John Coughlin scandal rocked U.S. Figure Skating. Now a supporter of his has been hired.

Olympian Ashley Wagner, one of at least four skaters who accused John Coughlin of sexual assault, rips U.S. Figure Skating for hiring a woman who supported Coughlin for years on social media.

More than four years after U.S. Figure Skating was rocked by the suspension and death of John Coughlin, a national champion accused by at least four female skaters of sexual assault, the organization has hired a well-known social media supporter of Coughlin’s for a key role working with its athletes.

Kelsey Parker Gislason, whose Facebook posts praising Coughlin have carried the hashtags #Justiceforjohncoughlin and #TheJohnIknew and in some cases have been visible publicly for more than four years, was recently hired by USFS to be senior manager, high performance development.

The decision to hire Parker Gislason was strongly criticized by the highest-profile skater to come forward with sexual assault allegations against Coughlin: three-time national champion, 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist and 2016 world silver medalist Ashley Wagner.

“Around the time that women including myself were coming forward with our experiences of sexual assault with John Coughlin, this individual was extremely vocal against the truth of our experiences,” Wagner said in an Instagram story video earlier this month. “… As soon as you put that out on social media, you should become un-hireable for certain positions.”

Wagner continued: "I want to make it clear that in this position, this person is now a mandatory reporter (of sexual assault and sexual abuse to the U.S. Center for SafeSport). And I’m sorry if my trust has been compromised in this person’s ability to believe survivors and ap“U.S. Figure Skating encourages anyone who has been abused or suspects sexual abuse or misconduct to report it to local law enforcement, the U.S. Center for SafeSport or U.S. Figure Skating.”

Asked when and why Parker Gislason was hired, a USFS spokeswoman declined to answer.Coughlin, a two-time U.S. pairs champion, died by suicide Jan. 18, 2019, one day after receiving an interim suspension from SafeSport. USA TODAY Sports, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, reported that SafeSport received three reports of sexual assault against Coughlin, two of them involving minors, prompting the organization to issue the suspension. Coughlin died at his father’s Kansas City home. He was 33.

Less than two months later, on March 4, 2019, SafeSport delivered a chilling assessment of sexual misconduct in skating, saying in a statement to USA TODAY Sports that it had discovered “a culture in figure skating that allowed grooming and abuse to go unchecked for too long.”

Wagner, the most successful U.S. female skater of her era, told USA TODAY Sports in a story published Aug. 1, 2019, that Coughlin sexually assaulted her in June 2008 after a party at a national team figure skating camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., when she had just turned 17 and Coughlin was 22. 

Wagner 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.

“I remember feeling him shift his weight onto me, remember him putting his hands down my pants, and he was kissing my neck and I was terrified,” she said. “I started to kind of realize where this was going and it was kind of in that moment where I just knew I had to do something and I had to say something.”

She said she pulled away from Coughlin, grabbed his hands and said, “Stop!”

“And he did,” she said, “and he just kind of looked at me quietly for a little bit and then got up and left the room.”

After years of “completely blocking out” what happened, and of being “afraid” to speak out as a young woman in a subjective judged sport, Wagner said the emergence of the #MeToo movement and the news of SafeSport’s suspension of Coughlin spurred her to action. 

“Hearing other women come forward with their stories, it kind of made me reflect on this experience in a completely different manner,” she said. "I had always felt violated but something within that movement really showed me that I was violated and I did have my safety and comfort taken away from me that night.”

Wagner was the second elite skater to speak out publicly about Coughlin. Bridget Namiotka, who was Coughlin’s pairs partner from 2004 to 2007, when she was ages 14 to 17 and he was 18 to 21, posted on Facebook on May 19, 2019, that Coughlin “sexually abused” her for two years. 

Namiotka died July 25, 2022, her parents told USA TODAY Sports. She was 32. 

“Bridget succumbed to her long struggles with addiction after several very difficult years of dealing with the trauma of sexual abuse,” 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.”

Namiotka’s case was one of the three being investigated by SafeSport when Coughlin was suspended. Wagner’s was not. The other two alleged victims of Coughlin who were reported to SafeSport have never come forward publicly.

In a Jan. 7, 2019 email to USA TODAY Sports, Coughlin called the ongoing investigation “unfounded.” 

Parker Gislason, who comes from a family of U.S. skating judges and officials and once skated pairs with Coughlin, maintained at least six posts on her Facebook page praising and supporting Coughlin. The Facebook posts were visible to USA TODAY Sports as recently as April 26,Sappenfield, a U.S. Olympic pairs skating coach, has been temporarily barred by SafeSport from having any contact with a dozen figure skaters and from coaching other athletes without another adult’s supervision while SafeSport continues a year-and-a-half long investigation into allegations of emotional and verbal abuse, filled with sexual comments, against her. Sappenfield has declined to comment on the matter.

Wagner said in a text message to USA TODAY Sports that Parker Gislason’s use of the hashtag #Justiceforjohncoughlin “puts blame back on the women that came forward and diminishes their truth and experiences.” 

She elaborated in her Instagram story video:

“When this was one of the more profound scandals that has happened within an organization in the last decade, I think you should be hiring mindfully and this just feels like one of the first things you would look into, or something you’d consider.” 2023.

“He was a true friend, genuine, empathetic, and always put others before himself,” Parker Gislason wrote on May 21, 2019. “I never witnessed or experienced any poor conduct ever. ...” She ended that post with “#TheJohnIknew.”

Also on May 21, 2019, Parker Gislason added a montage of photos of herself with Coughlin including the message “#Justiceforjohncoughlin” as her temporary profile picture. 

Another post of Parker Gislason’s on Jan. 19, 2019, highlighted a GoFundMe link to support Coughlin’s “Funeral expenses & legal fees organized by Dalilah Medel Farfan Sappenfield,” Coughlin’s coach and good friend. 

Parker Gislason did not reply to several text and voice messages seeking comment. 

proach this and many of these delicate situations of sexual assault with any ounce of respect, dignity or appropriate care.”

SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports that she couldn’t comment on specific hirings at national governing bodies such as USFS, “but it should be a non-starter to hire anyone not fully committed to ending abuse in sport. Accountability is an essential piece to culture change — there’s no room to see it differently.”  

In reply to USA TODAY Sports’ request for comment on the hiring of Parker Gislason, USFS sent the following statement:

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