Lack of transparency and failure by the University of Toledo and the US Center for SafeSport to complete investigations into a sexual assault allegation against women's soccer coach Brad Evans opened a door for him to continue to coach girls and young women, according to individuals with knowledge of how Evans was hired for subsequent jobs.
As previously revealed by the Guardian, Evans was allowed to resign from his role leading a successful women's soccer program at the University of Toledo in 2015. At the time the resignation cited an "inappropriate relationship" with a co-worker, even though the university was aware of concerns raised by players and families, including an allegation of sexual assault.
The university ended its investigation into those complaints when he resigned - meaning allegations from former staff effectively disappeared. Evans has never faced criminal charges over the allegations.
After his departure from Toledo, Evans was subsequently hired to senior roles with Ohio Youth Soccer Association North and Internationals Soccer Club, a regional youth soccer powerhouse based near Cleveland, Ohio.
Keri Sarver, the Internationals Soccer Club director of coaching, hired Evans for a coaching role at the team in 2020. She told the Guardian she did not know about the allegations against him at Toledo. "I was aware that he had resigned from the University of Toledo because of an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker and that's all I know," she said.
"I was told it was a relationship with an adult co-worker and from that perspective it was a personal matter between him and his wife and his family and his employer. At that point, that's all I knew and at that point that's where it started and ended."
Sarver currently also serves as assistant coach with the New Zealand women's national team preparing for the 2023 Women's World Cup. She boasts a lengthy resume that includes work as a scout for the United States Soccer Federation national youth teams and as an assistant coach for the USWNT under-18 youth team.
"We can only go on what we knew at the time," Sarver said. "We followed all the processes - a criminal background check - and there were no red flags. All of the coaches that we hire or who work with our teams are SafeSport trained every single year so he ticked off all those boxes. I acted on what I knew at the time to be true."
Sarver's pragmatic view, however, is not shared by some parents within the soccer community. After the Guardian revealed the allegations against Evans in July, a publicly-available Facebook post underlined how the lack of transparency about Evans' departure from the University of Toledo cut into the youth soccer community. "Brad was my daughter's club coach for a couple years. He made her so uncomfortable. She almost quit soccer because of him. Many of her teammates did. We knew why he left UT and couldn't understand why he was hired as a club coach," read the post.
Following his 2015 exit from the University of Toledo, Evans was recruited by Ohio Youth Soccer Association North into roles that included leading its Olympic Development Program. One person familiar with the hiring process told the Guardian: "I am shocked to this day that that guy was even let back into soccer".
"There were things that were not done properly at Ohio North that led to him being hired," the individual said, speaking on condition of anonymity fearing professional and personal repercussions within the US soccer community.
"Hell, yeah, [his behavior] was well known at the time. They knew. Everybody on that board knew of his past. It was basically, yeah, we know him, we like him, the stories are not true, that's just college kids fabricating stories. Shame on them."
The individual added: "It was not a consensus by the board to hire him. There were a couple of guys on the Ohio North board that were absolutely against it but their voices didn't matter."
Tom Turner was the director of coaching for the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North at the time of Evans' recruitment and is understood to have been the driving force behind the hire according to multiple sources. Turner is currently listed as the Ohio Soccer Association's director of membership growth and development. Turner did not respond to multiple requests from the Guardian for comment by email and phone.
Ohio Youth Soccer Association North became Ohio Soccer Association (OSA) in 2021. Evans continued to lead the state's Olympic Development Program and US Soccer coaching education programs until allegations of abuse by six women were revealed by the Guardian.
"We were not aware of the allegations nor have any insight into the hiring practices of other companies or organizations," said OSA chief executive officer Gordon Henderson in an email to the Guardian.
The OSA has since removed any mention of Evans from its website and claims the allegations are now under the jurisdiction of the US Center for SafeSport. Henderson said that Evans' employment with the organization ended on 29 July 2022, a few weeks after the Guardian's report was published.
"The University of Toledo knew [about his behavior] and they allowed him to resign and pretend that it didn't happen," says Michelle Sandor, who played under Evans at Ashfield University in Ohio from 1996 to 2000.
Today, Sandor is a high school soccer coach and says she has avoided attending any coaching events Evans was scheduled to attend.
"[Toledo] were putting all these other females in danger," Sandor said. "Then, Ohio Soccer Association hired him knowing that he had to resign due to his conduct. He's not that amazing a coach that you can't find someone else. That you are going to hire someone who [allegedly] abused women rather than find the next best coach? It's awful."
The US Center for SafeSport - an organization created in 2017 to investigate and highlight issues related to sexual abuse and other misconduct in Olympic and Paralympic sports - also received a report about Evans' behavior in 2019 but did not follow through with an investigation.
That report, from former University of Toledo assistant coach Candice Fabry, alleged a sexual assault by Evans that had earlier been reported to the university. Fabry's report resulted in multiple email exchanges and two conversations with investigators and Fabry being asked to gather information about other potential victims on behalf of SafeSport and forward any details to the organization. Even though SafeSport knew of an allegation against Evans, the agency did not investigate him at the time.
"SafeSport knew [in 2019] what I reported to Toledo and how Toledo did not speak truth when he resigned," Fabry said. "That's the most frustrating - my story wasn't enough, I was always asked to go see if I can convince others to come forward for an investigation to really occur, and then, two bodies capable of investigating and serving consequences - Toledo and SafeSport - did nothing. They knew he was walking around and it was on me to get enough people to come forward to do something."
The Guardian made multiple requests for comment to the US Center for SafeSport, and through a Washington DC-based public relations company. After multiple text and email exchanges, the US Center for SafeSport did not provide any information or any spokesperson to the Guardian.
According to its website, "the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and SafeSport Authorization Act of 2017 codified the US Center for SafeSport, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, as the nation's safe sport organization." The 2017 law arms SafeSport with the authority to resolve abuse and misconduct reports throughout the US Olympic and Paralympic Movement - which includes soccer. The Center is funded by a $20m annual contribution from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee with some of that funding originating from sports governing bodies that pay fees - effectively a form of fine - based on the number of allegations reported to the center.
A 2022 ABC News investigation into the US Center for SafeSport found that the "system has allowed alleged serial abusers to return to their sports with little to no public warning, undermining the faith of some athletes and their advocates in the center's work, which in turn threatens the center's ability to function effectively."
The US Center for SafeSport can ban and suspend individuals from participating in a sport under the USOPC umbrella. Those individuals are listed on its centralized disciplinary database. Although Evans did not face sanctions when the US Center for SafeSport first received a report of his alleged behavior in 2019, he has subsequently been listed with a "temporary suspension" on 11 July 2022, following the Guardian's investigation.
"Could there be more support and more tools in incidents like this and to shine a light on it?" said Sarver. "I think the answer is yes."
Added the individual familiar with how Evans was hired by Ohio Youth Soccer Association North in 2017: "I'm sad for those girls [at Toledo]. I'm sad that a university allowed that to happen, continued to allow that to happen, terminated him, but Ohio North soccer said, 'That's OK. Come back to Ohio'."
Brad Evans did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or emailed questions regarding specific allegations about his time with Toledo. He did provide a statement to the Guardian about his departure from the university:
"In 2015 I was asked to answer questions about my relationships with some past co-workers. It was clear that my interactions with those co-workers demonstrated poor judgment on my part, and were against university policy, and resigning was best for all involved," Evans wrote.
"With the help of counseling, I have learned a lot about the causes of my behavior. I am extremely lucky to have the support of my wife in this process. Together, I continue to learn to become a better person. I am deeply sorry to have disappointed so many individuals, but I continue to work on making a positive future. Thank you for the opportunity to provide my perspective."