Family blamed figure skater John Coughlin suicide on false accusation

by Kim Boateng Last updated on May 21st, 2019,

The family of two-time national pairs figure skating champion John Coughlin told a medical investigator in Kansas City that Coughlin committed suicide after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by someone he was competing with for a TV commentating job.

Coughlin, 33, hanged himself in his father’s Kansas City home Jan. 18, one day after he received an interim suspension from the U.S. Center for SafeSport. There were three reports of sexual misconduct against Coughlin, two of them involving minors, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to talk publicly about the matter. Coughlin’s death effectively ended the investigation into those reports, SafeSport announced in February.

In the Jackson County (Mo.) medical examiner investigative report, medical investigator Christina Hawkins wrote that Coughlin’s family told her Coughlin “had been depressed because of false allegations.”

“The subject is an Olympic figure skater who was currently trying to get a commentator position with the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Hawkins wrote. “He was competing for the position with another person. This person made false allegations, which resulted in the subject getting suspended from all correspondence and activities.”

The report does not name the other person.

Coughlin had been a commentator for the now-defunct Ice Network, but that role ended well before his suspension due to potential conflict of interest concerns when he became chair of the International Skating Union’s Athletes Commission and a member of the ISU Single and Pair Skating Technical Committee.

It’s not clear what new television job he might have been seeking, or with whom he might have been competing. There are no figure skating commentating jobs within the USOC itself.

Coughlin’s agent, Tara Modlin, did not reply Thursday afternoon to calls and text messages seeking comment about the Coughlin family’s accusations.

Reached on the phone, Coughlin’s father, Michael Coughlin, said, “I haven’t got much to say to you,” and hung up.

In a Jan. 7 email, Coughlin called the allegations against him “unfounded.”

“While I wish I could speak freely about the unfounded allegations levied against me, the SafeSport rules prevent me from doing so since the case remains pending,” he wrote. “I note only that the SafeSport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by SafeSport or that there is any merit to the allegation.”

Coughlin’s assertion that he was being prevented from speaking freely about the allegations against him by SafeSport “is not true,” SafeSport spokesman Dan Hill said earlier this month.

“The SafeSport Code and the interim measure process that was communicated to him directly, and which is on our website, makes it clear that he could provide information, evidence, speak for himself and even ask for a hearing that would have been accommodated in 72 hours by rule,” Hill said. “That hearing would have been in front of an independent arbitrator. That’s such a critical part of all of this.”

EARLIER: ex-U.S. figure skating champion John Coughlin kills himself

John Coughlin, a U.S. pairs figure skating champion in 2011 and 2012, died Friday from suicide one day after he was suspended from the sport, his sister said. He was 33.

On Friday night, Angela Laune, posted on Facebook: “My wonderful strong, amazingly compassionate brother John Coughlin took his own life earlier today. I have no words. I love you John.”

U.S. Figure Skating confirmed his death Saturday, posting on Twitter: “We are stunned at the news of the death of two-time U.S. pairs champion John Coughlin. Our heartfelt and deepest sympathies are with his father Mike, sister Angela and the rest of his family. Out of respect to the family, we will have no further comment until a later time.”

The 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships began Saturday in Detroit.

On Thursday, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s SafeSport suspended him from U.S. figure skating in “any activity or competition” amid a pending undisclosed grievance. That meant he was prevented from serving as a commentator, including as scheduled in the national competition this weekend.

The center has oversight of sexual misconduct and other abuse allegations reported to national governing bodies. On Dec. 17, his eligibility to participate in his sport was restricted by SafeSport and on Jan. 8 Coughlin resigned as U.S. brand manager for John Wilson Blades, a major skate blade company.

On Jan. 7, Coughlin told reporters the allegations against him were “unfounded.”

“As Americans, it’s our civil right to be innocent until proven guilty!” his former coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, wrote on Facebook. “John NEVER got to exercise that right before losing everything, including his life.”

Sappenfield also wrote: “My heart aches incredibly to know John took his life yesterday. His family, the skating community, and I lost a very special man who lived his life with integrity and kindness.”

Officers were dispatched at 4:54 p.m. Friday in Kansas City, Mo., police Sgt. Jake Becchina told reporters. The address was listed as Coughlin’s former residence and the house where his father lives, according to public records.

Coughlin was a U.S. pairs champion and represented the United States at the world championships, teaming with Caitlin Yankowskas in 2011 and with Caydee Denney the next year.

Denney and Coughlin did not receive one of the two U.S. spots in the pairs’ event at the 2014 Winter Olympics. In the 2014 World Championships, they withdrew due to Denney’s right ankle injury, sustained in practice.

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