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The Story Behind ESPN's Investigation Of Coach Conrad Mainwaring16:13
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An archival photo of Mainwaring coaching boys at Camp Greylock in Massachusetts. (Courtesy of ESPN)
An archival photo of Mainwaring coaching boys at Camp Greylock in Massachusetts. (Courtesy of ESPN)

The police came for him on the morning of June 19.

Conrad Avondale Mainwaring, a 67-year-old track coach had been accused by one of his former athletes of sexually molesting him at UCLA in 2016.

Mainwaring was an Olympian. He competed for Antigua in 1976. And no matter that he came dead last in his preliminary heats, Mainwaring allegedly used his Olympic status to sexually batter scores of young men and boys over more than four decades.

But the track coach might never have been arrested, if not for a pair of journalists reporting for ESPN.

"I got a call from a friend of mine named Andrew Zenoff," says investigative reporter Mike Kessler (no relation to OAG producer Martin Kessler).

Mike now works for NPR member station KPCC.

"Andrew tells me that for many, many, years — going on four decades — his family has been keeping this secret about his brother Victor," Mike says. "Victor was allegedly molested by a counselor who he worshiped during the mid- to late 1970s. And that counselor's name was Conrad Mainwaring."

Mike started reaching out to other former athletes, who told him that Mainwaring abused them, too. Soon, he realized he needed a partner on the project. That’s when he got in touch with ESPN, and ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada.

"And lucky for me, they said 'yes,' " Mike says.

KG: And, Mark, that's where you come into this story. When you heard what Mike was working on, did you have any idea how far reaching this investigation would become?

MFW: No, I don't think I, or probably anybody at the network, really had any idea. You're talking about a period of time over 44 years, trailing two continents, four states. And according to all these men, who tell very similar stories, he carries on at least until 2016. That's the last victim — or alleged victim — we know of.

KG: OK, so let's go back to the story that started it all for the two of you. How did Victor Zenoff meet Conrad Mainwaring?

MK: Victor was 12 years old at Camp Greylock for Boys in Massachusetts. Conrad Mainwaring was a counselor there. Conrad was a — he was basically an idol at this camp. You know these guys all tell us that, you know, he would show up, and it was like a genie would appear. And all the kids would run and surround him. And they just sort of trailed him wherever he went.

And he, allegedly, would tell these kids that if they just listened to what he did, followed his guidance, that he could make them excellent athletes as well. One way he did that, allegedly, is by telling them that in order to have total control over your body as an athlete you also need to have total control of your mind — that it's as much mental as it is physical. And to do that, you need to be able to endure these very uncomfortable situations. And so he would allegedly test these boys by saying, you know, "If I touch you in this way and you can handle it without losing focus — or without feeling too uncomfortable — then you have the makings of being a great athlete."

KG: So Victor changed over his time at Camp Greylock. How so?

MFW: We spoke with both his mom, Nisha Zenoff, and his brother Andrew, who tipped Mike off to the story. They described somebody who is quite affable, who is liked, very easygoing, liked by everybody who was around him and excelled in a lot of sports. He's at Camp Greylock for three summers. The suggestion is that he becomes sort of enveloped in drugs and risky behavior in the wake of that time at Greylock.

He rolls a car. His parents buy him a a used California Highway Patrol car thinking that that'll be, like, a safe tank for him. Then he gets pulled over for driving faster than 100 mph. So he falls into this behavior that seems dramatically different than the kid they knew.

KG: And then right before he turned 18, Victor told his mother that he'd allegedly been abused by Conrad Mainwaring. A few days later Victor was dead. What happened?

MFW: He then went on this camping trip to Yosemite. And he ends up, few days later, basically falling off a 600 foot cliff while hiking. It's deemed a hiking accident. But I think both Andrew and Nisha felt — and feel to this day, as they talked about it — that there was no doubt in their minds that what had happened to Victor while with Mainwaring had a dramatic effect on who he became and on his behavior.

KG: And then it's quite possible that Victor's family would have been alone in their grief — and not aware that Mainwaring had other alleged victims — if not for a blog post written by a minor HGTV celebrity about his vacation to England. So, Mark, tell me about that.

MFW: There's a guy Tym De Santo. And De Santo himself says he had been molested, but he had really seemingly put that aside. And now in, like, 2010, he posts about this random trip that he takes to England with his mom to go back and see sort of where they were from and take his mom back there. And there's no mention of Mainwaring on the blog. It's a very personal blog. I mean, it's not the kind of thing that anybody other than family and the closest of friends would probably even know about.

KG: OK, so about a year after De Santo posted that blog, one of his friends added a comment. And it says, “Speaking of the UK, I have some Conrad Mainwaring gossip for you!” And that’s it?

MFW: That's all it says. It's this very, sort of, innocuous and ambiguous post. Mainwaring was very much elusive figure on the web. Just a cipher — no presence. And these men who had had encounters with him began to Google him, wondering what had happened to him. And now there was a name on this blog. There's a sort of gathering place that emerges out of this really random, innocuous blog.

The comment that brought Mainwaring's alleged victims together. (Screenshot of Tym DeSanto's vacation blog)
The comment that brought Mainwaring's alleged victims together. (Screenshot of Tym DeSanto's vacation blog)

KG: All right. So one of the men who found this blog is named David O'Boyle. And he decided he needed to do something. What did he decide to do?

MK: Yeah, so David O'Boyle was a UCLA student and a serious runner. Around 2005 he was allegedly abused by Mainwaring. He goes on the blog. He sees all this talk of other victims — other victims who were very young at the time, younger than he was. He decides, "That's enough. I'm tired of keeping this in."

He goes to the track at Drake Stadium at UCLA, where he knows Mainwaring will be. He gets there about 7:00 in the morning. He first confronts a couple of athletes who appear to be working with Mainwaring — basically warning these athletes about Mainwaring. He then turns to Mainwaring, walks over, turns his cell phone camera on and lays into him for about 12 minutes straight.

KG: Can you describe what we see in the video?

MK: Yeah, you see a 67-year-old man, who is now on a walker from hip surgery that he had had about a year prior. He literally doesn't say a word the entire time. There are a couple of times where he tries to walk off during this 12 minute confrontation. He tries to walk away. Turns his back towards the camera. He looks at a stopwatch a few times. He's got a tall umbrella and he takes a few swats at O'Boyle.

And this goes on for about 12 minutes, until O'Boyle just finally, I think, gives up. Because he knows he's not going to get a reaction other than an umbrella strike out of him.

As it turns out, one of the athletes who he had warned had allegedly been abused just nine hours earlier. This guy had shown up in a little bit of a fog from the night before. He'd already texted a friend saying, "Something strange happened to me last night. I need to talk to you." And then all of a sudden, here's this guy from 10 years ago repeating stories about what happened to him that are essentially identical to what this young man had experienced just the night before. So both of them wind up going to authorities, to UCLA P.D. and to UCLA's athletic department.

KG: This is where I really thought that the story would end — that the UCLA police would arrest Mainwaring. But that's not what happened, right Mark?

MFW: No, in fact, what does happen is that this victim — who we called Benjamin in the story — goes to the UCLA police. He describes what had happened to him. And what he says is that the officers basically suggest to him that, look, there's nothing they ultimately can do because he's an adult. In fact, that that's not the case, the law — particularly as it relates to sexual battery by fraud — age is not the relevant sort of factor in that. And so the case sits. It doesn't move at that point for another couple of years.

KG: For another couple of years, which is another couple of years of victims continuing to find this vacation blog. At this point they're being put in touch with the two of you, right? To tell their stories. And eventually the LAPD got involved. And they could find plenty of victims, but they still couldn't arrest Mainwaring. Why not?

MFW: So the biggest issue that the LAPD runs into is statute of limitations issues. That they have a number of victims like David O'Boyle and others who are in our story, who go back many, many, years. But the statute of limitations has long expired on them. They have no case that they can bring and are quite frustrated, frankly. I mean, as we talked to one of the lead detectives in the case, she expressed very clearly the frustration of talking to these men, who describe the damage that they felt over the years as a result of dealing with Mainwaring, but getting nowhere because they don't have themselves a case yet that they can bring.

"The men we spoke to universally talked about the inner turmoil that they went through ... a sort of shame that went with it for them."

— Mark Fainaru-Wada

KG: Mike, Mainwaring got away with this for four decades. How is that possible?

MK: He really was almost a ghost on the Internet. And in a way, almost a ghost just sort of out in the world. He moves around a lot from institution to institution, from state to state. He essentially changed his name. Or at least started going by another name. His middle name is Avondale. And sometime around the late 90s, he starts going by Coach Avondale or coach Av. And Avondale Mainwaring coached Felix Sanchez, the Olympic athlete. But that's about as high profile as he's ever been.

KG: Not only that, but it seems like it took most of these men a long time to recognize what had happed to them and come forward. The first alleged incident occurred in the mid-70s, but wasn’t reported until 1996.

MFW: The men we spoke to universally talked about the inner turmoil that they went through. That there was a sort of shame that went with it for them as they tried to process what was going on. Just because they're, you know, 12, 13, 14 even 18-year-old kids, really grappling with who they are, their sexuality, their place in the world. And there's a level of insecurity that goes with all that.

MK: Yeah, and a lot of these guys to this day credit Mainwaring for some of their life's accomplishments. You know we've had guys say, "Well, I wouldn't become a doctor if he didn't set me on that path." You hear guys saying, "You know, my times got better. His training really worked." That sort of thing. So it was to a lot of them, sort of, a deal with the devil that they'd made. They said you know, "Yeah this is awkward, this is weird, it makes me feel uncomfortable. But at the same time, this guy knows what he's doing. He was in the Olympics. He coached an Olympic athlete. And I'm improving. And you know, maybe this is just part of the deal?"

MFW: He was selling these kids on this idea that they could be Olympians.

An archival photo of Mainwaring competing in the hurdles at the Montreal Olympics. (Courtesy of ESPN)
An archival photo of Mainwaring competing in the hurdles at the Montreal Olympics. (Courtesy of ESPN)

KG: And then in December, the man you're calling Benjamin found the blog post. How did that lead to Mainwaring arrest?

MK: Word was getting around that Mark and I were doing this reporting. He contacts us. I go out and meet him. He had heard some, some rumblings of an investigation but didn't know much. I told them what I knew about it, which wasn't much. He then went to LAPD, and it turns out that the complaint that he had made to UCLA P.D. was in fact a valid complaint. And there were about six months left on the statute of limitations. They were able to get all of these corroborating stories that helped them bring a felony charge to the DA's office and to then get the green light to make an arrest.

KG: So Mainwaring was arrested on June 19th. He was charged with one felony count of sexual battery by fraud. That charge might lead to a maximum of four years in prison. Is this all that prosecutors have? Has the statute of limitations run out on all the other claims?

MFW: You know, as far as we know, unless — at least in Los Angeles — unless somebody else comes forward and suggests that they had something happen to them within the statute, that's what they've got. They've got the one case, bolstered by the corroborating cases from others which can be a factor to contribute. There is a possibility — the New York law is changing for a year, basically. There's a sort of open window coming up that could possibly bring civil cases, or open up the opportunity for civil cases, in New York. But right now, in terms of criminal, he's looking specifically at this one charge.

KG: This is just the latest sexual abuse scandal in sports. There was, of course, Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky and USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nasser. Does sports have a sexual abuse problem?

MFW: I guess I would say, I don't know that it's a sports issue or a sports problem, as it's an authority issue, right? Like I mean, I think this is true, we see this in any situation where somebody is in a position of authority over young people. There's an opportunity for great good. This is what happens most of the time, perhaps. But at the same time, there's a power that comes with being in that position. And I think we're seeing that bear out in a number of high profile cases that have come out around sports. And Mainwaring is a perfect example of this.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Mike Kessler spent more than a year investigating Conrad Mainwaring for ESPN

This segment aired on August 10, 2019.

Karen Given Twitter Executive Producer, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.

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