Months after the USEF placed uber-trainer George Morris on its provisionally-barred list, today the United States Center for SafeSport, made his expulsion for “sexual misconduct involving a minor,” permanent. The provisional finding had been appealed by Mr. Morris. Last week, Morris, his accusers, and his supporters testified before an independent arbitrator in Manhattan. According to SafeSport rules, the decision is now binding.
The accusations against Mr. Morris has divided the hunter/jumper community. Many people state that rumors about Morris were an ill-kept secret for years — as one person stated, “GM’s behavior is yesterday’s news”; others have staunchly defended him (there’s even a Facebook group called “I stand with George.” Complicating the issue is the fact that Mr. Morris is gay, and that homosexual relationships were less likely to be talked about, particularly in the 60s and 70s.
I don’t know enough about George Morris to know whether the allegations are true or false. I have audited clinics given by him and realized that I found his teaching style verging on verbal abuse. With no expectations of competing at a very high level, I had no need to subject myself to that style of criticism, so I moved on and rode with other trainers, but for many, his training helped them achieve exceptional
success. Reading Morris’ autobiography, Unrelenting, I was stunned by his own reports where he created exercises or tests that he knew would cause injury. And they did. I also was stunned by some of his revelations about poling horses at shows (knowing it was illegal), drugging horses, and more.
But his ban is not for cruelty, it is for sexual misconduct with minors. While he did not write about relationships with minors, Morris did wrote extensively about his sexual exploits in Unrelenting, including mention of how in some cultures, older men dating young boys is acceptable. “Back in the day” it was not unusual for parents to send their sons to live and train with Morris, starting at the early age of 13 or 14. Favored students got better horses to ride, more opportunities and unparalled training. Michael D. Cintas, who said he was not abused, won a scholarship to train and live on Mr. Morris’s farm in 1964 when he was 16. But he said that his coach’s reputation for having sexual relationships with boys he would scout and bring to train on the farm was common knowledge among students and barn staff.
Only one of his accusers has come forth and publically identified himself. Jonathan Soresi lived at Morris’ facility from the age of 13 and reports, in an interview with New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, that “he had long struggled with the sense that even as a child he was somehow complicit — Mr. Morris’s favorite students were lavished with the best horses, and with his time. Mr. Soresi, from a family unable to afford the high-priced sport, wanted both.”
“There was an underlying hope that if I went along with this, I would get what I did not have, which was horses and education,” Mr. Soresi said.
Mr. Soresi is considered by many to be an unreliable witness because he’s struggled with addiction and been arrested for having child pornography (both of which are not unsual for survivors of sexual abuse). Just because he is damaged does not mean his experience was true.
“The transgressions of my past do not invalidate the reality of what happened to me,” Mr. Soresi said at the time of Mr. Morris’s initial ban. After Tuesday’s decision, Mr. Soresi said: “There is a certain simplicity to the truth, and the truth was told here. It’s my hope that that truth is healing.”
What I do know is that while Mr. Morris may have achieved the pinnacle of success as both an equestrian and as a trainer, that does not mean that he is not also guilty of predatory behavior among the minors under his control. At this point he has had the chance to defend himself and the arbitrator still found him guilty. While it is disappointing to have Mr. Morris’ guilt confirmed, I believe it is time to for him to step back from the equestrian community.
There’s a very active thread right now on the Chronicle of the Horse’s Facebook page. Here are two comments that I agree with; there are many other points of view expressed. I expect the debate will continue.
George Morris is not the first, nor will be the last, to be held accountable for their actions, as painful as it is for all of us who LONG looked up to him. But would it be better if victims remained silent? Absolutely not. Please place blame where it truly belongs…not on survivors, and not on adjudicators. We all HATE that someone we looked up to has serious character flaws. It makes us have to question everything we thought we could count on.
I’m glad he’s being held accountable and the stance safe sport took that “no one is above accountability” is really what we need. That being said, I’m heartbroken that one of my idols more likely than not committed these heinous acts. To the victims, I believe you and to George, your horsemanship is incredible but I will never look up to you again.
What are your thoughts about George Morris being banned for life?