A common #metoo storyline goes like this: a prominent man is thrust into the media and
the court of public opinion by accusations of sexual misconduct. He weathers the storm, perhaps
a job loss, and maybe some media attention. Usually, he does not directly claim responsibility
(although sometimes he might admit to “bad behavior”), does not attempt a process of truth and
reconciliation, and lays low for a short period of time before attempting to stage a comeback.
Sometimes the steps outlined above aren’t even necessary, because the accused receives
no punishment at all. (Not even for sophomoric, boorish, and disrespectful behavior under
oath—looking at you, Brett Kavanaugh.) Instead, these accusations represent little more than a
speed bump in a life of privilege.
In the suburbs of Chicago, this story is once again playing out in a match between the top-seeded #metoo movement and the upstart challenger, the Snowplow Parent (the latest over-the-top parenting model).
Back in 1995 Rick Butler, a legendary volleyball coach, was “expelled for life” from the
United States Volleyball Association (USVBA) after Sarah Powers-Barnhard, Julie Romias, and
Christine Tuzi credibly alleged he sexually abused them in the 1980s while he was their coach
and they were under 18. Although the statute of limitations prohibited a criminal charge, both a
closed hearing with an administrative law judge at the Department of Children and Family
Services in Illinois and a USVBA Ethics panel hearing found that: “The appellant had sexual
relations with at least three players in the years when they were sixteen and seventeen, and he
was their coach.” The evidence laid out by the young women, former star volleyball players
whose lives were shattered by Butler’s actions, was enough for the court’s ruling and the
USVBA’s subsequent action.
Today the evidence of sexual misconduct against Butler is available, in grisly detail, in a
subpoena that is part of a ground-breaking, federal class action lawsuit spearheaded by the
mother of a former player. The suit claims Rick and Cheryl Butler did not keep a "safe
environment" for youth volleyball players by not disclosing to parents Rick Butlers' history of
sexually abusing teenage girls he was coaching. Along with monetary recompense, the parents
are also seeking injunctive relief, requiring the defendants to fully disclose to current and
prospective players and parents the nature of the sexual abuse.
How is it possible that a man once banned for life from coaching has been, well,
coaching? And how is it that parents continue to send their children to him for a leg-up in an
Just five years after the ruling, in 2000, the USVBA “partially lifted” the ban, allowing
Butler back in on the condition that he not coach high school or younger girls in USVBA
sanctioned events, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Even after this, Butler had still been
able to coach in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) events and to run his business, Sports
Performance Volleyball Club (SPVB), a large training center that coached over 20,000 girls
during this time, according to the newspaper.
Despite ongoing debilitating symptoms and struggles with PTSD and public
demonizing, the three former star players--as well as others who have come forward--have spent
an enormous amount of time and energy working to get Butler truly banned from any contact
with young women. They remind the public that the USVBA clearly believes the charges to be
credible and that Butler even admitted to having sexual relationships with all three players who
came forward, although he insisted he waited until they were eighteen. If you don't smell a rat
here, then you aren't using your nose.
Finally, at the start of 2018, the USVBA, AAU, the Junior Volleyball Association (of
which SPVB was a founding member) banned Butler from coaching, According to the Chicago
Sun Times, “Though all three gave somewhat vague explanations for their bans, USVBA later
updated its statement to explain that it had ‘received allegations of sexual misconduct and
abusive coaching practices against Mr. Butler,’ which led it ‘to bring a disciplinary action’
against him, again.
Today Rick Butler’s name does not appear on the list of staff at Sports Performance
Volleyball. On it’s website, the juggernaut boasts being volleyball’s largest camp and clinic
program in 2017 and works with more than 500 girls and boys on club teams between the ages of
13 and 18, and with more than 1,000 athletes ages 3-10 in camps.
The SPVB Facebook page, however, tells a different story. As of March 22, 2019, the
page featured photos of Rick and Cheryl’s arms around a female teenage player on a volleyball
court; Rick and Cheryl with a whole team of teenage girls traveling together; and many other
images that clearly demonstrate Butler is an active and integral part of the academy. Implicit in
the message of SPV Facebook page is the fact that Rick continues working his coaching magic
This sleight-of-hand smacks of another familiar game: the priest guilty of molestation
quietly moved to a new parish or the teacher known for preferring adolescents gets a job at a new
school where parents are not wise to his or her past. In the case of the Butler’s business, parents
signed their daughters up for the programs and camps and paid significant sums to have Butler
spend some amount of time with their daughters. In effect—given the credible and public and
evidence of Rick Butler’s pattern of emotional and sexual abuse— the parents either
unknowingly exposed their kids, didn’t believe the allegations by the victims, or thought that
something like this would never happen to their child (aka denial).
All parents want the best for their kids in a world that has become unbelievably
competitive. As recent national news of the college admissions scandal reveals, some parents
will do almost anything to get their kids the tutoring, coaching, training, and whatever else is
necessary to pave their way into the right college. The Butlers have capitalized brilliantly on the
outsized desire of parents.
A Facebook post by a Butler club alumni at the University of Wisconsin asked
parents of other alumni who attended between February 27, 2013 and January 10, 2018 (the
catchment years of the class action suit) to search for an email that the club sent out asking
parents to opt out of the class action lawsuit. "If we get the number of people needed to sign Opt
Out forms, the lawsuit will die essentially and Rick won’t have to go thru [sic] more shit,” she
wrote. Unfortunately, since the lawsuit was certified in the federal court, the lawsuit can’t die, so
Butler will have to reckon with what he’s done, despite this young woman’s plea.
This young woman may very well have had an incredible experience at SPVB and with
She may also still be operating with the residue of the culture of silence that serial
perpetrators are brilliant at creating. And there is this: To believe the testimony of the accusers,
this young alumni would also need to concede that she had been at risk, or that her parents didn’t
do their research by signing her up to play with Butler. We can’t claim to know this young
woman’s thoughts, but it is clear that for her to feel "safe" she is choosing to silence the voices of
those who lived through hell, who deserve to be believed and to find justice.