PROVIDENCE — In the latest Rhode Island Report podcast, Globe reporter Amanda Milkovits talks about how a North Kingstown High School basketball coach was able to conduct “body fat” tests on naked students for nearly 25 years.
Former coach Aaron Thomas is under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office after former athletes going back to the mid-1990s alleged that he had performed “body fat” tests on them while they were naked and alone with him in his office, using skin-fold calipers on their groins, upper thighs, and buttocks. One told the Globe that the fat tests began when he was 13 years old.
In a letter notifying Thomas that he was being placed on administrative leave, the North Kingstown School Superintendent wrote: “I am taking this action because of the investigation that is occurring due to some complaints that the school department has received from former students and athletes that allege you inappropriately touched them.”
“Most of the guys have told me that this was an open secret,” Milkovits said. “It was normalized. It was kind of like, not a hazing thing, but kind of a rite of passage. They didn’t love it. Nobody liked it. They joke about it. Nobody wanted to be alone with their coach and naked and having poking and prodding, but if you want to play, a lot of them felt like this is what I’ve got to do.”
Milkovits, who has written a dozen stories about the scandal, said former students are coming forward now that they are adults and some have children of their own.
“One told me that he wanted to talk about it because he’s not only a father but he coaches 6-year-olds,” she said. “And he said, ‘I can’t even imagine doing something like this.’ "
Also, people are now familiar with the case of Larry Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics and convicted sex offender accused of having sexually assaulted hundreds of girls and women.
“One of them said he came forward after seeing the Larry Nassar case and thinking about what happened to him when he was younger and what happened to his fellow athletes, and realizing that it was wrong,” Milkovits said. “I think what helped this to come to light was the Larry Nassar case. People were finally talking about this.”
She said one of the most disturbing parts of such incidents is they happen “in plain sight.”
“It happens involving someone who you would not suspect, and it happens involving someone who is perhaps a public official, who’s got some prominence,” Milkovits said. “And it can go on for years and years and years.”
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.