Aja Evans, a collegiate track and field athlete whose journey took her from Chicago’s South Side to a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics, filed a lawsuit in New York state court on Wednesday alleging that she was subjected to medical treatment during treatment sessions sexually abused multiple times who was an integral part of Team USA’s medical staff for years.
Dr. Jonathan Wilhelm, a chiropractor with offices in Bozeman and Belgrade, Montana; Wilhelm’s Pro Chiropractic Clinic; the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee; and the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation are listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed in Essex County, not far from the Lake Placid facility where Evans and her teammates trained for international competition.
Evans says she first met Wilhelm in 2012 when she saw him as a patient with a hip injury. During that treatment session, she says, Wilhelm asked her inappropriate questions about her personal life and touched her exposed genital area in a way that made her cringe.
According to the lawsuit, Wilhelm “touched and groped Ms. Evans’ genitals and body in violation of applicable medical standards.”
“The repeated harassment and sexual assault I endured at the hands of John Wilhelm has damaged me physically and emotionally, to the point where I experience chronic anxiety and have lost my love of bobsledding,” Evans said in a statement accompanying the announcement the lawsuit.
Evans says she and her teammates reported Wilhelm’s behavior to coaches and officials on the USA bobsleigh and skeleton teams after Wilhelm recorded videos and took photos of them in various states of undress during treatment sessions and before competition.
“Sometimes I talked to the trainers and the medical staff, but it was really ignored,” Evans told ESPN.
In conversations with teammates, Evans says, it became common knowledge that regardless of the injury, Wilhelm would focus “on the adductor,” a collection of muscles in the pelvic area.
She and her teammates felt so uncomfortable with Wilhelm’s behavior, Evans says, that in 2016 they decided to pool their money and take the unusual step of paying to fly in their own medical provider during training sessions.
“I felt like the USA Bobsleigh team didn’t take what I said seriously and it became a distraction to me and my performance… and so it felt like I had control over it, “To do this with my teammates. “I’m just focused on getting through the season,” Evans said.
Wilhelm did not respond to ESPN’s request for comment but released a statement Wednesday evening through his attorney, Ryan Stevens, who is based in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“Dr. Wilhelm “fully denies these unfounded allegations,” the statement said. “Dr. At no time did Wilhelm commit these vile and despicable acts, which Ms Evans now claims began over a decade ago. Dr. Wilhelm has honorably served and protected professional athletes around the world. Dr. Wilhelm looks forward to reviewing these claims as unfounded and will take all legal action to protect his professional reputation.”
When Evans’ lawsuit was announced on Wednesday, a spokesperson for USA Bobsled and Skeleton told ESPN: “We are not prepared to comment at this time, but I can tell you that USABS does not tolerate sexual violence of any kind.”
In addition to Evans’ lawsuit, Wilhelm is the focus of an ongoing investigation by the US Center for SafeSport, which began after another athlete raised concerns about his behavior during treatment sessions. Stevens confirmed to ESPN that he is representing Wilhelm in this SafeSport investigation. Evans said she was interviewed multiple times as part of the investigation.
Wilhelm’s Pro Chiropractic website touts his “service to elite athletes” and lists his contributions as a volunteer physician for the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, ranging from the 2012 World Championships in Calgary, Alberta, to the 2020 World Championships in Altenberg, Germany.
“It is clear that he used USA Bobsled membership for his own promotion and business,” Evans’ attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel told ESPN. “Similar to Larry Nassar, he was the Olympic chiropractor for the bobsled team, and there are articles online that he wrote.”
Simpson Tuegel represented more than two dozen women in civil cases against Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics Olympic doctor who pleaded guilty in early 2018 to sexually assaulting his former patients and was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.
“After working with so many Nassar survivors, it was eerily similar,” Simpson Tuegel said of the two cases. “The way [Wilhelm] I tried to be more personal with the athletes, especially during treatment, in a way that almost distracted them and confused them as to which part was inappropriate. There were a lot of similarities to the way Larry Nassar operated.”
Evans grew up on the south side of Chicago in a family full of elite athletes. Her father, Fred Evans, is considered the first black swimmer to win a collegiate national championship in the mid-1970s when he competed for Chicago State. Aja Evans’ older brother, also named Fred, played eight seasons in the NFL as a defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings.
In November 2022, Evans was banned from bobsledding for two years for failing to provide a drug sample during an out-of-competition test in March of the same year.
“I humbly accept this sanction and will use the time to focus on my health and well-being,” Evans said in a statement at the time.
Evans’ lawsuit comes at a time when bobsleigh and skeleton drivers in the United States have recently come under scrutiny for their hiring practices and culture. ESPN obtained a May 19 email that Amanda Vaughn, senior director of compliance investigations and ethics at the USOPC, sent to Aron McGuire, CEO of USA Bobsled and Skeleton.
In the letter, Vaughn summarizes the findings of an internal USABS investigation conducted by law firm ArentFox Schiff, which found that several athletes described a “toxic culture” within the sport and that “a significant portion of Black athletes and some white athletes, perceive racial prejudice against athletes of color and see the leadership as a “good old boys club.”
As a Black athlete on the team, Evans told ESPN, she often felt excluded and didn’t have the authority to raise concerns about her experiences with Wilhelm.
“It was almost like I had to pick my battles. “Did I want to lose my place by continuing to push an issue that no one seems to care about?” Evans said.
Evans now lives in Atlanta and said she hasn’t ruled out a return to the sport after her suspension.