KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For Ron Harris and the athletes he coaches, every hook and punch is about more than boxing.
“Most of them are dying at a faster rate than we can make them champions,” Harris said.
Boxing is Harris’ way of getting St. Louis kids off the streets by putting them in the ring.
“I felt it was important for me to be there for them and help them out,” he said.
It’s something his boxers have said he’s always done and in doing so has helped change their lives.
“He welcomed us and treated us like girls,” said one of his students, Jayla Jones.
Deirdre Rhodes, another boxer, added, “He’s the kind of guy who will go to the store to get you some food, if he knows you haven’t eaten for a few days.”
Despite those glowing reviews, an investigation by the KSHB 41 News I-Team uncovered Harris’s name on the US Center for SafeSport’s list along with the troubling allegation of sexual misconduct. He was engaged in a years-long fight to clear his name.
For months, the KSHB 41 I-Team has been looking at the system put in place to protect athletes. The center was established in 2017 with a mission to protect athletes in Olympic sports from abuse.
Part of its mission now includes publishing a list of coaches and athletes in the Olympic movement who have been disciplined for misconduct, much of it sexual in nature.
The center said the database is designed to inform the public about disciplined individuals.
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Jones and Rhodes said Harris was not the type of man whose name is in SafeSport’s disciplinary database, particularly for sexual misconduct.
Harris has a 2019 letter from USA Boxing that said his findings after an investigation determined the center shouldn’t be required to post his name in the database, but that was for the world to see. .
“They told me they took it down and then you call out of the blue,” Harris said. “I thought it couldn’t have been a fluke.”
Harris’ fight to clear his name dates back to 2016.
It all started with a boxing tournament in Branson that Jones, then 16, entered with special permission from her father.
“My dad didn’t want me to miss that boxing event that I was training so hard for, so he went ahead and gave trainer Ron (permission) to let me go as a youngster. minor as long as there was a chaperone,” Jones said. .
Harris called fellow boxer Monae Ward, then 18, and asked her to come with him.
“I figured something out quickly, because I had already written it down,” Harris said. “We had already paid the money. I had another man who was supposed to fight too. I didn’t want to disappoint them.
Harris had to make a tough decision. He could only afford one hotel room, so he shared that room with the two girls and a teenage boxer.
“I slept in the bedroom for two days with everything, all my clothes on,” Harris said. “I didn’t take a shower for two days. When they had to take showers, I went to the hall with the young man.
Jones and Ward corroborated Harris’ recollection of the weekend.
“I never felt uncomfortable,” Jones said. “I always felt like he gave me the utmost respect and privacy I needed.”
But the Ozark LBC, or local boxing committee, filed a lawsuit against Harris for violating USA Boxing’s SafeSport policies, which prohibit an underage athlete from sleeping in the same room as an adult who is not a parent or guardian.
Ozark LBC witnesses claimed that Harris violated the same rule in 2013.
The I-Team asked Harris what he would say in response to those who felt his behavior was inappropriate.
“Don’t be so firm on your rules when you don’t know the situation,” he said. “When you don’t know where these kids are from and where we’re from, don’t be so firm on your rules.”
Harris athletes fought for him in an American boxing hearing, but they lost that round. It was a painful blow that knocked Harris out of his beloved sport.
“I felt like our opinions didn’t matter,” Jones said. “Our parents’ opinion didn’t matter.”
The Judiciary Committee ruled that Harris violated SafeSport policies twice, so he was suspended indefinitely from USA Boxing in 2017.
“Our coach can’t even get into our corner,” Ward said. “It’s sad.”
Harris went round after round with USA Boxing, trying to fight off his suspension. He even gained the support of the club which initially denounced him.
Ozark LBC called for his reinstatement in a 2019 letter to USA Boxing – noting that since Harris’ suspension, SafeSport has changed its travel rules to allow a parent or guardian to consent to an underage athlete remaining in the same room as an adult. coach or teammate.
Still, boxing officials refused to allow Harris back in the ring.
During his suspension fight, things got worse for Harris when SafeSport listed his travel violation as sexual misconduct with a minor in its database.
“He didn’t do anything,” Jones said through tears, “and his name doesn’t deserve to be on this list.”
During our investigation, SafeSport eventually removed Harris’ name from its database, but the scars of that list remain.
“I started having anxiety issues,” Harris said. “I had two strokes. I am 47 years old.
The fight outside the ring also took its toll on Harris’ young boxers.
“My boxing career is over,” Jones said. “I had a baby.”
Harris said the center never apologized for incorrectly listing her name in the database with an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor. He is now pursuing SafeSport and remains determined to get back in the ring.
“I’m not going to stop fighting,” Harris said. “There is no renunciation in me.”
Neither USA Boxing nor Safesport responded to our questions or interview requests for this story.