U.S. Olympic pairs figure skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield was banned for life by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on Wednesday afternoon. The decision follows a 2½-year investigation into allegations of physical and emotional misconduct, retaliation, abuse of process, and failure to report a potential SafeSport violation.

“Culture change is happening,” said SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon in a statement to USA TODAY Sports following the announcement of Sappenfield’s permanent ineligibility on the SafeSport Centralized Disciplinary Database. “Actions that were once tolerated or ignored are no longer accepted, and accountability is taking root. That’s progress but creating long-term culture change requires a steadfast commitment by everyone in the sport community to fostering safe environments for athletes to fulfill their potential. Those who cling to toxic tactics will be left behind and on the wrong side of history.”

Sappenfield did not immediately respond to a text message from USA TODAY Sports after the punishment was announced. She retains the right to appeal the lifetime ban.

On September 3, 2021, SafeSport imposed temporary measures against Sappenfield, including prohibiting her from contacting a dozen skaters involved in the investigation and requiring another adult to supervise her during coaching sessions. Among the allegations against Sappenfield was verbal abuse that led 2016 U.S. national pairs champion Tarah Kayne to self-harm.

Kayne recounted several incidents to USA TODAY Sports in October 2021, including one in which Sappenfield’s verbal abuse, filled with sexual comments, led her to cut her wrist with a razor blade in the summer of 2019. “She was constantly talking about sex, about who I was dating, about my sex life,” said Kayne. “It was completely inappropriate, but that’s what Dalilah does. She uses gossip from other skaters in the rink against you. She knew I was struggling with my mental health, but instead of helping me, she chose to make fun of me.”

In a separate incident, Mitch Moyer, then-U.S. Figure Skating’s senior director of athlete high performance, orchestrated the removal of a 16-year-old Russian pairs skater from Sappenfield’s home in the fall of 2020. Moyer reported Sappenfield’s living situation to SafeSport, as housing a minor athlete violated the USFS SafeSport program handbook.

Sappenfield, a prominent figure in U.S. pairs skating for nearly two decades, was also known for her close relationship with John Coughlin, a two-time national pairs champion who died by suicide in January 2019 following allegations of sexual abuse. Sappenfield defended Coughlin vigorously on social media after his death.

Despite the temporary measures, Sappenfield appeared at the 2024 U.S. figure skating championships in Columbus in January, continuing to coach under restrictions. “I’m here for my skaters,” she told USA TODAY Sports.

SafeSport’s investigation process was prolonged, partly due to an appeal filed by Sappenfield against her temporary measures. An arbitration hearing in January 2023 upheld these measures. U.S. Figure Skating confirmed that Sappenfield coached at the national championships under the restrictions placed on her by SafeSport.

“Dalilah Sappenfield is coaching at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships under restrictions placed on her by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which has jurisdiction of her case,” U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “In cooperation with the Center, U.S. Figure Skating continues to monitor Sappenfield.”



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