By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - The Amateur Athletic Union, one of the nation's largest youth sports groups, said on Saturday it was "shocked and deeply concerned" about allegations of child sex abuse made against former President Robert W. "Bobby" Dodd.
In a statement, acting AAU President Louis Stout said the AAU has become aware of "serious allegations" about Dodd dating back several decades, and it has opened an independent investigation and also contacted local law enforcement in Memphis.
"We have begun an independent internal investigation and review of our protocols, procedures and policies," said Stout. "While we believe our network of programs has significant safeguards in place, we will never be complacent about doing all we can to protect the young people in our programs."
Memphis police said Friday they have opened an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Dodd.
Police officials said they were contacted by the AAU regarding accusations of abuse "which occurred in Memphis, Tennessee, approximately 30 years ago," according to police spokeswoman Sergeant Alyssa Macon-Moore.
The accusations against Dodd follow recent allegations of sexual abuse of boys by assistants to high profile coaches at Penn State and Syracuse universities that rocked the world of major college athletics.
A South Carolina military college, The Citadel, has also revealed that it had failed to take action against a student accused of inappropriate behavior with children at a summer camp. The man has since been arrested for child abuse.
The allegations against the AAU official surfaced when two accusers told sports network ESPN that Dodd, 63, had engaged in a pattern of inappropriate touching and sex acts while they stayed in hotels during tournaments and that he gave alcohol to underage players, the network reported.
The players making accusations against Dodd said they were abused between the ages of 12 and 16, ESPN reported.
Dodd has not been charged with a crime. He was not available for comment. An attorney for Dodd has not yet been identified.
The AAU statement, an expansion from an earlier statement released Saturday, also emphasized that Dodd is no longer president and executive director of AAU, and that the organization has no continuing contact with him.
Stout said that Dodd has been dealing with "serious" health issues related to his treatment for colon cancer. Stout, who is first vice president of AAU, is stepping in as interim president.
ESPN reported that the organization said it had contacted Memphis police after learning about the allegations on the sports network's "Outside the Lines" news program.
"The Memphis Police Department takes allegations of child sexual abuse very seriously," Memphis Police Director Toney Hamilton said in a statement.
"Although this case has its challenges due to the amount of time that has passed, it will be thoroughly examined; and if the investigation reveals the law was violated the person responsible will be held accountable," he added.
The sports network said one of the former players had been contacted by a Memphis police detective.
One of the alleged victims, who spoke anonymously, accused Dodd of drugging him when he was a youth and offering him $1,000 if he would agree to have oral sex on him while he was bound and blindfolded.
They have also said they saw hundreds of pictures in his filing cabinet depicting the clothed backsides and crotches of players and bags filled with dozens of pairs of boys underwear, ESPN reported.
Once the Memphis Police's investigation is completed, the Shelby County District Attorney General's office special victims unit will review the facts and assist Memphis police in determining if any criminal charges are warranted, according to Vince Higgins, spokesman for the attorney general's office.
The AAU, one of the biggest nonprofit volunteer sports organizations in the country, is dedicated to promoting and developing amateur sports and physical fitness programs for athletes of all ages, the group says on its website.
(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)