John Coughlin, a two-time pairs U.S. figure skating champion, has died at the age of 33, a day after he was suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and U.S. Figure Skating following sexual misconduct allegations. His sister, Angela Laune, said her brother took his own life following the sanctions against him. SafeSport is a non-profit that was set up in 2017 with the goal of eliminating all forms of abuse in U.S. sports.
Laune wrote in her tragic Facebook post, “My wonderful, strong, amazingly compassionate brother John Coughlin took his own life earlier today. I have no words. I love you John. Always Always Brother Bear…” Laune’s post indicates that Coughlin died on January 18.
Coughlin was a 2-time U.S. pairs champion as well as a consistent face as a TV analyst for figure skating competitions. He was victorious in 2012 with partner Caydee Denney and in 2011 with former partner Caitlin Yankowskas.
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Here’s what you need to know:
1. Coughlin Was at His Home in Kansas City When He Died
Former figure skater Graig Maurizi told USA Today that Coughlin at his home in Kansas City when he died. In a statement on Twitter, U.S. Figure Skating said, “We are stunned at the news of the death of two-time U.S. pairs champion John Coughlin. Our heartfelt sympathies are with his father Mike, sister Angela, and the rest of his family. Out of respect to the family, we will have no further comment until a later time.”
2. On January 17, Coughlin Had Been Issued an ‘Interim Suspension’ by U.S. SafeSport
USA Today’s Christine Brennan was the first to report on January 17 that Coughlin had been issued an “interim suspension” by SafeSport in the wake of allegations against him. On January 7, Coughlin said of the allegations against him in a statement to USA Today, “While I wish I could speak freely about the unfounded allegations levied against me, the SafeSport rules prevent me from doing so since the remains pending, I note only that the SafeSport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by SafeSport or that there is any merit to the allegations.”
3. Coughlin Has Said Previously that He Skated in Honor of His Late Mother
Coughlin told the Washington Post in a 2011 interview that he skates in honor of his late mother, Stacey. His mother suffered from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. She passed away in February 2010 at the age of just 48. Months later, Coughlin would win his first national title alongside Caydee Denney.
Coughlin was an advocate against the condition, which causes extreme pain in the joints due to problems with the body’s tissue. During her life, Coughlin said his mother went through one misdiagnosis after another before finally finding a doctor who was able to give her a “clear idea of what she was fighting,” Coughlin told the EDS advocacy website.
In 2011, an ESPN article quoted Coughlin’s mother as saying, “On a lift, John would never let a girl fall. He’d take any injury to himself to keep her from getting hurt.” Singles skater Ryan Bradley, also a native of Missouri, told ESPN that the last thing Coughlin’s mother said to him was ask him to promise that her son kept on skating. Coughlin tweeted in July 2018, “I always imagined myself as the boy that would someday grow up and take care of his Mom in her old age. Cherish the moments life offers you. They’ll one day be your greatest treasures.”
4. Coughlin Had Been Described as a ‘Wise Guy’ & a ‘Goofball’
The ESPN article saw Coughlin described as a “wise guy who loves the humor of Will Ferrell.” His then partner, Yankowskas, told ESPN at the time, “He’s such a goofball, and I always tell him that. But on the ice, we’re really best friends. I’m a little more serious and can be a little more of a tough guy than him. We complement each other that way. It always keeps practice entertaining, to say the least. He’s also like a brother out there; I call him my protector. He’s like a German shepherd. You can see it when we practice. He herds me around like I’m a sheep he’s taking care of or something.”
Coughlin’s sense of humor was reflected in an official profile in which he listed his hobbies as, “horse whispering, wind watching and long walks in the rain.” His last tweet, on December 1, saw Coughlin say that he was going to see comedian Chris D’Elia perform in Boston. A few months earlier, Coughlin tweeted at D’Elia, asking him for tickets because the comedian “roasted” Coughlin on Instagram in 2017.
5. Coughlin Had the Patron Saint of Police Officers Tattooed on His Back
In January 2014, Coughlin showed off his back tattoo to USA Today. The tattoo was of St. Michael, the patron saint of police officers. Coughlin’s father, Mike, was a cop for more than 30 years. Coughlin told the newspaper at the time, “It has a great deal of meaning for me. I wanted something to remember my mom by.” The skater said that the tattoo took 10 hours across three sessions and that the design would mean he could not show his back during competitions. Coughlin said, “I think that would cost us.”
Growing up in Kansas City, Coughlin described the skating culture saying, “I didn’t come from what’s thought of as a traditional skating powerhouse. In Kansas City, where I grew up, there were some great skaters there, but it’s not Colorado Springs, it’s not California where Michelle Kwan did a lot of her training.” Coughlin told KSHB in December 2017, “I grew up on the ice as far back as I can remember. Growing up in Kansas City, I was skating a lot of times at six o’clock in the morning on the ice.” Coughlin also said that it was common for drug testers to show up at his door at six o’clock to administer tests.