's accusers said he sexually abused them in hotel rooms during tournaments when they were 12 to 16 years old.

CNN has not been able to reach Dodd, 63, for comment on the allegations. ESPN said it also had been unable to reach him.

On Monday afternoon, Memphis police Deputy Chief Dave Martello said the investigators' options are limited given that no one has filed a formal complaint against Dodd.

"A person is going to have to actually come to the police and report this," Martello told reporters. "The fact they go on TV and make these accusations is not notifying the authorities."

Martello said police are still trying to determine "where (the alleged crimes) happened, when they happened and who was involved." But if a person doesn't offer details directly to police, there are only "going to be a lot of baby steps," he said.

Dodd, who is not a direct relative of the late former Georgia Tech football coach of the same name, was a basketball coach affiliated with the Memphis YMCA in the 1980s, Johnson confirmed. Two now grown men alleged in the ESPN report that Dodd abused them during that time.

The allegations were made amid child sex scandals at Penn State and Syracuse universities and The Citadel. Both men accusing Dodd told ESPN the publicity from the scandals prompted them to act.

The YMCA said Dodd left in 1992 "to pursue AAU sports full-time," including founding an organization called the YOMCA, which stands for Youth of Memphis Competitive Association and is unrelated to the YMCA. He eventually became president and CEO of the Amateur Athletic Union, a position he held until his dismissal on November 14.

Johnson came to Memphis as head of the Fogelman Downtown YMCA a year after Dodd left. In his time with the organization, including over the last decade as an executive for the regional YMCA, Johnson said he had never heard complaints regarding the former coach.

Martello said that Memphis police began looking into the case after the AAU gave them information last Friday. AAU spokesman Ron Sachs had also said that his organization kick-started the child sex abuse criminal probe -- although the group has varied as to whether it claims to have contacted authorities last Thursday or Friday -- telling CNN that the organization provided the identities of three of Dodd's accusers, including not brought up in the ESPN report.

This disclosure followed a nearly monthlong investigation ordered by the AAU, Sachs said Sunday.

The AAU got "cryptic, brief" e-mails, signed only as "shrimp breath," on November 7, 8 and 9 that "alleged, in a very general way, that Bobby Dodd engaged in child sexual abuse," Sachs said. On November 9, the organization got two brief voice-mails along the same lines. There was no name or contact information left in either case.

Those messages were sent to the AAU's compliance and general counsel office, and AAU officers were notified on November 11. The board members, several of whom flew into Orlando, convened the next Monday, November 14, "to confront then-President Bobby Dodd," said Sachs.

In that meeting, Dodd said he had gotten similar phone messages and said he was innocent, according to Sachs, who said he had spoken with several AAU officers who were at the meeting.

"Despite those denials, the AAU officers directed that Bobby Dodd leave the premises and leave his position (as president and CEO) for an indefinite period," said Sachs.

The YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South and the AAU have launched independent investigations into the matter, their respective leaders have said.

One of Dodd's accusers, identified by ESPN as Ralph West of Miami, said he was 14 at the time of the alleged abuse. He said that he was talking publicly, despite the potential embarrassment to him and his family, not to "gain anything" but because he felt "the guy shouldn't be around kids anymore."

West said that he was on a YMCA basketball team run by Dodd, who he said would sometimes slip into his then player's hotel room.

Asked how Dodd could have entered the hotel room on that and other occasions, West said, "He had a key. He always somehow had a key to whatever room I was in."

West said Dodd abused him or tried to abuse him six times, including at least once in which he tried "to put his hand in my boxer shorts" while West was sleeping.

During out-of-town basketball tournaments, West said that he tried to find ways to keep Dodd out of his hotel room,, adding he was "afraid to even fall asleep."

"He would push his way in the room and then end up, I'd see, I wouldn't see him, I would hear him, he'd lay at the floor of the bed masturbating," West said. "And you just lay there horrified. But you don't know what to do. What, are you going to blow the lid off of this at 14 years? All you want to do is pretend it didn't happen and not address it at all. You want to hide and bury it."

Another accuser, whom ESPN did not identify, said Dodd gave him alcohol before taking him to a bedroom and touching him inappropriately.

"The last thing that I can really remember was him carrying me into his bedroom and I can remember him, you know, touching me in ways that I, I didn't uh, I didn't want another man touching me," the man said.

That accuser said he called Dodd on November 11 and confronted him. Dodd, he said, then apologized for the alleged abuse. The network said it examined the man's phone records and verified an eight-minute phone call to Dodd's number.

Both men said they had never reported the alleged incidents to police and had only recently told their families, ESPN said.

Until they or other accusers contact Memphis police, Martello said investigators can only work from the limited information they've been given by the AAU. "We're just going to have to go with the facts, as they come forward," he said.

The statute of limitations, which mandates that charges cannot be filed for a crime if a certain amount of time has elapsed since it allegedly took place, could be a factor in the case. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich on Monday said such laws are "very technical" and "very confusing," declining to go into details as to how it would apply in this case lest that would prevent complainants from talking to police.

"What we don't want to do is encourage made-up claims or discourage valid claims to be made to the Memphis Police Department," Weirich told reporters, encouraging victims of any crime to contact police and not worry about the statute of limitations.

Sachs criticized the half-hour ESPN report for not quoting AAU President Louis Stout's video statement on the matter or others from the AAU. The organization, which has 80,000 adult volunteers involved in coaching and works with hundreds of thousands of young people, is asking outside experts to review its policies for protecting children, which Sachs called the AAU's "No. 1 priority."

The spokesman also clarified that Dodd told his successor, Stout, that he had colon cancer and needed surgery after his dismissal. Dodd allegedly asked that he be able to retire for medical reasons, a request that Stout denied, according to Sachs.

"(Stout) told Mr. Dodd to go focus on your health, go through this surgery and we'll deal with this issue later," said Sachs.

Dodd has been back at the AAU's offices one time since his ouster, contrary to the organization's earlier reports that he had not returned. The occasion was a "forensic audit" that Sachs called standard for outgoing leaders of organizations.

"Bobby Dodd is no longer part of the AAU," said Sachs. "He has no continuing role (or) involvement in their programs. There's no contact with him. Whatever compensation he would have been entitled to -- accrued vacation time -- will be paid, and that's it."

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