Olympic taekwondo champ's permanent ban for sexual misconduct overturned

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
Steven Lopez has faced allegations of sexual misconduct for three years from multiple women. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
Steven Lopez has faced allegations of sexual misconduct for three years from multiple women. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

Olympic taekwondo champion Steve Lopez had his name removed from the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s banned list on Monday after an arbitrator ruled in his favor.

Lopez was placed on the permanently banned list three months ago for violating the code of conduct regarding allegations were filed over sexual misconduct involving a minor.

It’s the second case to be overturned by the organization in its 21-month existence. USA Today obtained the decision issued by Jeff Kaplan.

Sport’s biggest star accused of misconduct

Lopez, 40, was banned by SafeSport in September when it found a “preponderance of … evidence” that he sexually abused Nina Zampetti when she was 14.

Lopez declined to be interviewed in the case. He’s a five-time Olympian with gold medals in 2000 and 2004, a bronze in 2008 and a total of five world titles.

Zampetti, whose family is longtime friends of the Lopez family, alleges Lopez engaged in “frequent grooming behavior” and asked her to sit on his lap when she was 11 and he 19. She told USA Today when she was 14 he assaulted her.

Permanent ban overturned

The arbitrator decided to overturn the ban because the Center “failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that Lopez violated the SafeSport code by grooming NZ, touching her vaginal area and breasts and receiving oral sex from her in 2000,” according to USA Today.

“He had been sanctioned for life based on a set of allegations,” Howard Jacobs, Lopez’s attorney, told USA Today. “Those allegations were not proven, and so he’s no longer under any sanction.”

Lopez testified at the hearing and brought witnesses. Zampetti did not testify, instead providing a declaration. She and her attorney told USA Today they want to give testimony as a “one-time deal” instead of multiple times.

The arbitrator decided to overturn based in part on lack of testimony, saying “questions about her credibility are left unanswered” and that he was not able to “observe her demeanor or question NZ about the information she provided.”

Further, as quoted in USA Today:

By contrast, Lopez appeared genuinely upset and was visibly emotional when talking about the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Not only has his taekwondo career been jeopardized, but his family has been humiliated and embarrassed by what Lopez believes are false and malicious allegations. Lopez testified in a manner consistent with someone who is falsely accused. His outrage did not seem feigned or contrived.”

Lopez brothers faced with more allegations

Lopez and his older brother and trainer, Jean Lopez, have been under investigation for sexual misconduct for three years, according to USA Today.

Stephen Lopez was first accused by a fellow taekwondo medalist in 2004 and then by a former member of the junior national team.

Jean Lopez was declared by SafeSport in April as permanently ineligible for violations of sexual misconduct, including that of a minor, and had his ban overturned in August.

A lawsuit was filed against both men, the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Taekwondo and SafeSport by women alleging they were victims of a sex trafficking operation. It alleges the organizations knew the Lopez brothers were sexual predators, yet continued to send women to their camps.

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