By Jonathan Van Elslander
Sexual misconduct allegations by four women against Peter Foley, the only Olympic head coach U.S. Snowboarding has ever had, and a culture of misogyny in U.S. Olympic snowboarding have made national news and drawn the attention of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.
Foley, who has been the head coach of snowboarding for U.S. Ski and Snowboarding (USSA) since the group was created in 1994, overseeing coaching for all snowboard disciplines, is accused of sexual misconduct and assault by several women, including former Olympic athletes. The allegations by 2010 Olympian Callan Chythlook-Sifsof first surfaced on Instagram in February.
In her post, Chythlook-Sifsof outlined that Foley had made inappropriate sexual comments to her and another female athlete in 2014, and that Foley had been taking naked photos of athletes for “over a decade.” She also stated that 2022 Olympic snowboard cross competitor Hagen Kearney had verbally and physically intimidated her, including repeated use of the N-word and jokes about sexual violence toward women. Kearny has since apologized via Instagram for one instance of using the N-word but denied the other allegations.
Since Chythlook-Sifsof’s post, three other women have come forward with allegations against Foley, including that of sexual assault.
Erin O’Malley, who was one of the first women named to the U.S. snowboard team in 1995 when she was 16, stated Foley followed her and another athlete into an elevator where he pinned her to the wall and attempted to kiss her. The other athlete told ESPN that Foley was drunk and that she and O’Malley ran from Foley before hiding in a hotel room.
Lindsey Sine Nikola, a USSA employee from 2006 to 2010, told ESPN that Foley had asked her to stay with him at a World Cup ski race in Colorado in return for him letting her stay at a USSA team house during the 2009 X-Games (Nikola told ESPN she had wanted to attend the X-Games but needed a place to stay), where he pressured her into undressing while he photographed her. Later in the night, Nikola states, Foley got into her bed and asked her to rub his back, before forcefully touching her under her clothes, and eventually rolling her over and ejaculating onto her back.
One Olympic medalist, who spoke to ESPN anonymously, alleges Foley assaulted her during a training camp when she was 19. She told ESPN that in a hotel room she was sharing with Foley and four other people, Foley approached her while she slept and penetrated her with his fingers. Upon celebrating her Olympic medal years later, Foley approached her and whispered to her, “I still remember how you were breathing,” in reference to the alleged previous assault.
Now, Sen. Grassley is accusing USSA of not cooperating with an investigation into the allegations by the U.S. Center for SafeSport. SafeSport handles all allegations of abuse in amateur sport in America. Following the investigation and eventual conviction of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who serially abused female athletes for years, Grassley and other senators passed a bill requiring amateur sport organizations to report to SafeSport in questions of abuse.
Grassley sent a letter to USSA, which was obtained by ESPN reporters Alyssa Roenigk and Tisha Thompson, that states, “reports by the Center… allege that that U.S. Ski and Snowboard leadership has been conducting its own investigation outside of the investigation being conducted by the Center, has failed to make notifications regarding sexual misconduct to the Center, and has failed to timely provide the Center with evidence in the possession of U.S. Ski and Snowboard… Further, it has been reported that U.S. Ski and Snowboard has actively provided misinformation to individuals involved in the investigation in an effort to discourage participation in the Center's investigation and to attempt to identify who may be participating in the investigation.” In the letter, Grassley also states he has passed on the information he has to the FBI.
In a statement, the USSA denied Grassley’s allegations, stating they have, “fully cooperated with the Center, including reporting all information that was brought to our attention to the Center in real-time." But investigations by ESPN suggest that Grassley’s concerns have merit.
The Olympic medalist says she was contacted by Lisa Kosglow, a former athlete and USSA board member, five days after Chythlook-Sifsof’s initial Instagram post. Kosglow told the medalist that Foley is “devastated,” and that Foley had asked her in person if she had or would contact the medalist.
Erin O’Malley says Kosglow contacted her soon after Chythlook-Sifsof’s post as well, though she was not aware at the time that Kosglow was a member of the USSA board.
According to ESPN, soon after Kosglow’s calls, both the medalist and O’Malley were contacted by USSA’s general counsel, Alison Pitt, who told O’Malley, “To think of me like HR. I'm just trying to figure out if we can still keep Peter Foley employed.” Pitt also told both snowboarders that she was following the SafeSport process but told the medalist that the process was going to be difficult, causing her to question whether she wanted to follow through with the process.
Chythlook-Sifsof and Lindsey Nikola declined to talk with USSA. O’Malley told ESPN that after speaking with Pitt “nothing moved” with respect to the investigation, though after O’Malley contacted Pitt later, O’Malley learned that Pitt had mixed up her allegations with those of the medalist, and had not reported the medalist’s allegations.
O’Malley then contacted SafeSport, who told her they were completely unaware of her complaint. The medalist told ESPN that upon contacting SafeSport, she also found that Pitt had not passed on her complaint. Lisa Kosglow has since resigned from USSA. In an email obtained by ESPN, Association President Sophie Goldschmidt stated, “The board member recognizes that this was a lapse in judgment and did not comply with SafeSport's or U.S. Ski & Snowboard's Codes of Conduct,” referring to Kosglow.
The law giving jurisdiction to SafeSport states that individuals involved in a national governing body, such as USSA, who “fail to report an allegation to SafeSport, misrepresent information, try to discourage someone from participating or conducting a sexual misconduct investigation,” can be investigated for interfering with an investigation and may be subject to penalties such as a lifetime ban from participating in any activity or sport that falls under the purview of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
Since then, all four women have reported their allegations to SafeSport, and by the next day Foley was suspended. In a statement on March 20, USSA told CNN that, “Peter Foley is no longer employed by U.S. Ski and Snowboard… Mr. Foley has been on a leave of absence since February 21, 2022.” The last snowboarding event of the 2022 Olympic Games, the big air competition, took place on February 15. Chythlook-Sifsof’s initial allegations were posted prior to February 6.
All four women detailed to ESPN allegations of a toxic culture within USSA. O’Malley described the U.S. snowboard team as a “good ol’ boys club,” and that female athletes should, “Do as we want and keep your mouth shut, while “boys could behave any way they wanted.” Nikola relates Foley’s long-standing presence in the USSA to “inequitable power dynamics,” while Chythlook-Sifsof’s Instagram post outlines a culture of misogyny amongst USSA snowboarders. The medalist stated Foley’s “frothing over young girls” was “the culture” of U.S. snowboarding, and that she felt unable to stop Foley given that he was in charge over seeding all the athletes, effectively controlling the outcome of her competitive career.Anyone struggling with sexual assault or harassment can get help from the the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (656-4673).