Bridget Namiotka, a former national and international medal-winning pairs figure skater who was the first person to publicly accuse the late two-time U.S. national pairs champion John Coughlin of sexual abuse, died July 25, her parents confirmed to USA TODAY Sports Friday. She was 32.
“Bridget succumbed to her long struggles with addiction after several very difficult years of dealing with the trauma of sexual abuse,” her parents Steve and Maureen Namiotka said in an interview. “She was a beautiful child and a wonderful athlete, and we are heartbroken. It is our hope that Bridget’s death will bring new attention to the terrible effects of sexual abuse and addiction in our society.”
On May 19, 2019, Namiotka announced in a Facebook post that she was sexually abused for two years by Coughlin, her pairs partner, when she was a teenager.
Replying to a post in support of Coughlin, who died by suicide at the age of 33 on Jan. 18, 2019, Namiotka wrote, “I’m sorry but john (sic) hurt at least 10 people including me. He sexually abused me for 2 years.”
Namiotka teamed with Coughlin from 2004 to 2007, when she was between the ages of 14 and 17 and he was 18 to 21. They won three medals on the Junior Grand Prix series and finished ninth in the senior (Olympic) level at the 2007 U.S. national championships.
Namiotka added more Facebook posts almost immediately after the first, including, “Grooming happens. It happened to me and he hurt a lot of girls. Think about the victims.”
Coughlin, who won his two U.S. pairs championships with two other partners, hanged himself in his father’s Kansas City home one day after he received an interim suspension from the U.S. Center for SafeSport. USA TODAY Sports, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, reported in January 2019 that there were three reports of sexual misconduct against Coughlin. His death effectively ended the investigation into those reports, SafeSport announced in February 2019.
Less than three months after Namiotka’s Facebook posts, on August 1, 2019, Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner, the 2016 world silver medalist and most successful U.S. female skater of her era, told USA TODAY Sports that Coughlin sexually assaulted her in June 2008 after a party at a national team camp in Colorado when she had just turned 17 and Coughlin was 22.
Wagner, a three-time national champion who won a team bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, said Coughlin got into her bed as she slept at the home where the party had been held and began kissing and groping her. “I was absolutely paralyzed in fear,” she said.
Attorney John Manly, who has represented more than 200 victims in the Larry Nassar gymnastics sexual abuse case, said in a March 2019 interview with USA TODAY Sports that he was representing two other women who were minors when Coughlin allegedly sexually abused them.
“My clients and I want to make this clear: John Coughlin used his position of trust and power and prominence in figure skating to sexually abuse multiple minors,” Manly said.
In a Jan. 7, 2019 email to USA TODAY Sports, 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 in March 2019.
“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.”