Jean Lopez, a Sugar Land, Texas-based coach for the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team from 2004 to 2016, has been banned from the sport after an investigation by the U.S. Center for Safe Sport into allegations of sexual misconduct.
Mandy Meloon, a former national taekwondo champion and former athlete who trained under Lopez, says this decision feels surreal.
“I wasn’t expecting it, because the most important thing for me was that the truth was out,” she said.
Meloon, who lives in Austin, said Lopez’s misconduct started when she was 13 while attending a camp he coached at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, but was too afraid at the time to come forward.
“He immediately took interest in me in an inappropriate way,” she said. “It started when I was 13 years old and still continues today and it affects my life.”
She says she was turned away when she tried to file a report a few years later.
“In 2006, I was in Colorado Springs and I walked into the office of the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo with a handwritten complaint and gave it to them and told them I wanted to file a police report,” she said. “They told me it was too late.”
Meloon said she sought further help from USOC and USA Taekwondo, but never received it.
“I needed help with my education,” she said. “I needed counseling. I needed protection. I wanted control of my own body, my own finances and I wanted to be treated like a professional athlete.”
Steven Lopez, Jean’s brother, is also facing disciplinary action. He has been placed on an “interim measure – restriction” pending a final resolution of the ongoing investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct, according to Safe Sport’s website.
Patrick Sandusky, a spokesperson for USOC, issued a statement in support of Lopez’s ban and cited the importance of Safe Sport’s purpose to provide a safe and independent path for reporting violations involving sexual misconduct.
“Following the increased media coverage of Larry Nassar’s crimes, the Center has received substantially more inquiries, which is why we recently doubled funding to support its important mission,” Sandusky said. “Additionally, federal government funding has also recently been approved and we are grateful for the Congressional support of this critically important entity and mission.”
Steve McNally, executive director of USA Taekwondo, said since the decision to ban Jean Lopez from the sport is subject to appeal, “it would be inappropriate to comment further until due process is concluded.”
Jean Lopez issued a statement through his personal manager, saying he plans to appeal the ban.
“It is an absolute fact that these claims against me are not true,” the statement said. “I look forward to continuing to be part of a sport that is conducted with respect and dignity.”
Currently, Meloon is still working with investigators and police. She hopes parents take extra steps to protect their children in sports.
“Educate your children to know it’s safe enough to say no,” she said. “I have a 4-year-old and I tell my mom, because my daughter’s with my mother, you teach her that it’s OK to say no.”
She also wants other athletes to know that it’s possible to rebuild.
“It does get better,” she said. “It never goes away. Even right now, I don’t feel safe. I’m working through it, but it’s possible to have a normal life and put it behind you.”
Meloon’s attorney, Jonathan Little, said he’s currently representing five clients ages 27 to 37 who plan on filing a lawsuit against both Lopez brothers, as well as USOC and USA Taekwondo.