Ex-NFL player, 8 others allege sexual abuse by Colton High trainer

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Shareece Wright says he has mainly fond memories from his four years at Colton High School, except for whenever he was alone with a female athletic trainer who happened to be the head football coach’s daughter.

Wright alleges in a lawsuit that she began to groom him in 2002, when Wright was a 15-year-old freshman on the team and the trainer was 21, and eventually sexually abused him at school and at his coach’s home.

Wright, a former USC and NFL cornerback, is one of nine plaintiffs who have alleged that they were sexually abused by athletic trainer Tiffany Strauss-Gordon while they were minors playing for her father Harold Strauss’ Colton High football team during the 2000s. The allegations have been made in two lawsuits filed in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Wright was one of six plaintiffs in the first such lawsuit, which was filed in September 2022. Although he and the other plaintiffs in both were listed as John Does, Wright recently became the first of them to publicly reveal his identity.

“I was reading about how often this happens to kids and how much is so swept under the rug and how much people don’t come out and talk about it,” said Wright, 36, who’s the father of two boys, ages 10 and 2. “And I was just going through these different emotions and I just felt like I wanted to do more to help. … And I feel like I was in a position to be able to and I have a platform to be able to do that, to shine a light on it. And I just felt like if I didn’t say this and I didn’t come out then I’m kind of doing the same thing that everybody else is doing and I’m not helping the cause.”

The lawsuits, which name Strauss-Gordon and the Colton Joint Unified School District as co-defendants, allege that Strauss-Gordon “took advantage of her position of influence, authority, and power — given to her by CJUSD — to develop the players’ trust and then to sexually assault, harass, and molest them.”

“These were male football players, they were recruited, they were largely African American and they were from vulnerable households,” said attorney Morgan Stewart, who represents Wright and six other plaintiffs in the lawsuits. “So you’ve got that mixture of basically a school district using these kids for their own benefit and acting like they’re not responsible for anything that occurred to them.”

Colton High football coach Harold Strauss, who died in 2019, is shown in November 2002. In separate lawsuits, his daughter Tiffany Strauss-Gordon is being accused of sexually abusing nine of his former players, including Shareece Wright.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Strauss-Gordon has denied all the allegations against her in multiple court filings and during a 2022 police interview, as seen in a video published by ESPN. Strauss-Gordon’s attorney, Daniel Kolodziej, also maintained his client’s innocence in an email to The Times.

“Ms. Gordon denies these old allegations, already investigated and presumably rejected by law enforcement personnel, and will continue to vigorously defend the joined lawsuits to achieve a favorable disposition,” Kolodziej wrote. “The court of public opinion will not decide that outcome, but she appreciates the ongoing support from those who recognize her dedication to and substantial positive contributions to the Colton High School community.”

Strauss-Gordon, who was athletic director at Grand Terrace High when the first lawsuit was filed, was put on administrative leave at that time. Kolodziej said she is still employed by the Colton Joint Unified School District.

According to ESPN, the school district learned of the upcoming lawsuit in the summer of 2022 and alerted the Colton Police Department, which opened an investigation. The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office told ESPN it lacked sufficient evidence to file charges against Strauss-Gordon. The school district and its attorney, the D.A.’s office and the Police Department did not immediately respond to messages from The Times.

“I can surmise and guess there were statute problems by the time most of this came out,” Stewart said.

The Colton Joint Unified School District has filed a cross-complaint against Strauss-Gordon and three companies that provided athletic trainers for the school district during the years mentioned in the lawsuits.

“Although the current administrative team members were not in leadership roles with the district 20 years ago, the district leadership team is extremely concerned about the allegations being made,” the school district said in a statement following the first lawsuit in 2022. “Our commitment is always to the safety and well-being of our students, families and staff, and we will work with local law enforcement to protect our community and lend our support to any victims in this case.”

Wright, a 5-foot-11, 184-pounder, was a third-round draft pick for the Chargers in 2011. He also played for the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans before his NFL career ended after the 2018 season.

Before all that, though, Wright was a standout running back and defensive back at Colton High. He said he started receiving what seemed like special treatment from Strauss-Gordon during his freshman season in 2002. The trainer gave him the nickname “Sherry,” Wright said, and displayed a protective attitude toward him.

Wright said that he had heard rumors of inappropriate behavior between Strauss-Gordon and football players before he entered Colton as a freshman. “I didn’t believe it until it happened to me,” he said.

“The attention she showed me was different from everyone else at the time,” Wright said. “I’m a freshman. I’m not really understanding what’s going on, you know the grooming process and all those things. These are things that I’m unaware of at the time, of how predators work.”

According to the lawsuit, the relationship gradually became more physical, with Strauss-Gordon allegedly performing oral sex on Wright for the first time the summer after his sophomore year. While Wright was a junior, the lawsuit alleges, Strauss-Gordon performed oral sex on him at least 20 times and the two sneaked off to have vaginal intercourse at least 15 times during weekly captain meetings at the coach’s house.

She would “sneak me into her room and, you know, it would happen there,” Wright said.

Wright said that Harold Strauss gave no indication he was aware of the alleged relationship between his daughter and Wright.

“I don’t know how he couldn’t have known,” Wright said of his old coach, who died in 2019. “I just feel like he just kind of like ignored it.”

Wright said he also had a sexual encounter with Strauss-Gordon at the house of an assistant coach while she was housesitting. Afterward, Wright said, he told that coach and his wife about what had happened while they weren’t home.

“They kind of like, you know, laughed about it,” Wright said. “We had a little conversation about it, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God!’ ”

At the time, Wright said, he didn’t realize how inappropriate the alleged relationship was .

“I didn’t think of it like, ‘Hey this is, like, absolutely damaging to me and it’s gonna affect me in the future,’ ” Wright said. “I’m not thinking in the future. I’m thinking of like right now, of how good it felt every time it happened, every time we’re having these interactions.”

Wright said his alleged sexual relationship with Strauss-Gordon ended when he got a girlfriend his senior year, but that experience ended up affecting him for years to come.

“I’m in therapy now,” he said, “trying to help myself realize and understand what happened and how to cope with it and not run from it and not try to ignore the fact that this actually happened to me.”

“It’s just the way I’ve been feeling about women in general and the respect that I have and my overall outlook on sexual interaction, and just me looking back at it, you know?” Wright added. “And me chasing that sexual sensation that I was feeling as a kid when that was happening and me trying to find a woman that can make me feel this way. And I’m chasing this in different women and just not really being willing to, like, settle with one woman and just having thoughts about what was happening to me.”

It wasn’t until his NFL career was over, Wright said, that he told his mother about the inappropriate sexual relationship he allegedly had with an adult while in high school. Telling her, he said, was a turning point for him.

“I had told adults in the past and it was like a joke to them,” Wright said. “When I told my mom it was, like, serious. She didn’t laugh about it, she didn’t joke about it. She was hurt and sad and she was disappointed and she was upset. … And the way she felt, it made me look at it differently and just feel differently about it. She just made me think about it a little bit differently. So that happening and me having kids and being a father now, that kind of led up to me feeling like I wanted to do something about it.”

Now, Wright said, his focus is on helping others in similar situations.

“I just hope that I can encourage young kids that this is happening to speak up about it, to understand that it’s not OK for you to be having any sexual interaction with an adult,” he said, “Whether it’s someone in your household or someone at your school or someone at work or whatever situation you’re at, to understand that it’s not OK. As much as it feels good or as much as you think it’s cool, it’s not. And it’s not healthy. I just want to encourage kids, to give them the strength to be able to talk about it and to tell someone that can help them.”

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