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Iowa Barnstormers Class-Action Lawsuit Could Be 'Wake-Up Call' For Youth Sports

guy cook
Katarina Sostaric/IPR
Lawyer Guy Cook speaks to reporters and shows a photo of former youth basketball coach Greg Stephen Monday, Nov. 5, 2018.

A lawyer for at least one victim of an Iowa youth basketball coach who sexually exploited hundreds of players said Monday he wants a new class-action lawsuit to be a wake-up call for youth sports organizations.

The lawsuit alleges Barnstormers Basketball of Iowa and the overarching Amateur Athletic Union of the United States failed to protect young athletes. Former coach Greg Stephen recently pleaded guilty in federal court to sexually exploiting 400 boys over 12 years.

“The point of this lawsuit is that there are very specific protocols that can be taken to minimize, if not eliminate this risk, which were not done,” said Des Moines trial lawyer Guy Cook.

He added the AAU handbook says coaches shall not share a hotel room with athletes. Stephen was known to have done that regularly.

“And had this code provision been followed enforced and subject to the provisions within the Barnstormer Basketball of Iowa operation, none of this would’ve happened,” Cook said. “Utter failure by Barnstormer Basketball of Iowa and the AAU.”

Cook is representing an unnamed victim and seeking more participants to join what he’s hoping will be a class action lawsuit. A Johnson County judge will have certify the lawsuit as a class action, but Cook said he expects it to be certified.

Stephen is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which accuses him of “intrusion upon seclusion.” He admitted to secretly recording boys while they changed and showered, and to soliciting nude images from boys through social media. Stephen was also accused of sexually abusing some boys while they slept.

Stephen is awaiting sentencing and is facing up to 180 years in prison.

Investigators have said they’re aware of about 400 victims, but the case is still open as they search for more.

Cook said more defendants may also be added to the case as more information comes to light. He mentioned Iowa Barnstormers Executive Director Jamie Johnson and Adidas, which has an agreement with the program, as possible future additions.

Johnson and an AAU representative did not immediately return requests for comment Monday afternoon.

Cook said victims should join the lawsuit to help prevent future abuse in youth sports. The Grefe Sidney law firm has launched a Facebook page called “Justice for Victims of Stephen” as part of an effort to connect with victims. Cook said identities of participants will be kept confidential.

The lawsuit requests a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages, which Cook said could total in the tens of millions.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter