Public Safety

Adidas added to class-action suit against former Barnstormers coach

Suit asserts company should have protected teen players from Greg Stephen's 'despicable conduct'

IOWA CITY — Adidas has been added as a defendant to a class-action lawsuit filed against former youth basketball coach Greg Stephen, who was sentenced to 180 years in prison for charges related to videotaping naked teen players and posing as teen girls to persuade them to send him explicit images.

The plaintiff, identified only as “John Doe” and others “similarly situated,” also are suing Barnstormers Basketball and the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States.

The lawsuit, filed in November in Johnson County District Court, accuses Stephen, 42, of Monticello, of intruding on the players’ privacy and states the Barnstormers and the AAU were negligent in their duties to protect “vulnerable youth athletes from the despicable conduct” of Stephen.

The amended suit filed Thursday asserts Adidas is aware that minor children are at risk of being sexually exploited by adults in “positions of power, and especially adults involved with amateur sports organizations.”

Adidas sponsorships can surpass $100,000 per AAU team, and the company aggressively competes with other shoe companies to gain “star” AAU athletes, according to the suit.

As an Adidas-sponsored team, Barnstormers players are outfitted with free shoes, sportswear and other gear and the company pays the teams’ travel costs to tournaments, according to the suit. The sponsorship began in 2016, and Adidas negotiated its sponsorship through Stephen, the suit notes.

The suit claims Adidas, as a sponsor, owed the players a “duty to exercise reasonable care to protect them against individuals,” such as Stephen.

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The company failed to “interview, investigate or otherwise engage in any due diligence” to determine whether the Barnstormers had any protocols or procedures in place to ensure the teen athletes were “adequately chaperoned and protected from breaches of their safety and privacy.”

“Adidas is no stranger to scandal,” the suit points out. “The sneaker giant was at the center of a basketball corruption scandal exposed in 2017, accusing Adidas of bankrolling a black market for top teenage youth basketball talent.”

In 2019, a former Adidas marketing executive and basketball consultant were sentenced to federal prison for brokering deals to steer top basketball players to programs sponsored by Adidas, the suit states.

The amended suit doesn’t change the previous claims that the Barnstormers program was negligent in its hiring, retention and supervision of Stephen.

The program failed to implement or enforce procedures, policies or protocols to oversee Stephen’s “nearly constant interaction” with the youth players, even though Barnstormers officials knew, or should have known, that Stephen had access to the teens’ hotels rooms and sometimes shared a room and bed with the youths, the suit contends.

Jamie Johnson, Barnstomers’ co-founder and executive director, told The Gazette last November “we had no knowledge of anything related to the allegations until the evidence was discovered by a third party. At that time, the club took immediate action to remove Mr. Stephen from any involvement with the club, severing all ties.”

Stephen was ousted after the criminal investigation became public in February 2018. He was arrested in March.

The unnamed victims in the suit include all Barnstormers players who traveled with the team from 2005 to the present and stayed in hotel rooms that were reserved by or accessible by Stephen, or who shared rooms with him.

The exact number in the class is unknown, according to the suit, but could be over 400.

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Court documents show Stephen had access to minors ages 9 to 17 as far back as 2008 through basketball programs of Barnstormers, Mavericks and other teams.

“John Doe’ is identified in the suit as playing on several Barnstormers teams from March 2014 through July 2016 and attending a basketball tournament in Las Vegas in 2016. He stayed in a hotel room for seven nights with four or five other members of the team, where he claims Stephen secretly recorded them, including when they were dressing and showering.

John Doe’s father was told by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa that his son was one of Stephen’s victims, according to the suit.

Stephen was responsible for booking hotel rooms for players when they traveled out of state for games and tournaments, according to the suit. He regularly arrived at the hotel rooms early, which gave him time to place hidden cameras in the bathrooms, which were focused on the shower and toilet areas, according to testimony in the criminal case.

During the investigation, authorities found the videos on a USB device taken from Stephen’s hidden camera that he used to record several naked players in a hotel room in Lombard, Ill., and Ankeny, Iowa. They also recovered covert recording devices from his Monticello and Delhi homes.

None of the teens were aware they were being recorded, according to Stephen’s plea agreement.

Stephen pleaded guilty last October in U.S. District Court to five counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count each of possession of child pornography and transportation of child pornography. A federal judge ran the sentences consecutively for the maximum sentence of 180 years in prison.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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