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Harvard has placed the head coach of its diving program Chris Heaton on leave after a class-action suit filed in an Indiana court alleged that the 31-year-old solicited nude pictures from and sent photos of his penis to young female swimmers years ago.
Heaton — who is named in the suit, but not as a defendant — allegedly committed the acts of sexual misconduct when he was teaching at the Indiana Diving Academy known as Ripfest, according to the suit. Athletes began complaining about Heaton’s behavior to his superiors in 2015, the suit says.
Harvard did not know about the allegations against Heaton when it hired him two months ago, according to University spokesperson Rachael Dane.
“Harvard University was unaware of any allegations of sexual misconduct when Mr. Heaton was hired as the Head Coach for Diving in August 2018,” Dane wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday. “Upon learning of these allegations from media reports, Harvard immediately placed Mr. Heaton on leave, pending a review of these allegations by Harvard University.”
Heaton could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. CNN first reported that Harvard had placed the coach on leave.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 30 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, details both Heaton’s alleged misbehavior and students’ frequent — but unsuccessful — attempts to alert Ripfest president John Wingfield to Heaton’s conduct.
“On numerous occasions… Chris Heaton solicited nude pictures from female athletes at Ripfest,” the suit states. “Heaton sent pictures of his penis to young female athletes.”
Wingfield, however, was “dismissive” of the female athletes’ complaints about Heaton, according to the suit. Wingfield could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Instead, Chris Zukas, another Ripfest coach, stepped in, according to the suit. Zukas “was instrumental in getting Heaton to leave Ripfest,” the suit states.
Harvard hired Heaton in August 2018. At the time, Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise praised the new coach in a press release.
“Chris is an outstanding coach and educator,” Scalise said at the time. “He brings a great track record of helping students achieve success at the highest level.”
Heaton said in the release that he was thrilled to accept the position as head diving coach. Mentioning his wife and three daughters, he said he was eager to start work.
“My wife, three daughters, and I are excited to relocate to Cambridge,” Heaton said. “I look forward to bringing my knowledge, experience, and passion to the team and partnering with the coaching staff to continue to foster an environment that creates successful scholars, athletes, and leaders.”
Heaton is not the only Harvard Athletics employee to face allegations of sexual misbehavior in the past year. Former Harvard track coach Walter W. Johnson ’71 was arrested and charged with the possession and distribution of child pornography in April 2017. He had served as a track coach for the University’s men’s and women’s teams from 1982 to 2006.
—Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @maddynakada.
—Staff writer Leon K. Yang can be reached at email@example.com.
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