Harvard puts head diving coach on leave amid claims of sexual misconduct

Harvard University placed its head diving coach on leave late Tuesday after allegations of sexual misconduct against him were detailed in a federal lawsuit filed by athletes he'd coached a few years earlier.

Harvard University placed its head diving coach on leave late Tuesday after allegations of sexual misconduct against him were detailed in a federal lawsuit filed by athletes he’d coached a few years earlier.

Though not named as a defendant, Chris Heaton, 31, is described in the class-action suit filed Sunday as having solicited nude pictures from female athletes at an Indiana diving academy and having sent pictures of his penis to young female athletes there, court documents show.

The athletes complained about the conduct beginning in 2015 to Heaton’s superiors at the Indiana Diving Academy, known as Ripfest, the suit claims.

Heaton did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment. USA Diving’s website shows he is a member of the organization.

“Harvard Athletics was unaware of any allegations of misconduct when Mr. Heaton was hired as the Head Coach for Diving in August 2018,” university spokeswoman Rachael Dane told CNN in a statement.

“Upon learning of allegations of sexual misconduct from media reports, Harvard immediately placed Mr. Heaton on leave, pending a review by Harvard University,” she said.

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Indiana, accuses the sport’s national governing body — USA Diving — and its state-level arm — the Indiana Diving Association — of turning a blind eye to Heaton’s behavior, as well as to alleged sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct by other coaches.

It follows a recent stream of cases involving sexual misdeeds alleged by athletes against USA Gymnastics and Ohio State University and also comes against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.

Also named as defendants in the federal suit are the Ripfest diving school and two Ripfest employees, including president John Wingfield.

After Wingfield was “dismissive of his female athletes’ complaints about Heaton,” the athletes turned to Chris Zukas, another Ripfest coach, the lawsuit states.

“Zukas was instrumental in getting Heaton to leave Ripfest,” the court document states without describing why or when Heaton left.

CNN could not immediately reach Wingfield for comment. USA Diving and the Indiana Diving Association did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Zukas, who is not a defendant in the suit, now works as national events manager for USA Diving, the group’s site shows. CNN could not immediately reach him for comment.

At the time Heaton was hired as head coach for men’s and women’s diving, Harvard’s athletics director, Bob Scalise, said in a statement: “Chris (Heaton) is an outstanding coach and educator. He brings a great track record of helping students achieve success at the highest level.”