- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

LONDON (AP) - Chelsea has apologized to a former player who was sexually abused while a member of the club’s youth team, and said Saturday it was “inappropriate” to pay him 50,000 pounds ($77,500) to keep the matter out of the public domain.

The Premier League club said in a statement that Gary Johnson “suffered unacceptably while in our employment in the 1970s, for which the club apologizes profusely.”

Johnson, who is now 57, told a British newspaper that he was sexually assaulted repeatedly every week by youth-team coach Eddie Heath from the age of 13 until he was 16 or 17. Heath is now dead.

Chelsea reached a settlement in 2015 to compensate Johnson. The club this week waived a clause in the settlement that banned him from speaking in public about the abuse, at a time when many former professionals are coming forward about the ordeals they went through as youngsters in youth soccer.

“Against the current backdrop of wider revelations and other victims coming forward bravely to tell their story, we no longer felt it appropriate to keep the confidentiality agreement in place,” Chelsea said.

“In light of what we know now about the widescale abuse in football clubs in the 1970s and 1980s,” the club added, “it now believes that the use of such a clause, while understandable, was inappropriate in this instance. We certainly have no desire to hide any historic abuse we uncover from view. Quite the opposite.”

Chelsea said an external review would examine whether the club carried out a proper investigation when the allegations first came to light, and why they did not report them to the English Football Association and Premier League.

“We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all children and young people who are in our care or attending our premises,” the club said. “Their welfare is of paramount importance.”

Johnson was a member of the Chelsea team from 1978-81.

In a growing scandal being investigated by 18 police forces across Britain, about 350 people have reported incidents of child sexual abuse at soccer clubs.

Wayne Rooney, who is captain of England’s senior men’s team, has joined with other captains of various English national sides in a video on safeguarding published for the Football Association and children’s charity NSPCC.

“If you’re a young boy or girl and you’re upset, hurt or scared with the way someone behaves with you,” Rooney said in the video, “please let someone you trust know now.”

Former England captain Alan Shearer also has urged that “every club, from the grassroots up, must continue to look at what they’re doing to prevent abuse happening to any kids today and in the future.”

The FA and a number of clubs have launched internal investigations.


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